The new regulations introduced last month to bring mandatory licensing to all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) was designed to better protect tenants from poor living conditions but new research suggests that many councils are struggling to enforce the government’s HMO legislation.
Under the new rules, mandatory HMO licensing has been extended to almost all HMOs that are occupied by five or more people and where there is some sharing of facilities, and that is expected to affect more than 160,000 properties.
The licensing scheme was previously restricted to properties that were three or more storeys in height.
The move means councils can now take further action to crack down on the small minority of landlords renting out substandard and overcrowded homes.
New rules also came into force setting minimum size requirements for bedrooms in HMOs to prevent overcrowding, while landlords are also now required to adhere to council refuse schemes to reduce problems with rubbish.
But data obtained by Simple Landlords Insurance shows that the majority of local authorities do not know how many unlicensed HMOs are in their area - let alone where they are - leaving them unable to target those who break the rules or take advantage of new enforcement powers.
The findings suggest that the rules are “practically unenforceable”, according to one HMO licensing expert, with the government’s recent commitment of £2m of additional funding to help implement the scheme unlikely to have any real impact.
The freedom of information requests returned by 90 local authorities show:
+ Two thirds (65/90) of local authorities have no idea how many landlords arebreaking HMO licensing rules
+ Nearly one third (29/90) have no idea how many properties should come in under the new regulatory scheme
+ Over a third (31/90) did not prosecute any landlords for infractions of existing rules in the last two years
+ There were only 103 HMO licences rejected at application over the last 12 months, versus a total of 18,881 licenses granted.
Carl Agar, founder of The Home Safe Scheme and managing director of property management company Big Red House, said: “It’s a big worry that local authorities don’t seem to have the resources available to manage this new workload. And the new rules are going to be practically impossible to enforce.
“The government is essentiallyrelying on honest landlords coming forward to apply for a licence - leaving the so-called rogue or down-right criminal landlords that really need to be identified - out of scope. The £2m promised support is literally a drop in the ocean.”
Agar added: “Many local authorities are now faced with at least twice as many licences to process and check with the same amount of human resource - leaving even less time for enforcement. The major conurbations will be swamped.”
The HMO regulations changes may be well-meaning, but a failure to support local authorities to communicate about them and enforce them is “bad news for good landlords and for tenants, according to Richard Truman, head of operations at Simple Landlords Insurance.
He commented: “We want to see the emerging class of professional landlords supported by central government and local authorities, and that can clearly only be achieved with more effective regulation and resource.”