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Wrexham Council accused of being reluctant to approve HMO proposals

Wrexham Council has been accused of being reluctant to allow any more houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) to be created in the county.

It follows the rejection of plans to turn a family home on Salop Road into five bedsits because of the large number of similar properties nearby.

A number of concerns have been raised by both councillors and residents about problems arising from HMOs in recent years, such as an increased demand on parking and rubbish being left piled up on streets.

A planning inspector has also highlighted how they are making the main Mold Road gateway into Wrexham a less attractive place to live.

Planning agent Bob Dewey, who is acting on behalf of the landlord behind the latest proposals, said he acknowledged some of the issues raised.

However, he claimed there was a need for low cost accommodation in the area and criticised the small amount of HMOs being approved by the local authority.

In the appeal documents, he said: “There is a strong feeling that the council does not wish to permit any further HMOs.

“Tragically, the term HMO seems to have become has become a term of condemnation.

“Local people and planning councillors seem to have associated such a use with bad management by owners and anti-social behaviours by the occupiers.

“There is no doubt an element of truth in this concern, but experience appears to suggest that problems mainly arise from properties run by institutional operators and absentee landlords.

“The appellant is a local man anxious to provide a good service to people who require this type of accommodation.

“It is not in his interest to let the property in a manner which would create problems for him or for the locality or his neighbours.”

In refusing the application, the council said the proposed development would result in an over concentration of HMOs within the area.

The authority’s guidelines set out a maximum of ten per cent of bedsits within a 50 metre radius of any given location.

It also said the plans would cause an increase in demand for parking on the street, adding to existing problems.

In response, Mr Dewey said the one parking space outlined would be sufficient as he claimed most people living in the property would not own a car.

The appeal will be decided by an inspector appointed by the Welsh Government at a later date.

By Liam Randall

Source: Wrexham

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Council to launch public consultation on HMO licensing scheme in Worcester

COUNCILLORS will “consider options” on proposals to amend an HMO licensing scheme for Worcester City.

At a communities committee meeting on October 30, city councillors in Worcester discussed a proposal to approve a 12-week public consultation to extend the HMO scheme in the city.

There are currently HMOs in every ward in Worcester with the exception of St Peter’s, and the licensing scheme would aim to crack down on rogue landlords and improve standards.

Councillors discussed applying the scheme to the parts of Worcester where it was more necessary and where there were more HMOs, but Cllr Richard Udall said the scheme needed to be enforced across the whole city, saying: “I am a bit shocked and surprised at what is being said here. More regulation means more protection. Lowering standards is an invitation to rogue landlords to come into areas where there is no protection.”

The Worcester City Additional Licensing Scheme runs for five years, at the end of which the Council is required to review the scheme with a view to re-designation or discontinuation.

Property standards in HMOs can often be lower than other rented properties due to poor conversions of older properties, more than one household living independently of each other, regular turn over of occupiers and in some cases poor management by the landlord.

The aim of licensing is to ensure these properties meet the legal standards and are properly managed to provide greater protection to the health, safety and welfare of the people living there.

According to the city council’s report: “The implications of moving to an Additional Licensing scheme which is targeted at specific wards would be that City-wide improvements to private housing would not be sustained but that instead a targeted approach could be taken to problem areas.”

The committee agreed to send out the consultation and amended the reports recommendations so that they will make the final decision on whether to declare the scheme, rather than the corporate director for homes and communities along with the chair and vice char of the committee.

In March 2015, Worcester City Council’s cabinet approved an Additional HMO Licensing scheme for the whole City, which came into effect later that year. Accreditation of HMOs had previously been in place but because it was a voluntary scheme, it was not taken up by the majority of landlords.

By Tom Banner

Source: Hereford Times

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Wrexham lettings agent and landlord prosecuted by council over HMO regulation breach

A private landlord in Wrexham has been prosecuted by Wrexham Council for operating an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO).

At Mold Magistrates Court yesterday, landlord Jane Sabio – who had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing – was fined £5,000, with costs of £1,697 and a £170 victim surcharge also imposed.

An officer from the council’s Environmental Health and Housing Standards team found the unlicensed HMO during an inspection following up on a complaint due to lack of repairs.

Letting agents Countrywide, trading as Beresford Adams, also pleaded guilty to a number of breaches at the same property, including inadequate fire safety measures and failing to supply an electrical safety certificate to Wrexham Council.

In sentencing at Wrexham Magistrates Court earlier this month, Countrywide was fined a total of £22,500, plus a £107 victim surcharge and £2,819 costs.

Cllr Hugh Jones, lead member for communities, partnerships, public protection and community safety, said: “The council is proactively working with landlords and letting agents to assist them in raising standards for tenants.

“But if they choose not to cooperate and not to comply with the legal requirements, we will have no hesitation in taking firm enforcement action, as this case demonstrates.”

Wrexham Council say: “Most landlords and letting agents ensure HMOs are properly licensed and maintained, but if your landlord or letting agent fails to acquire an HMO licence or carry out the necessary repairs and make adequate fire safety arrangements, you can contact the Environmental Health and Housing Standards team by e-mail at HealthandHousing@wrexham.gov.uk or on 01978 292040.

“We keep a list of currently licensed HMOs on our website, and also provide information on what an HMO is, and how they can be licensed.”

Source: Wrexham

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Licensing specialist warns that council’s advice could land agents and landlords in trouble

A specialist on licensing schemes is warning that agents and landlords in a London borough could find themselves in breach of the law if they follow advice given by the council’s own staff.

Richard Tacagni, of consultancy London Property Licensing, says that Barking and Dagenham is giving out wrong information.

The council’s two existing licensing schemes both expire on August 31.

While it is implementing a new borough-wide selective licensing scheme on September 1, it has no replacement additional licensing scheme – although it suggests it is planning to.

Tacagni said: “Without an additional licensing scheme in place, all HMOs that fall outside the mandatory HMO licensing scheme criteria will instead need to be licensed under the council’s selective licensing scheme when individual licences expire.”

However, on the two occasions he has phoned the council’s licensing hotline to request advice on what happens when an additional licence expires, he says he has been given wrong advice.

He has been told that smaller HMOs will not need licensing from September 1, and also to wait and see if an additional licensing scheme is introduced before applying.

But Tacagni said: “Following this advice could leave landlords and letting agents in breach of the law with the risk of a criminal prosecution. They could also find themselves unable to issue a Section 21 notice of seeking possession.

“In addition, it could enable the tenants to apply for a Rent Repayment Order for the period between the old licence expiring and a new licence application being submitted.

“To remain compliant, HMO landlords with an additional licence will need to apply for either a mandatory HMO or selective licence depending on the occupancy arrangements.

“Each application needs to be submitted on or before the date that the current licence expires.”

Tacagni says that to coincide with its changes to licensing, Barking and Dagenham has raised fees substantially.

Mandatory HMO licences are up by over a third, to £1,300 for a property with five sharers.

Selective licensing fees have been hiked 78%, from £506 to £900 per property.

Tacagni says this is the highest selective licensing fee in the country, and expected to generate over £16m in fee income over the next five years.

Tacagni said: “It is important that councils provide clear, consistent and accurate information to help landlords and agents correctly interpret local licensing rules.”

The full advice is here: http://bit.ly/2YRBVmv

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Council’s licencing scheme ‘unlawful’, landlords claim

Coventry City Council could be breaking the law through its new landlord licensing and accreditation scheme, a trade body has warned.

The authority introduced a free, voluntary Coventry Landlord Accreditation Scheme under its new mandatory licensing system this year, effective from April 1.

But the Residential Landlords Association, which represents private sector landlords, says it could be in breach of European law, although Coventry council has disputed the claim.

Under the scheme, private landlords accredited by the council are able to obtain a longer licence for houses of multiple occupation (HMO) than those who are not, while also gaining financial benefit from paying a cheaper licence fee.

But the only way for landlords to become accredited currently is to attend training courses in Coventry in person, which the RLA says discriminates against landlords who do not live locally.

Landlords must also pay the entire licence fee upfront even if an application is pending, which the RLA believes is unlawful as a 2018 court case ruled licence fees should be split in two parts – the first being an application fee, and the second being once the licence is granted.

David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “The RLA is deeply concerned at the serious legal questions that hang over the council’s licensing and accreditation scheme.

“We would strongly urge the council to review this unjust scheme.”

The association has written to the authority calling on it to review both the accreditation and licensing scheme as a matter of urgency.

Coventry council says it has not acted unlawfully, adding it is in the process of developing an online training programme to its accreditation scheme.

Tracy Miller, head of planning and regulation, said “There are three different types of licensing – mandatory, additional and selective.

“Mandatory Licensing is what we already do and we have introduced an Accredited Landlord Scheme for this current licensing system.

“The proposal is for that same scheme to be used for selective and additional should we as a council adopt such schemes.

“The Accreditation Scheme is free to all, however at the moment it requires attendance at a training event.

“It is recognised that not all landlords, agents etc are local and therefore we are developing an on-line training programme in order that we are fair and inclusive to all.

“Our Accreditation Scheme focuses on the issues relevant to Coventry, so it is a local scheme for local people. It is meant to be a proactive tool to reduce the amount of reactive enforcement and to professionalise the sector.

“We would never do anything unlawfully.”

By Tom Davis

Source: Coventry Telegraph

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Landlords body tells city council that its plans for licensing could break the law

A major local authority has been warned that its licensing scheme could be in breach of the law.

Coventry Council updated its mandatory licensing scheme for landlords to include an accreditation regime.

Private landlords who are accredited can obtain longer HMO licences than those who are not.

The Residential Landlords Association has told the council it thinks this is unlawful because the only way for landlords to become accredited is to attend training courses in person.

The RLA argues that this discriminates against landlords who do not live close to their property in Coventry.

In a letter to the council, the RLA argues that this is unfair and unlawful because longer HMO licences offer a financial and practical benefit for landlords, yet only landlords who are members of the council’s accreditation scheme will benefit from being able to obtain a five-year HMO licence.

The RLA earlier wrote to the council raising concerns over the proposed fee structure in its additional and selective licensing consultation.

The RLA now has similar concerns about the mandatory HMO licensing fee structure.

As part of the scheme, landlords must pay the entire licence fee upfront, even if a licensing application is still pending.

The RLA considers this to be unlawful, given that a court case in 2018 ruled that licence fees should be split into two parts, the first part being an application fee and the second part being payable once the licence has been granted.

The RLA is now calling for the authority to review both the accreditation and licensing scheme as a matter of urgency.

David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “The RLA is deeply concerned at the serious legal questions that hang over the council’s licensing and accreditation scheme.

“We would strongly urge the council to review this unjust scheme.”

In May, the RLA wrote to Oxford City Council raising concerns that the council’s accreditation scheme breached EU law because landlords could only become accredited if they attended training courses in person.

Since then, the RLA and Oxford City Council have worked together to amend the accreditation scheme.

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Landlords and lenders need to be up to date with new HMO regulations

IN APRIL the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 came into force. It brings the regulations for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in line with the rest of the UK and imposes tough new requirements on landlords to avoid overcrowding in residential properties. It is a legislation that landlords, managing agents and lenders need to be aware of.

An HMO is a property in which three or more people from two or more different families live. It includes properties that have been converted into self-contained flats. Previously, it was the property that was the subject of the HMO Licence – and licences were granted by the NI Housing Executive, subject to certain works undertaken by the landlord to bring the property to HMO standards.

But this has now changed, and the responsibility for licensing is now passed to local councils. A landlord now must apply to register themselves as an HMO provider and must prove they are a fit and proper person to hold a licence and that granting the licence will not breach planning.

This regulation will impact landlords and managing agents across Northern Ireland, particularly those owning properties let to Queen’s University and Ulster University students at their various campuses and those intending to sell residential property portfolios.

Generally, the licence will be granted for a five-year period, but this can be shortened by the council. Licences are also subject to renewal and can also be revoked. An owner of an HMO must apply and have a licence before it can be used as an HMO and the council can refuse to grant a licence if it is not satisfied that the property has the relevant planning permissions. Though, if applications are revoked or refused, there is an option to appeal.

When ownership of a property is transferred, any existing HMO licence also ceases to have effect. This may cause difficulties for vendors and purchasers with properties being sold with existing tenants in sit. The onus will be on the purchaser to apply for and be granted a new licence as the landlord for each property it acquires.

If a property does not have the relevant planning, then a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development (CLEUD) must be obtained to evidence planning, before any HMO application is made by a prospective landlord.

In order to make a CLEUD application, five years continuous use of the property must be demonstrated and proven. It will be important to have five years’ tenancy agreements and rental statements showing payments in this regard. In the alternative, a purchaser may lodge a planning application for change of use but given the over saturation of HMOs in certain areas in Northern Ireland, though there is no guarantee that planning will be granted and could be refused. This could leave a purchaser and a lender in a difficult situation.

Landlords can be prosecuted and fined if they are found to be operating an HMO without the appropriate licence and managing agents can also be prosecuted if they are complicit in the landlord’s activities.

It is therefore imperative proper advice is obtained from both a legal and planning perspective whenever a client is considering acquiring an HMO (and a lender is funding that purchase) – to ensure the property and the landlord do not fall foul of the new legislation.

Managing agents should also ensure their clients meet the HMO requirements when letting such a property on their behalf. This is a complex piece of new legislation and those dealing with residential real estate and HMOs, must familiarise themselves with it to avoid issues in the future.

By Alison Reid

Source: Irish News

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Councils must crack down on rogue letting agents

Local authorities must take much firmer action against rogue letting agents that tarnish the image of the private rented sector, the National Landlords Association (NLA) has said.

New research by the NLA found that more than half of local authorities did not prosecute a single letting agent in the four-year period from 2014/15 to 2017/18.

In a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 20 local authorities, the NLA discovered that 53 per cent of local authorities did not prosecute any letting agents.

A further 32 per cent prosecuted three or fewer.

Liverpool City Council was the outlier, prosecuting 13 letting agents. By contrast, Hammersmith and Fulham Council did not even bother to respond to the FOI. Of the 20 councils questioned, 13 had already introduced landlord licensing schemes.

The NLA expressed concern at the fact that some letting agents make unauthorised alterations to a landlord’s property, leading to a breakdown of trust between the tenant and the landlord.

In addition, they sometimes let out a landlord’s property to multiple tenants, effectively creating an illegal “house in multiple occupation” (HMO).

Given that the licensing laws on an HMO are stricter than those for a single occupancy property, this can leave the landlord liable to fines of up to £30,000 or even criminal charges.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the NLA, said: “It is clear that too many local authorities to failing in their duty to prosecute rogue letting agents.

“These bad ones can really poison the relationship between landlords and tenants. We want to see local authorities take much firmer action.

“We were shocked to find that so few letting agents are being prosecuted by local authorities. While many local authorities have introduced licensing schemes to crack down on rogue landlords, they seem to be allowing letting agents to get off scot-free. This must stop.

“In the meantime, landlords should make sure their chosen agent is reputable and is a member of a client money protection scheme that will safeguard their assets — rental money, deposit or other funds — if they misappropriate them or go bust.”

Source: Simple Landlords Insurance

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Thousands of HMO landlords still operate without licences and provide poor living conditions

Many UK renters are living in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), which, under current regulations, are properties rented out to three or more people forming at least two separate households, where tenants share basic amenities such as a kitchen or a bathroom. Any HMO that houses more than five people forming two or more separate households requires the landlord to apply for a licence to the local council, at an average cost of £600.

Students and the increasing number of people sharing flats with friends will be familiar with the common problems associated with living in an HMO. Most commonly, HMO landlords can be slow to make repairs, and the overall quality of the housing is more likely to be substandard.

Under current regulations, HMO landlords have to provide adequate fire escapes, gas and electrical safety, and minimum bedroom sizes; however, when it comes to the actual quality of the housing, there are no standards that can be enforced. In the worst cases, large-scale HMO housing has been found to contain damp and mould, kitchens in a state of disrepair, and vermin. These problems especially affect HMOs that have been converted from guest houses, as a 2015 BBC exposé demonstrated.

Moreover, thousands of landlords across the country are still avoiding licensing, putting their tenants at risk. In a landmark court case earlier this year, five Leeds flatmates took their landlord to court for failing to comply with licensing regulations, winning back all of their rent.

It may be that a more transparent and uniform landlord licensing scheme in which the money is reinvested into property maintenance could improve tenants’ living conditions – and increase landlord compliance.

‘Effective enforcement of rental sector standards is one of the biggest problems facing the lettings industry,’ says Neil Cobbold, chief operating officer of automated rental payment company PayProp.

‘Landlords might be happier to pay for these licences if they know the money is going to be used to raise PRS standards and identify rogue operators. Licensing schemes are sometimes criticised for being “revenue raisers” for local councils,’ adds Cobbold.

‘However, if authorities are more open about where the money is going and more focused on reinvesting it into housing, licensing schemes could be more effective with higher rates of compliance.’

Source: Real Homes

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Landlords warned to prepare for new HMO rules

FROM April 1, the licensing laws for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in Northern Ireland have changed.

Mandatory HMO licensing is being extended because of concerns about the number of HMOs operated by landlords who rent out sub-standard, overcrowded and dangerous accommodation, exploit vulnerable tenants and in some cases defraud the public purse.

A house in multiple occupation is a single property in which multiple households live and share basic amenities. A typical HMO may have a kitchen and/or bathroom shared between two or more rented households. These laws do not apply to rented flats or apartments with separate facilities.

According to figures obtained by the BBC, there are over 6,000 HMOs in Northern Ireland, with more than 4,000 based in Belfast.

Under the new scheme, all HMOs in Northern Ireland must hold a valid licence and landlords without licences or found to be in breach of the conditions of their licence, risk significant fines of up to £20,000 and/or prosecution.

HMOs previously been registered with the NI Housing Executive, which still benefit from valid unexpired licences, will automatically transfer to the new local council scheme. HMO licenses are valid for a period of five years and must be renewed periodically.

The licensing of all HMOs in Northern Ireland is now managed by the relevant local council. The ultimate purpose of the new legislation is to ensure that the accommodation is safe for the tenants and surrounding neighbours.

Under the legislation, landlords must have an anti-social behaviour plan in place and keep a record of instances of anti-social behaviour and what actions have been taken by the landlord to deal with the situation. Landlords will be provided with a guide from the Council, advising them on how to tackle these issues.

The legislation also requires HMOs to adhere to certain health and safety standards. The property must benefit from valid up to date safety and maintenance certificates for all relevant appliances.

From April 15, tenants of HMOs will be able to contact their local council to check if the property they reside in is registered as a HMO. Under the legislation, the tenant can report their landlord to their local council if the tenant suspects that there is not a valid licence in place or if the conditions of the licence are being breached.

The local council has the power to impose certain conditions on licenses and revoke HMO licenses if conditions are not being met.

The rules could have a major impact on city landlords who rent out premises to students and the growing number of professionals who share houses and flats.

By Oonagh Murdock

Source: Irish News