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Is the government’s HMO legislation failing?

New figures obtained by Simple Landlords Insurance appear to show that government plans to protect tenants from poor living conditions through the expansion of mandatory HMO licensing look set to fall way short of their ambition.

According to the data, the majority of local authorities don’t know how many unlicensed HMOs are in their area – let alone where they are – leaving them ill-equipped to seek those who break the rules or take advantage of new enforcement powers.

The findings reveal 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 have shown that two thirds (65/90) of local authorities have no idea how many landlords are breaking HMO licensing rules, nearly one third (29/90) have no idea how many properties should come in under the new regulatory scheme and 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.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) containing five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet must be licensed.

To gain a license, landlords must now pass a ‘fit and proper’ test as well as providing proof of compliance with fire safety regulations and provide tenants with a written statement of the terms of their occupancy. The rules were widened on 1 October, removing a minimum three storeys high requirement whilst new conditions on minimum room size and waste collection were imposed.

The known unknowns

The government’s Housing Minister Heather Wheeler MP claimed the new rules would increase the number of mandatory HMO licenced properties in England from 60,000 to an estimated 220,000 properties.

However, this new research shows local authorities are hamstrung in their efforts to apply the new legislation – due to a combination of poor intelligence about housing stock and stretched resources.

Carl Agar, founder of The Home Safe Scheme and managing director of property management company Big Red House, says: “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 essentially relying 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.”

Cities overwhelmed

Amongst the local authorities that have the intelligence and data to make a prediction about how many more HMOs would need a license, cities unsurprisingly show a major hike.

Liverpool City Council had 1,195 HMOs with a mandatory license before 1 October, and expects that 5,000 will require licensing. Birmingham expects numbers to swell from 1,853 to 4,000 and Southampton expects the numbers will increase from 551 to 2500.

Many London boroughs had no idea at all how many additional HMOs would come under scope, whilst those that did are expecting a huge jump – in Greenwich from 147 to 3,250 HMOs under scope.

66% of the local authorities who responded were able to estimate how many HMOs were likely to require a mandatory license from 1 October, and the average increase recorded was 227%.

Carl adds: “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.”

Mystery housing stock

Environmental Health Officer and Chair of the National HMO Network Paul Fitzgerald, explains: “Most local authorities simply do not fully understand the housing stock in their area, and they are kidding themselves if they claim that they do.

Trying to identify an HMO from scratch is an incredibly challenging job, made harder by the failure to join up systems like council tax and benefits registers, and immigration databases. Those who are determined to break the law do not apply for a licence in the first place.

Once they have been identified, dealing with criminal HMO landlords will be yet another problem. Pursuing a prosecution – or applying for a banning order – takes time, stretches resources and is not guaranteed. Many local authorities will opt for issuing fines, but there’s no guarantee that these will be paid without going to court, and that’s another resource and cost-heavy process.”

The bottom line” sums up Carl Agar “is that the Housing Act, in its current form, is no longer fit for purpose and the government need to prioritise helping local authorities know who is renting property in their areas and what type of properties are being let. A central government funded national register would be a major step forward.”

Richard Truman, Head of Operations at Simple Landlords Insurance commented: “Earlier this year, we found that 85% of landlords we spoke to weren’t aware of the looming HMO regulations. A month on from their implementation, we wanted to find out exactly what those landlords are facing on the ground.

The 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.

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.”

Source: Property Reporter

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Agents and landlords ‘could be in trouble’ as most councils fail to understand new HMO rules

A series of Freedom of Information requests has found that only a minority of local authorities have established the number of properties that need to be licensed under new HMO rules.

Even fewer councils – only a tiny handful – know whether the properties would meet licensing conditions, for example, as to fire safety and new minimum room size requirements.

As a result, thousands of HMOs could be illegal, exposing landlords and agents to fines and other penalties, and inability to serve Section 21 notices.

Tenants meanwhile could face losing their homes.

From October 1, the old HMO rules changed, and now apply to properties of any height where there are five or more sharers in two or more households.

Previously, only properties of three storeys or more were covered.

A 2008 Government report estimated there were 56,000 HMOs licensed under the old regime.

These will automatically be passported over to the new arrangements, but the Government estimates a total of 160,000 properties could be covered by the new regulations and has given local authorities up to three years to identify them.

Research carried out by Doncaster-based property investment firm Touchstone suggests that many councils will need all of this time, while meanwhile a large number of HMOs are illegal.

The research has apparently revealed massive gaps in local authorities’ knowledge of where these properties are and who owns them.

Most, it is claimed, are relying on landlords to submit licence applications.

Of the 238 authorities that responded to a Freedom of Information request, sent at the start of September, asking how prepared they were for the changes, 93 said they had carried out research to establish how many properties in their area require an HMO licence.

However, only 14 had conducted research to establish how many of those properties were in a condition where they could expect to be granted an HMO licence.

Touchstone CEO Paul Smith said that the Government had passed legislation without any clear idea as to the sale of the issue.

He said: “We’re aware of one local authority with 1,800 properties classed as HMOs and privately it told us that only around 40% will meet the [HMO standards required in] the new regulations.

“If that’s happening across the country, we could be looking at a major problem.
“Ministers have estimated 160,000 properties could be affected but I would be interested to know how they arrived at that figure as most local authorities have not conducted any research.”

Responses to the Freedom of Information requests showed that while Manchester City Council estimated it now has 5,000 HMO properties, it hasn’t researched how many will meet licensing standards.

North Somerset Council said it had 2,940 properties affected, Peterborough and Bournemouth put their numbers at up to 2,500 while Cambridge, York and Hull city councils estimated they had more than 1,000 HMOs.

None was able to say how many were currently operating illegally.

Leeds, Bristol, and Norwich were among the majority of authorities which said they had not carried out any research to establish how many properties in their area might be affected or how many might pass or fail.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, had already said that landlords enquiring about licences were being given wrong answers by local councils which appeared to know nothing of the changes.

He now says: “This is an unacceptable failing on the part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

“We‘re also concerned that local authorities appear unprepared for the changes and have, anecdotally, heard that landlords may be being given advice which could put them at risk of breaking the law.

“Our advice to all landlords is to check if your property falls under the new regulations, and if your local authority does not yet have a process in place, make sure you apply using the existing mandatory HMO licensing scheme and receive an acknowledgement of your application.”

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Agents and landlords ‘left in dark’ over new HMO requirements despite huge penalties

Letting agents are reminded that the clock is ticking towards the October 1 deadline, when the rules on mandatory HMO licensing change across England.

There has been no government campaign to raise awareness among agents and landlords, and nothing to explain what appears to be a little-known exemption. This is despite the possibility of swingeing penalties.

Currently, properties of three or more storeys, shared by five or more people in two or more households, where facilities such as kitchen or bathroom are shared, must have a mandatory HMO licence.

On October 1, the “storeys” criteria is removed and any property, of any height, that meets the other criteria must be mandatorily licensed.

What agents may not know is that there is an important exemption: purpose-built flats within a block containing three or more self-contained flats are excluded from the requirement.

Nothing from the housing ministry has explained this or other new HMO rules – and yet the penalties are potentially severe enough to close a business down.

An HMO that is not licensed when the law requires it could land the agent or landlord, or both, with a criminal prosecution and record, an unlimited fine, and an order to pay court costs and a victim surcharge.

Alternatively, the council could issue a civil penalty of up to £30,000 and a rent repayment order of up to 12 months’ rental income.

While a property is unlicensed, a Section 21 notice cannot be served.

Licensing expert Richard Tacagni said agents should be absolutely certain that HMO properties falling under the new rules are licensed promptly.

He said: “Many agents don’t yet fully appreciate the implications, and their criminal liability if an application is not submitted on time.”

An excellent guide by Tacagni for all agents in England is here:

https://www.londonpropertylicensing.co.uk/mandatory-hmo-licensing

A second article is especially aimed at London agents but does explain the exemption for flats in purpose-built blocks of three or more apartments.

It also reveals that many London authorities – and this may well apply to councils outside the capital – are not making the process for HMO licence applications particularly easy.

https://www.londonpropertylicensing.co.uk/three-week-countdown-mandatory-hmo-licensing-rules-change-1-october-2018-are-you-ready

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Thurrock Landlord Fined For Failure To License Investment Property

A Thurrock landlord has been fined £2,252 after failing to license her property and failing to provide acceptable living conditions for her tenants.

Rogue landlord Adeola Makinde was found guilty of failing to licence her rental property in Norfolk Place, Chafford Hundred. The property required a house in multiple occupation (HMO) licence. A trial at Basildon Magistrates Court last week lead to Makinde being prosecuted for her failure to sort this out.

The court was told that Thurrock Council had been requesting a HMO licence application from Makinde since 2014. However, no application was made.

An inspection in July 2017 revealed that the property contained 12 people living in four rooms as well as sharing a single kitchen. It also found that there were inadequate fire safety measures and a number of issues with the condition of the property which rendered it unfit for human habitation. The overcrowded nature of the property could have endangered the health of the tenants who lived inside as well as causing severe problems if a fire were to start and the residents needed to escape.

Makinde pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to licence the HMO, three breaches of HMO management regulations, failing to return information about the house and failing to return documents. However, magistrates deemed her actions were unreasonable and therefore found her guilty of all six charges.

Councillor responsible for Thurrock housing, Barry Johnson, said: ‘We believe everyone should have a good quality place to live and will continue to take action against those landlords who fail to ensure their properties are safe, well managed and properly licensed. We are currently consulting on a proposed new additional licensing scheme which would mean more landlords who own shared houses and flats have to comply with national health and safety standards and local criteria.’

Source: Residential Landlord

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HMO licensing fees reviewed in preparation for changes in government legislation

Licensing fees paid by landlords who operate houses in multiple occupation in Cheshire East have been revised, to help ensure better living conditions and management standards.

Previously, the fee for a house in multiple occupation ( HMO ) licence in Cheshire East was set at £575 for a period of up to five years – regardless of how big the HMO was.

That charge has now been replaced by a scale of fees and charges, ranging from £430 for an initial licence for the smaller HMOsHMO , through to £760 for a renewal licence for up to five years for the largest.

The revised fees are in preparation for changes in government legislation which will come into effect in October 2018 and allow councils to bring HMOs under closer scrutiny.

At the moment, a HMO must be licensed if there are five or more occupants – living in two or more separate households – who are sharing amenities including a kitchen, bathroom or toilet and the property is set out over three or more storeys.

But from 1 October, the three-storey part of the criteria will be removed.

From the same date, councils will also be able to enforce mandatory conditions regulating the size and use of rooms as sleeping accommodation, as well as rules around waste management.

Operating without a licence is a criminal offence and the penalties include an unlimited fine. Other enforcement action for licensing offences includes banning landlords from operating and issuing civil penalties of up to £30,000.

Councillor Ainsley Arnold, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for housing, planning and regeneration, said: “Poor housing can impact on a person’s mental and physical health and mandatory licensing will be key in ensuring that landlords provide good quality, safe accommodation that is well managed.

“In Cheshire East, there are an estimated 600-650 HMOs and 51 meet the current definition for a mandatory licence. However, from October, it’s estimated that around 500 will require one.

“To make sure we can respond to the significant increase in HMOs needing a licence and safeguard those living in them, we have strengthened our resources and created additional posts.

“The licence fees and charges have also been reviewed to ensure that the full cost of processing an application, which varies according to the size of the HMO , is passed to the landlord as a valid cost of operating their business.”

As part of the changes, an initial one-year licence period has been put in place where a licence is required for a property or proposed landlord for the first time.

However, as an incentive to landlords and to support the council in managing the transition to the new regulations smoothly, those who submit a complete application by 15 August can receive an initial two-year licence.

Cllr Arnold said: “Unfortunately there are a minority of irresponsible landlords who are providing unsafe and poorly managed accommodation that falls well short of the standards we expect in Cheshire East.

“By putting in place a shorter initial licence period, it will give the council greater control and improved engagement with landlords to help ensure residents are safeguarded and that other issues such as waste management can be correctly addressed.”

Source: Cheshire East

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Government to review selective licensing as it unveils new guidance for HMO properties

The Government has announced a review into selective licensing to assess how well it is working.

The review will seek evidence from local authorities and bodies representing landlords, tenants and housing professionals, with findings reported next year.

A Government statement said: “In areas where selective licensing applies, landlords must apply for a licence if they want to rent out a property. This means the council can check whether they are a ‘fit or proper person’ to be a landlord, as well as making other stipulations concerning management of the property and appropriate safety measures.

“The review will see independent commissioners gather evidence from local authorities and bodies representing landlords, tenants and housing professionals.

“The review’s findings will be reported in spring 2019. There will be an update on progress in autumn this year.”

It comes as the Government set out guidance for the extension of mandatory licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation and the introduction of minimum room size requirements.

Local authorities have been told to start making landlords aware of the regulations – being introduced on October 1 – and existing licence holders will need to be given extra time to make their properties compliant when they come to renew their licence after deadline.

Currently, HMO landlords require a licence if letting properties that are three or more storeys and occupied by five or more people from at least two separate households.

From October 1, the licensing rules will be extended to HMO properties of all sizes, including two-storey houses and bungalows.

Government guidance published yesterday said: “Local housing authorities have a duty to effectively implement mandatory licensing in their district.

“This means that they must promote licensing in their area and accept and process applications before October 1st 2018.

“We expect local housing authorities to have the framework in place to process and issue licences in advance of this date and to encourage early applications from landlords who are due to become subject to mandatory licensing. Local housing authorities must also ensure that all applications for licences are determined within a reasonable time.”

The guidance also details rules on minimum bedroom size requirements for HMOs, with a fine of up to £30,000 for those who fail to comply.

The minimum sleeping room sizes are:

· 6.51 m2 for one person over ten years of age

· 10.22m2 for two persons over ten years of age

· 4.64 m2 for one child under the age of ten years.

Any area of the room in which the ceiling height is less than 1.5m cannot be counted towards the minimum room size, the Government said.

Local housing authorities are also required to impose conditions specifying the maximum number of people aged over and under ten who may occupy specified rooms provided in HMOs for sleeping accommodation.

Existing licence holders will have to comply with the new minimum room size requirements from when an existing licence is renewed after October 2018.

If a landlord is not compliant at the time of renewal a local authority must give them up to 18 months to make changes.

Commenting on the announcements, David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, said: “Licencing doesn’t work, and it never has done. The Government’s aims are laudable; we’re all striving for the same end goal of improving the private rental sector for consumers, but these policies are impractical.

“Licensing means councils spend all their time administering schemes, rather than enforcing against rogue, criminal landlords – a fact which has been proven time and time again over the last decade. Implementing standards for minimum bedroom sizes means small, cheap bedrooms will be taken off the market at a time when there’s an acute housing shortage.

“This will increase costs for other tenants living in the property, and means those who need or want these small, cheap bedrooms will be left without anywhere to live.

“The announcement, coupled with the gradual removal of mortgage interest relief, new energy standards for landlords, and the ever-increasing fees for these schemes, means landlords are being hit from every side.

“At a time when the Government is concerned with rising rent costs, all its policies are just increasing costs for landlords, fostering a private rented sector where financial burdens due to ever-changing legislations will keep rising.”

Source: Property Industry Eye

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County Durham landlords encouraged to check licences

Landlords with properties in County Durham are being encouraged to check whether they need a licence ahead of upcoming changes to legislation.

Rules around Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are set to extend to more properties from 1 October 2018 – and the changes may be particularly relevant for landlords of student houses.

From that date, a HMO licence will be required if a property is occupied by five people or more in two separate households, regardless of the number of storeys in the building. Previously, this only applied if the property was three storeys or more.

A single household means either an individual (including a student) or a family unit.

The rules apply to any HMO which is a building or a converted flat where householders share basic amenities like a toilet or cooking facilities, and purpose built flats where there are up to two flats in the block and one or both are occupied as a HMO.

Landlords whose property now requires a licence must apply before Monday 1 October and are being warned there is no grace period after this date.

However, those landlords who already have a current license under a local authority mandatory or additional licensing scheme, as well as landlords who have a selective licence, will not need to apply for a new license until their current license expires even if that is after 1 October 2018.

Joanne Waller, head of environment, health and consumer protection, said:

“This new legislation will bring many more properties under the HMO licensing regime and we would remind all landlords in the county to check whether they now need to be registered. 

“We take our duty to regulate HMOs very seriously as we know licensing leads to improved property conditions for residents living in this type of accommodation”

Source: Sun FM

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Changes In Landlord Legislation For This Year

There are some years which seem to be dominated by changes in landlord legislation and 2018 seems to be one of those years. Some of these have been talked about for a long time and landlords have had time to prepare, but others seem to have been sneaked in. The main landlord legislation changes are listed below.

Energy Efficiency Standards                                                                                                                                        

From 1st April 2018 properties that are rented out in the private rented sector will need a minimum energy performance rating of E on an EPC certificate. The new rules cover all new lets from that date and will be extended to all tenancies from 1st April 2020.

HMO room size regulations

Research has found that 16 per cent of landlords rent to people in HMOs, and though some has been to a reasonable size standard, it is this portion of the sector that has been seen in the past to have the poorest size standards, so legislation that will improve this is to be welcomed.

From October 2018, a minimum space standard will be introduced for bedrooms in Houses in Multiple Occupation. Rooms to accommodate one person must be a minimum of 6.51 square metres; for 2 persons, it must be a minimum of 10.22 square metres; rooms to accommodate a child under 10 years old must be at least 4.64 square metres.

The HMO licence must specify the maximum number of people resident in the property. Landlords who do not comply with the new requirements could face a fine of £30,000, though landlords of existing properties will have 18 months to make any changes to allow compliance.

GDPR

From 25th May, General Data Protection Regulations will be introduced to replace the Data Protection Act. From that date, landlords will have to ensure that their businesses are GDPR compliant. A data protection policy is needed, together with a privacy notice for customers. A new change is that registering with the Information Commissioners Office will become a statutory requirement.

Extension of mandatory HMO licensing

An extension of mandatory HMO licensing will come into force from 1st October 2018. The reason will always be that this will raise standards, but the private landlord’s view will be that it is the revenue it raises that be of most concern to the local authority.

Banning Orders                                                                                                                                                              

Banning orders will be introduced on 6th April with the intention of tackling criminal landlords and agents. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 introduced banning orders; an individual convicted of certain offences can be barred from renting out properties for a minimum of one year. Could the penalties be avoided by transferring ownership to a partner? However, the changes will now impact all tenancies, including those that were established BEFORE 1st October 2015.

Extension of Section 21                                                                                                                                                    

October sees the extension of Section 21 which were implemented by the Deregulation Act. Section 21 was changed and applied to all tenancies or renewals that started on or after October 1st, 2015.

All landlords are legally required to supply their tenants with the ‘prescribed documents’ of gas safety certificate, tenancy deposit protection information, energy performance certificate, tenancy agreement and the government document ‘How to Rent’ before the start of the tenancy. As this has been required procedure for some time, it seems unnecessary to further legislate.

Gas Safety                                                                                                                                                             

There will be some flexibility for Landlords around dates of annual gas safety checks.

Landlords will be able to make compulsory checks any time in the two months leading up to the renewal date. This means that, if the check was due on May 31, the check could be carried out any time in April or May and still retains the 31st May renewal date for future renewals. This may be helpful for landlords who find it more convenient to have their full portfolio of property checked at the same time.

In summary, there is plenty of landlord legislation changes for private landlords to think about this year and some will struggle to keep out of trouble. Check with local authority accreditation schemes and landlord associations for any training that is available to ensure that you are able to implement any landlord legislation changes required, and your reputation as a landlord remains unblemished.

Source: Residential Landlord

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HMO National Minimum Room Size and Suitability

The government has now published its response to its consultation on HMOs and residential property licensing. Alongside proposals to extend mandatory licensing, the government has announced that it will proceed with introducing a national minimum room size for bedrooms in licensed HMOs. The proposals, which were detailed in the government’s earlier response paper, will prohibit landlords from letting rooms in HMOs to a single adult where the usable floor space is less than 6.51sqm and 10.22sqm for a room occupied by two adults. It will be mandatory for a HMO licence to include a condition that states the maximum number of persons who may occupy each specific room in a property as sleeping accommodation.

Room size in HMOs is frequently a hotly disputed issue between local authorities and landlords and has resulted in a number of senior court decisions in recent years. This blog looks at some of the issues surrounding room size and the potential impact of a national minimum room size.

Currently there are no mandatory HMO conditions or prescribed standards relating to room size

The Housing Act 2004 provides for certain mandatory conditions that must be included in a HMO licence. For example, a licence must contain a condition requiring the licence holder to produce a gas safety certificate (if applicable) and ensure smoke alarms are installed. While there is a power for the Secretary of State to add further mandatory conditions, since the Housing Act 2004 was enacted there have been no mandatory conditions relating to room size. Local authorities regulate room size in HMOs by relying on their discretionary powers to impose licence conditions which restrict or prohibit the use or occupation of particular parts of the property.

The Housing Act 2004 does require the local authority to be satisfied that the house is reasonably suitable for occupation by not more than the maximum number of households or persons or that it can be made so suitable by the imposition of conditions. The local authority cannot be satisfied of this if the house fails to meet prescribed standards for occupation. Again, while a number of standards have been prescribed by regulations, there has never been a prescribed standard relating to bedroom size.

The government intends to change this by both prescribing a minimum room size standard and making it mandatory for licences to include a condition stipulating which rooms in the HMO are suitable for sleeping accommodation and the maximum number of persons who can sleep in each room.

Local Authority Standards – Clark v Manchester City Council

Because there are no statutory prescribed room size standards many local authorities have developed their own guidance setting out the local authority’s view on what size standards it considers acceptable in HMOs. This is to both assist local authority officers with their decision-making and to advise landlords. The problem with this is that local authorities frequently fall into the trap of treating their guidance as if it is a statutory prescribed standard and granting or refusing to grant licences on the basis of whether bedrooms meet their own standards rather than considering the suitability of the property as a whole.

This issue was highlighted in the key Upper Tribunal case of Clark v Manchester City Council [2015] UKUT 129 (LC). In that case the Upper Tribunal concluded that the Council’s adoption of mandatory minimum size standards for bedrooms in HMOs was unlawful. While local authorities were perfectly entitled to produce guidance on room size and while their views should be given weight by the tribunal, local authorities were not able to apply their standards as if they had statutory force. Ultimately the question is whether the property as a whole is reasonably suitable for occupation by a particular number of people. Clark made it clear that it is not permissible for local authorities to automatically prohibit the use of certain bedrooms simply because they fall below the standards set out in their own guidance.

Is the type of occupant relevant to room size?

The type of occupant has also been shown to be relevant in room size cases. This was illustrated in the case of Nottingham City Council v Dominic Parr and Trevor Parr Associates Ltd [2017] EWCA Civ 188which was heard last year in the Court of Appeal. The Council’s guidance suggested that 8sqm was an acceptable bedroom size and the licences issued prohibited the use of two attic rooms until the usable floor space had been increased. The First-Tier Tribunal had deleted the condition and imposed an alternative condition that the rooms could be used by full-time student who resided in the room for a maximum of 10 months of the year. This was upheld by the Upper Tribunal and the Court of Appeal concluded that there was nothing unlawful about a HMO licence restricting occupation of a bedroom to students only. The Supreme Court has granted permission to Nottingham City Council to appeal the decision.

How will the introduction of a minimum room size standard change things?

First, it will mean that landlords will have to stop letting rooms that fall below the nationally prescribed standard. If they do not then they will be in breach of licence condition and could be prosecuted by the local authority or alternatively receive a civil penalty under the new Housing and Planning Act 2016 provisions. Rooms below the prescribed standard that have previously been found suitable for occupation will no longer be capable of being let separately as sleeping accommodation by any person aged over 10. It is important to note that the new mandatory condition will not affect existing licences but will only apply to licences granted on or after the commencement of the new regulations. This includes renewals of existing licences. Even then there will be transitional arrangements to allow landlords affected by the new rules time to reduce the number of persons in occupation.

Second, local authorities will continue to be entitled, and are encouraged, to produce their own standards complete with figures which set out what size the local authority considers acceptable for sleeping accommodation. This can be higher than the national minimum. For example, in the case of Parrdiscussed above Nottingham City Council were of the view that 8sqm is an appropriate room size. As the government made clear in its response paper ‘the minimum room size is simply a standard below which a room cannot be used as sleeping accommodation. It is not intended to be the norm or the lowest common denominator.’ However, what local authorities are not able to do is apply their standards as if they have statutory force and automatically prohibit the use of rooms that fall below their own standards. To that extent, the decision of Clark will continue to be relevant in room size disputes.

Third, it will not mean that rooms that meet the new minimum size will automatically be deemed suitable for occupation. In fact, if applied correctly, the introduction of a national minimum room size should have limited impact on rooms that meet the national standard. As is the case now, the question of how many persons or households can occupy a HMO is not dependent on calculating the floor space of each bedroom in isolation. It comes down to whether a specific property, taken as a whole, is reasonably suitable for a certain maximum number of persons or households. The only difference now is that rooms below the national minimum room size will automatically be ruled out as being suitable for sleeping in. However, these rooms can still be taken into account when assessing the property as a whole. They could, for example, provide useful storage space for the occupants of a property freeing up floor space in the bedrooms.

The regulations still need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament but it seems likely that the new standard will come into force sometime later this year. While the introduction of a national minimum room size will bring some clarity to the HMO room size debate, questions surrounding suitability and how local authorities apply their own standards will not disappear. We are likely to see new challenges in the tribunals and senior courts as room size continues to be contested by landlords and local authorities.

Source: Lexology

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Record Fine For Luton Landlord

Safety breaches in his buy to let HMO property have led to a record fine for a Luton landlord.

Alyas Hussain of Dunstable Close, Luton, was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay additional costs of £1,148.79 plus a surcharge of £170 for a number of dangerous breaches of legislation designed to protect tenants.

The huge amount sets a new record fine for the council, and was imposed as the landlord was seen to have a total disregard for the safety of his tenants.

The HMO in question was found to be ‘overcrowded’, while tenants’ lives had been ‘put at risk’ through a lack of fire doors, automatic fire detection and heat detection, in addition to ‘obstructions to stairs and exits in the event of fire’.

The property also had unfinished electrical works throughout, with bare wires ‘hanging from ceilings and out of walls’, with bathrooms also said to be in a ‘terrible state of repair’.

Ceilings were found to be damaged in the property and an electrical meter had been tampered with, while the gas meter ‘had to be shut down due to a leak’.

The chair of Luton magistrates court said when sentencing: ‘It is clear to us that these offences are motivated by profit without any recourse to regulations or court processes. The defendant has two properties not subject to mortgage and received rent from the HMO in excess of £19,000.’

Tom Shaw, portfolio holder for housing, added: ‘We will not tolerate landlords who rent properties which fail to meet standards. The council has a commitment to ensure that private landlords in Luton do not take financial advantage of vulnerable tenants and put their lives at risk. We will not hesitate to prosecute landlords who show a disregard for the law and their responsibilities towards occupants.

‘At the start of 2018 this conviction sends out a really strong message to landlords: in every sense of the expression ‘Get your house in order’ or we will be on to you.’

Source: Residential Landlord