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Increased HMO charges ‘should not be passed onto students’ says Fife Council

There is no need for any increase in charges for HMO (house of multiple occupancy) licenses to be passed on to students who are concerned about rent rises, Fife Council has reiterated.

Every HMO needs a licence to make sure health and safety standards are met for residents. The council has recently updated the charging structure for licenses, bringing it into line with other local authorities, and making sure the increasing costs of administering the system were not passed on to taxpayers. Fees have not been increased since 2006.

John Mills, Fife Council’s head of housing services, said: “Any suggestion that the council is somehow responsible for a rise in student rents is just scaremongering.

“Based on current figures, the University charges £21,000 for an individual student over three years. Our HMO fee for one student in that time (in an HMO of five people) is under £300. My understanding is that St Andrews University charges one of the highest residential fees in Scotland. There has to be some perspective here.”

Mr Mills added: “The new charging structure now covers the full cost of the HMO licensing service, including administration, property inspections and verification, democracy and compliance costs. We’ve moved from a flat-based fee structure to one that takes account of the number of occupants in an HMO, and the resources spent on each application through a sliding scale of charges.

“There should be no suggestion that this will lead to rent rises for students. Any rises in rent are at the discretion of the University, and there is nothing to suggest that a rise in the fees the council charges for HMO licenses should be passed on to students. Any charges are a very small proportion of the rental income received by HMO owners.

“I would urge any parents or students who are concerned about a potential rise in rents to raise this directly with the University, as the organisation deciding how much should be charged for student housing.”

Source: Scottish Housing News

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Councillors aim to examine Wrexham’s licensing of houses in multiple occupation to review local standards

Calls for councillors to scrutinise the licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) across Wrexham have been made.

A topic request form signed by Holt councillor Michael Morris and Smithfield councillor Adrienne Jeorrett has been submitted for consideration by members of the homes and environment scrutiny committee.

It states that: “For some time members have expressed concern over the quality, appropriateness and size of accommodation which is offered to individuals residing in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and which is controlled by the licensing regime rather than through the planning process.”

Such concerns over the size of accommodation and amenity space provided in some HMO proposals have been raised numerous times over the years by councillors and planning committee members.

Speaking about plans to convert a property on the outskirts of the town into a HMO last December, Cllr Jeorrett said it was a “great disappointment that adults are having to live in one room with a long term impact on health and wellbeing.”

As part of the work looking into the licensing of HMOs, it is suggested that scrutiny “undertake a review of how the current standards were arrived at” and if they are nationally prescribed or determined locally.

It also proposes that the committee:

– Compare with other Local Authorities to establish if our standards are more or less generous than others and if they need reviewing.
– Consider the issue of bed spaces versus bedrooms and occupancy numbers.
– Consider how to ensure that HMOs offer a reasonable standard of accommodation by providing rooms of an adequate size for the number of occupants and reasonable communal living areas/ circulation space.
– Establish if there need to have differing standards for the various types of HMO eg. those that primarily house contractors who are working in the area and those that are conventionally let to tenants – (the former having a much greater parking need)
– Possibly look at a “Landlords Charter” on how they will deal with complaints

It is hoped that the scrutiny committee will help “remove the tensions between determining planning applications and and the licensing regime for HMOs” – along with “ensuring a better quality of accommodation for the tenants” and “reducing the tensions with the adjoining community neighbours”.

It is estimated that the topic will take four months to be examined by scrutiny members.

Previously in 2017 we have reported how there has been concerns that there is a lack of staff due to council cuts for inspections, as well as the implication there could well be a large number of unregistered HMO’s out there.

At the time we reported, “Detail was given to the meeting over the five year inspection periods, with an officer explaining that although the five years is the maximum mandatory inspection period, HMOs that are of concern could be inspected much more regularly such as six monthly. Lead Member for Housing, Cllr D J Griffiths, did point out that it was a chicken and egg situation at times as without investigating properties the council would not know of any issues to deal with, but without the staff to do so then investigations may not be as frequent” and “More detail was given on work done to locate unregistered HMOs, including: “There are probably more HMOs than are legally registered, but it is finding them is the challenge. We look at various sources, council tax bills, housing benefit information, or even looking on the internet to see what is to let locally.”

Source: Wrexham

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Edinburgh landlord stripped of HMO licence but maintains Airbnb listing

An Edinburgh landlord has been stripped of his HMO licence after he caused flooding to a neighbour’s property, but he has been allowed to continue to use the property as an Airbnb.

Edinburgh City Council’s licensing sub-committee refused Mr Tahir Ali’s renewed HMO application for his flat on Clerk Street after councillors heard complaints over flooding and anti-social behaviour, all whilst building work was carried out on the property without proper permissions.

Catherine Scanlin, the council’s licensing manager, told councillors that the objection, by Graham Muir, was due to a “breakdown in the relationship with the owner of the property” and that there “seems to be a history of flooding into another property”.

Mr Muir, who runs a laundry cafe below the flat, said that as many as 11 people stayed in the flat at any one time, despite having a capacity of just five.

It was also confirmed by building standards officers that en-suite showers had been installed in the flat “without permission” after a building warrant application was refused.

Mr Muir told the Edinburgh Evening News: “The shop has been flooded on a number of occasions. The ceiling caved in and it’s now propped up with scaffolding. It’s a complete disaster. There are people coming and going all the time, there are junkies that get in. He refuses to help – he’s just not bothered. He’s not a responsible person – it’s a ghost hostel.”

A ghost hostel or hotel is where an unsupervised property has each room let out individually without adhering to regulations required by law.

Mr Ali argued that Mr Muir “has had it in for me since day one” and insists on “sticking his nose into everybody else’s business except his own”.

Mr Ali did admit that he shouldn’t have carried out the work on his property without securing permission. He said: “Applications have been submitted. In hindsight I should have waited but because the workmen were in place, I carried on. Nothing is illegal, everything is above board. I offered to do his ceiling up and he said he didn’t want my ‘cowboys’ going in there.”

He added: “It’s not a hostel, it’s a HMO – it always has been. The current situation is that it’s let as an Airbnb holiday let. There have never been 11 people, not to my knowledge – and I manage the premises.”

The property currently has one permanent resident, while the remainder is let out as Airbnb-style short term lets.

Licensing officials told Mr Ali that he does not need any planning permission to operate as an Airbnb.

Source: Scottish Housing News

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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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Help for landlords who struggle to keep up with pace of change

Many landlords in the UK are struggling to keep up with changes to the law that have been introduced over the past year, according to an independent survey.

Some 30 per cent do not understand the changes to House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing, which came into effect in October 2018 and 28 per cent are not aware of the abolition of Section 21, which came into force at the start of June 2019 to prevent unfair tenant evictions.

The survey commissioned by bridging lender Market Financial Solutions, also found that 27 per cent are uncertain about the tenant fees ban, with a further 19 per cent saying they understand the reform but are unsure how it will affect them.

When it some to tax, there was also significant confusion, with the poll showing that 28 per cent do not understand the reforms to inheritance tax that have changed the tax free allowance on properties being passed down and 25 per cent do not know about the reforms affecting tax relief on mortgage repayments, which were implemented in April this year.

The research also found that far more landlords opposed these reforms than supported them.

Some 44 per cent are against the banning of letting fees, compared to 23 per cent in favour, 37 per cent against the abolition of Section 21 with 16 per cent in favour, while 48 per cent are against changes to buy-to-let mortgage relief and 16 per cent for.

Source: Simple Landlords Insurance

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Rogue Carlisle landlords prosecuted for unsafe conditions

Two Carlisle-based rogue landlords have been fined more that £1,000 each following a successful prosecution by Carlisle City Council.

Following a series of unannounced visits to rented premises in November 2018, Carlisle City Council has successfully prosecuted Sait Colak (49) and Erkan Colak (43) – both of 41 Fernlea Way, Carlisle – for offences under the management of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) regulations.

The visits backed by warrants from the Magistrates Court were carried out in coordination with the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, Cumbria Police and the Immigration, Control and Enforcement Service.

The offences related to poor management and unsafe conditions in the property. The landlords were fined £1,000 each on Wednesday 8 May 2019 by Carlisle Magistrates Court. In addition to the fine, £150 costs and £50 Victim Surcharge were also imposed.

Both Sait Colak and Erkan Colak pleaded guilty (by post) and neither attended the hearing.

Carlisle City Council spokesperson said: “The successful prosecution demonstrates the effectiveness of multi-agency working – a key feature of the Rogue Landlord Project funded by the Controlling Migration Fund. The project targets unlawful activity in the private rented sector with a focus on the Botchergate area and fast food premises.

“All Houses of Multiple Occupation should be properly managed; ensuring the safety and security of the tenants. In addition to this court prosecution, we are also now using the powers under the Housing and Planning Act 2016, to issue civil penalties against landlords. To date we have issued five civil penalties to landlords found to be operating without HMO licences.”

A House in Multiple Occupation is a privately rented property which is shared by more than two individuals and who share facilities such as a bathroom or kitchen. Any HMOs occupied by five or more individuals must be licensed. All HMOs must be managed to ensure the tenants are safe and secure.

 Source: Cumbria Crack