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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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New charges for houses in multiple occupation in Coventry – what it means

Action to tackle irresponsible landlords has half-succeeded at Coventry council after one of two schemes was passed by councillors.

A city-wide ‘additional licensing’ scheme was approved at full council on Tuesday, January 14, but ward-specific ‘selective licensing’ came to a halt after it was voted down to allow for further investigations.

The new additional licensing policy will focus on houses in multiple occupation (HMO).

The scheme is likely to impact a number of student homes, which the council hopes to reduce through the introduction of more purpose-built student blocks.

Under additional licensing, a landlord who has been operating an unlicensed HMO could pay £1,250 for a one-year licence; £1,055 could be charged for a one-year licence if they are not listed as part of the council’s ‘proactive enforcement regime’; £705 for a two-year licence; £640 for a five-year licence; and £545 for a renewal.

Selective licensing would have been in certain wards, although councillors voted it down after citing an upcoming selective licensing review from the government and ‘out-of-date’ data from a 2011 census which was used to determine the areas the new scheme would fall into.

In consultation, landlords also claimed it added ‘unnecessary financial burden’ and could lead to increased costs being passed onto tenants.

Both schemes were planned to hold landlords to account and help set and maintain minimum standards across the city.

Combined the schemes would have introduced fees potentially worth thousands of pounds on landlords.

Around a dozen councillors were forced to leave the meeting and not take part in the vote as they are landlords themselves.

Cabinet member responsible Cllr Tariq Khan said the selective licensing scheme will be revisited once the government’s review has been published, while his deputy Cllr David Welsh welcomed the new additional licensing.

Cllr Welsh said: “This is probably one of the biggest steps this council has taken to improve the quality of housing in many years.

“Members will be aware what HMOs have done to the quality of housing across the city and the issues they have created.

“I look forward to working with the good landlords we have in the city and I’m very aware there’s many who do take responsibility for the properties they own and manage them well.

“But this scheme will tackle those who fail to do this, people who seek to invest in the city in terms of owning a property but don’t want to be responsible for the state of the properties and the behaviour of the tenants within.

“This scheme will give the council power to put conditions on the licence in terms of the quality of accommodation and others that we have not been able to do until now. That will make a big difference.”

Additional licensing requires all owners of HMOs that are occupied by three or four tenants and all converted self-contained flats that are wholly tenanted to apply to the council for a HMO licence.

Selective licensing would have required owners of rented properties in designated areas to apply and pay for a property licence and pass a ‘fit and proper person’ test.

Additional licensing will come into force on May 4 for a period of five years.

By Tom Davis

Source: Coventry Telegraph

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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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Objections To Turn Former Scarborough Care Home Into HMO

A proposal to turn a former care home in Scarborough into a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) has provoked reaction from local residents.

More than 70 people have objected to plans from Artz Ltd to convert Harewood House at 47 West Street into a property to house up to 30 people.

The objectors are concerned about the number of HMOs in the area and also about the increase in parking and traffic it could bring.

Fantasia Leisure Ltd, which would manage the HMO if it were to be granted permission, says in its supporting information that overseas workers would be housed in the building.

It adds:

“Fantasia currently is inundated with inquiries for working people from overseas looking for accommodation in Scarborough.”

The company added that it had recently been asked if it could find accommodation for 200 workers in the area.

A number of the objectors, in their letters to the council, bring up the case of the Breece, a former hotel in West Street that later became an HMO.

In 2014 a court ordered the closure of the Breece following more than 50 anti-social behavior complaints and allegations of stabbings and rape at the premises.

One objector wrote:

“The Breece was a sizeable HMO and subsequent amendments were made to the relevant section of the Local Plan to provide powers to restrict the size of HMOs and control their location to avoid ‘clustering’.

It was deemed appropriate that the maximum number [of occupants] should be 10. The proposed number of occupants for Harewood House greatly exceeds this number.

Furthermore, such a development would greatly increase the number of HMO buildings and occupants in this area. The proposed site is close to three existing HMOs, the largest of which has made an application to significantly increase its numbers.”

Scarborough Civic Society has also objected to the plans, saying that, if granted, the number of tenants in HMOs in the area would double. It adds that it would also detract from the character of the Conservation Area.

The Harewood House care home closed in 2017 and despite two auctions being held no buyer has yet been found to take over the property.

By Carl Gavaghan

Source: Yorkshire Coast Radio

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Huge number of HMOs have no licence and are illegal, says new research

There is a non-compliance rate of 75% in unlicensed HMOs in London.

Research conducted by the private consultancy London Property Licensing for trade body safeagent – formerly NALS – has found over 130,000 unlicensed properties which should be licensed under mandatory, selective or licensing schemes.

The research, carried out through Freedom of Information requests, found there are over 310,000 private rented properties in London that require licensing.

However, non-compliance in the capital is rife.

Licence applications have been submitted for only 25% of the 138,500 private rented properties that require licensing.

Without a licence application submitted, these properties are being operated illegally and landlords and/or agents can face prosecution or a civil penalty of up to £30,000.

The landlord can also be ordered to repay up to 12 months rent.

Since October 2018, the mandatory HMO licensing scheme has applied to most HMOs shared by five or more people whereas it was previously restricted to properties three or more storeys in height.

In some boroughs, additional licensing schemes have extended licensing to properties rented to just three or four unrelated people.

The picture for selective licensing is markedly different, according to the research.

These schemes extend licensing to all private rented properties including single family lets within a certain geographical area.

Licence applications have been submitted for 85% of the 173,000 private rented properties that require licensing under selective licensing schemes in London– a non-compliance rate of 15%.

Added to the confusion over licensable properties, many London boroughs are struggling to process over 24,000 licence applications.

Currently, about 40% of boroughs still rely on paper applications.

Safeagent is calling for a simpler, more streamlined licensing process.

Safeagent CEO Isobel Thomson said: “The results of the survey are concerning.

“Consumers are not being well served and indeed many are being placed at risk through this mish-mash of licensing schemes.

“Right now, the system isn’t fit for purpose and councils are drowning in paperwork.

“Landlords needing property licences are either deliberately evading the schemes or are in the dark concerning their legal responsibilities, and tenants are being placed at risk.

“If the compliance rate for HMO licensing schemes is only 25%, how can these schemes be effective?

“Isn’t it time we went back to the drawing board to come up with a simple, streamlined system that works for all?”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Landlord of dangerous HMO where foreign tenants spoke little English hit with huge fine

A landlord has been found guilty and fined £40,000 for letting out a dangerous and unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation.

It is the second largest fine levied against a landlord obtained by City of Lincoln Council.

Julie Churchill’s property was deemed dangerous by the magistrates for failing to comply with a number of safety breaches under the Housing Act 2004.

It had no fire doors to the bedrooms, ground floor lounge or kitchen, no working fire alarms on the ground floor, and one of the bedroom doors had a large gap to the top which would allow smoke to pass in the event of a fire.

Three of the bedroom doors could be locked by a padlock which if in use would not allow for a quick exit.

The court heard that if a fire had erupted in this building, these inadequate fire warning systems and lack of fire containment measures would have put the tenants at extreme risk.

The stairs were painted gloss black and had no slip resistance in the event of a tenant falling, and the kitchen did not have adequatefacilities for the seven tenants living in the property. One of the occupied bedrooms was below the legal minimum size for an adult.

It was heard in court that the repair of these defects would have cost Churchill as little as £6,000.

When the four-bedroom property was inspected by police and housing officers under a magistrates’ court warrant in January, the occupants were found to be seven unrelated eastern European and sub-Saharan immigrants in four bedrooms.

The tenants spoke little English and were unaware of their rights, receiving no tenancy agreement, rent book or rent receipt during their tenancy. Only two of the seven tenants knew what the landlord’s name was.

It was discovered that Churchill was taking up to £1,480 per month in rent, which at that rate would give her an income of approximately £35,520 over the two years she had owned the property.

Cllr Donald Nannestad, portfolio holder for quality housing at City of Lincoln Council, said: “We’re extremely pleased to bring another case to justice as part of our ongoing battle to crack down on rogue landlords.”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Tenants in flat-shares lose their living rooms as landlords make the most of space

Tenants in shared houses are facing the end of the sitting room for Generation Rent, as landlords increasingly convert every possible space into bedrooms.

According to The Times, analysis of room rentals on house and flat sharing portals found that just one third of properties have communal space.

In London, only one-tenth of flat-shares have communal space such as a lounge.

The Times says that even upmarket properties in exclusive postcodes are being turned into bedsits, with landlords turning reception rooms into bedrooms.

The Times also says that some conversions result in tiny bedrooms, and that some conversions ignore Building Regulations and are potentially unsafe.

It also says that illegal bedsits are being advertised with impunity online, including on one property website that has received taxpayer funding to help it grow.

The Times also says that some bedsits are in HMO properties which should be licensed, but are not, pointing out that licensing is mandatory for rental properties with five or more unrelated sharers.

The paper analysed 100 rooms offered in five-bedroom properties on the most popular house-share website and found that only 12% were registered as approved HMOs.

Susie Crolla, of the Guild of Letting & Management, described the figures as “shocking but not that surprising”.

The Times says that the biggest website, Spareroom, does not routinely check whether its rooms are legally compliant or are in a property with an HMO licence.

However Spareroom told the paper that checking every property is not straightforward because there is no central database and each council holds the information differently.

The Times investigation also highlights Spotahome, whose chief operating officer is a founder of Uber.

The Times says: “The website does not allow prospective tenants to view rooms, instead posting pictures and videos online. Nor does it check whether homes have a licence.

“In one case, it was listing a 49 sq m, two-bed flat that had been converted into a five-bed. Every bedroom was smaller than the minimum allowed. One was 4.92 sq m, little bigger than a double bed. The illegal conversion had been visited and ‘approved’ by a Spotahome checker.

“In 2015, the taxpayer-backed British Business Bank invested £17.5m in a venture capital fund called Passion Capital, which used part of the money to invest in Spotahome.com.”

The Times also quotes an un-named traditional letting agent who said he had reported half a dozen unlicensed HMOs to several councils six months ago but had heard nothing back.

He said: “These homes are not difficult to spot, they are brazenly advertised online. The failure of councils to enforce the rules is allowing these landlords to get away with it and is making the job of diligent agents much harder.”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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HMO Sector To Grow As Investors Expand Property Portfolios

New data released has shown that the HMO sector is likely to grow with over a fifth of landlords planning to expand their portfolio with the addition of an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation).

The HMO sector is proving to be attractive to professional landlords in a time of market uncertainty, with HMO landlords achieving the highest average rental yields at 6.3 per cent compared with the market average of 5.5 per cent.

The research from specialist lender Precise Mortgages shows average rental yields across the market as a whole are at their lowest for nine years, highlighting the attraction of the HMO sector. Average yields for all property types dropped 0.3 per cent in the second quarter from 5.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year and are now at their lowest level since 2010.

Terraced houses are proving to be the most popular choice for buy to let property investors, with 50 per cent of landlords planning to buy a terraced property. However, the research also shows 40 per cent of landlords also plan to sell terraced houses in the year ahead. By contrast, just 8 per cent of landlords holding properties in the HMO sector plan to sell them.

Blocks of flats are also set for growth, with 8 per cent of landlords planning to buy compared with just 5 per cent planning to sell.

Landlords with between 11 and 19 properties are earning the highest average yields at 5.9 per cent with the North West the best area of the UK for yields, earning an average 5.9 per cent. Landlords with 11 or more properties have an average of three different property types in their portfolio.

Managing Director of Precise Mortgages, Alan Cleary, said: ‘In a time of market uncertainty, HMOs are an attractive option for professional landlords looking to maximise yields. As HMOs attract multiple tenancies, gross rental income tends to outstrip single lets meaning the rental income is more secure if one tenant leaves a void.’

He continued: ‘The expansion of the HMO sector underlines how experienced landlords are re-balancing their portfolios. It also demonstrates the opportunity for brokers to work with specialist lenders who have expertise across the widest product set to support clients who are reassessing their portfolios.’

Source: Residential Landlord