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Government set to extend mandatory licensing of HMOs in England

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has ended a consultation on ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and residential property licensing reforms’, which ran until yesterday.

The consultation, which invited buy-to-let landlords to have their say on the proposed changes, came ahead of plans to make a number of amendments through secondary legislation in order to increase the volume of homes in England that are subject to mandatory licensing.

The HMO proposals include:

+ Remove the story rule so all houses (regardless of how many floors) with five or more people from two or more households are in scope - this will further enable local authorities to tackle poor standards, migration and the problems being seen in high risk smaller properties as the sector has grown.

+ Extend mandatory licensing to flats above and below business premises (regardless of the number of storeys) as the evidence shows more problems in these properties.

+ Set a minimum room size of 6.52sqm in line with the existing overcrowding standard (Housing Act 1985) to close a loophole recently created by an upper-tier tribunal ruling which is enabling some landlords to let rooms far too small for an adult to legally occupy

Other intended measures are:

+ Requiring landlords of shared homes to provide decent storage and refuse disposal facilities

+ Landlords may also be subject to the new fit and proper person test (The Housing and Planning Act 2016)

Under the terms of the order, which looks set to come into force early next year, any landlord that fails to obtain a licence will be liable to pay a potentially unlimited fine.

Housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell said: “In order to build a country that truly works for everyone we must ensure that everyone has somewhere safe and secure to live.

“These measures will give councils the powers they need to tackle poor-quality rental homes in their area.

“By driving out rogue landlords that flout the rules of business, we are raising standards and giving tenants the protection they need.”

It is estimated that the new measures would bring a further 174,000 HMOs into the scope of mandatory licensing.

But David Cox, managing director of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), has already hit out at the new proposals.

He said: “Landlord licensing doesn’t work.

“Councils already have a wide variety of powers to prosecute for poor property conditions and bad management practices, with penalties ranging from fines to seizure of property and even imprisonment.

“But councils don’t have the resources to undertake effective enforcement action. Imposing more burdens on councils will not mean improved standards and better conditions for tenants – it will merely mean more laws that are not being enforced.

“Further, we have to consider the unintended consequences of minimum room sizes.

“Some people are happy to take small rooms to keep their costs down. If these rooms are no longer available, where are people supposed to live?

“What’s more, if a small room in a property can no longer be let out, the costs of that room will be spread across the other tenants living in the property; pushing up their rents.

“A habitable room is essential but a one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t always work.”

You can read the full consultation paper here

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