Following the launch of a new Government consultation that examines the detail involved in extending the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMO), the National Landlords Association (NLA) has said it seems clear the Government is ‘fully intent on implementing these proposals next year.’
In its latest consultation on HMO and residential property licensing reforms, the Government outlines plans to make the following changes through secondary legislation, so as to increase the number of properties that are subject to mandatory licensing.
- Remove the storey rule so all houses with five or more people from two or more households are within the scope of the new legislation. The Department for Communities and Local Government says 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 storeys), because, as the consultation states ‘evidence shows more problems in these properties’
- Set a minimum size of 6.52sq-m in line with existing overcrowding standard (Housing Act 1985) to close loophole created by upper-tier tribunal ruling, which, again according to the consultation, is enabling some landlords to let rooms far too small for an adult to legally occupy.
It has been proposed that the order come into force either in April or October 2017, and a grace period of six months would exist to give landlords time to apply for a licence.
HMO landlords who do not comply with the new legislation will be at risk of penalties, including criminal prosecutions and civil penalties of up to £30,000 at the end of the grace period.
Landlords who are already subject to Additional Licensing will be able to passport their license to the mandatory scheme free-of-charge during the grace period, with the same expiry date applying to the license.
The consultation also proposes an amendment to schedule 4 of the Housing Act 2004. The new regulations would insert a compulsory condition in every licence (mandatory and additional) that local housing authorities should only accept rooms above a certain size as being fit for sleeping accommodation.
If rooms are let that do not meet the new size requirements, the licensor would be in breach of their licence and would be committing an offence, making them liable on conviction to an unlimited fine, or civil penalty of up to £30,000.
The prescribed national minimum room sizes are:
• 6.52sq-m for one person
• 10.23sq-m for two persons
Where there is no differentiation between adults and children with regards to this condition, the requirements will not apply to temporary visitors.
The Government’s new consultation will also further examine other measures, which were picked up by respondents in the original technical consultation, including:
- Fit and proper person test: should criminal record checks by made mandatory for licences, and if so should they be made through Disclosure Scotland or the DBS?
- Waste: should there be a mandatory condition relating to household refuse, and providing “adequate receptacles for the storage and disposal of normal household waste”? (If included it would “likely” apply to licences granted after implementation.)
The NLA has responded to the new consultation, stating:
“We welcome the government’s intention to bring a consistent approach to defining overcrowding in the private sector and believe that no one should have to live in unsafe accommodation.
“However, rules already exist to deal with overcrowding and we’re worried that if proposals to introduce a minimum room size go ahead it would lead to a reduction in the availability of essential shared housing for all kinds of people, and inevitably leave some previously satisfied renters without a home.
“We look forward to responding to the consultation and constructively engaging with the Government to address our concerns.”
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