Six months on from the introduction of licencing that regulates Homes for Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and awareness of the new laws remains limited, according to a leading estate agent.
Lisa Simon, head of residential division at Carter Jonas, has written a column looking at HMO licensing and the awareness of the recent legislation introduced.
By definition, HMOs comprise at least five unrelated tenants who form at least two households and who share bathroom and/or kitchen facilities. Smaller house shares of three unrelated tenants can also be subject to licencing, according to the jurisdiction of local councils.
She writes: “In the first instance, it goes without saying that HMOs have long since been a fixture of the lettings landscape. From student houses to flat shares amongst young professionals, they are a commonality.
“However, it has come to light that many landlords and estate owners have found themselves responsible for HMOs by circumstance rather than design.”
New HMO legislation has been effective since 1st October 2018, and regulates the safety and standards of HMOs, whether residents are permanent or temporary, short or long-term. But Simon believes that the new rules have “almost gone under the radar”.
Licences can be obtained through the local council, and are likely to be granted if the property in question is suitable for the number of occupants and the landlord is considered to be ‘fit and proper’.
Minimum room standards must comprise usable floor space of more than 6.51sqm if letting a room to a single adult, or usable floor space of more than 10.22sqm if letting a room to two adults.
“It is likely that an HMO licence will limit the number of individuals who can occupy a specific room as sleeping accommodation,” Simon added.
For a licence to be upheld, landlords or managing agents must:
Send the council an updated gas safety certificate every year
Install and maintain smoke alarms
Provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances when requested
Simon continued: “Generally, councils have been user-friendly and will offer guidance on what measures must be implemented for a licence to be granted. That said, councils are at liberty to add other conditions to a licence, such as improving the standard of an individual property’s facilities.
“Indeed, we have witnessed cases in which councils have requested that fire safety is prioritised. In practice, this has included emergency lighting, smoke alarms and fire doors. Meanwhile, other examples have involved the installation of more bathrooms.
“If an application for an HMO licence is declined, there is scope to appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal, albeit this incurs an additional fee set by the relevant council.
“Legally, councils can carry out spot checks and enforce an unlimited fine for failure of compliance, so due diligence is recommended. We are aware of two examples in which penalties were particularly acute, with one landlord in Brent, Greater London, who was fined £30,000 plus costs for letting an undersized room. Meanwhile, another landlord in the West Midlands was fined £180,000 for letting four unlicensed HMOs.
“But by no means should the legislation result in panic; if you’re unsure or think you might be responsible for an HMO, the best course of action is to seek professional advice at the first opportunity and tackle the issue head on.”