Marijana No Comments

Changes to Mandatory HMO Licensing Expected October 2018

In December 2017 the government announced that it would proceed with extending mandatory property licensing of houses in multiple occupations (HMOs). On 23 January 2018, Housing Minister, Dominic Raab, responded to a written question from Wera Hobhouse MP stating that, subject to Parliamentary approval, the necessary regulations would be brought into force in October 2018.

What is mandatory licensing?

Since the Housing Act 2004 came into force it has been a requirement that large HMOs are licensed under mandatory licensing. Currently mandatory licensing applies nationwide to HMOs that:

  1. Comprise 3 or more storeys;
  2. Are occupied by 5 or more people living in two or more single households; and
  3. The occupiers share basic amenities such as washing and cooking facilities.

As these large HMOs are deemed high risk they are all required to be licensed regardless of where the HMO is located. Recent years have seen local authorities implement additional licensing schemes to cover smaller HMOs in an attempt to tackle poor housing conditions in the private rented sector. For example, in some areas, HMOs comprising one or two storeys need to be licensed.

What are the proposed changes?

The Housing Act 2004 allows the Secretary of State to prescribe the type of HMO that falls within the definition of mandatory licensing. The prescribed description has not been updated since 2006 when licensing under the Housing Act 2004 came into force.

The government has now decided to extend the scope of mandatory licensing to bring smaller HMOs within the scheme. Mandatory licensing will include:

  • All HMOs with 5 or more occupiers living in 2 or more households regardless of the number of storeys. Effectively this means the storey requirement will be removed from the current definition.
  • Purpose built flats where there are up to two flats in the block and one or both of the flats are occupied by 5 or more persons in 2 or more separate households. This will apply regardless of whether the block is above or below commercial premises. This will bring certain flats above shops on high streets within mandatory licensing as well as small blocks of flats which are not connected to commercial premises.

As is the case now, it is the individual HMO that is required to be licensed and not the building within which the HMO is situated. This means that where a building has two flats and each is occupied by 5 persons living in 2 or more households, each flat will require a separate HMO licence.

What are the proposals for implementing the changes?

The government proposes to implement the extension of mandatory licensing in two phases.

Phase one will last for 6 months. During this time local authorities will publicise the new licensing regime, process applications and issue licences. Landlords that did not require a HMO licence before the change in the rules will not be prosecuted during phase one for failure to license a licensable HMO and will not be exposed to rent repayment orders (RROs).

However, landlords will be expected to apply for a licence during the 6 month grace period and they are encouraged to do so because they will not be able to serve valid section 21 notices seeking possession until an application for a licence has been duly made (unless the landlord has instead applied for a temporary exemption in order to remove their property from licensing).

The government’s response is clear that the 6 month grace period does not mean that applying for a licence is optional. It just means that the criminal sanctions for not having a licence will be put on hold. Once the 6 month period is over and phase two begins any landlord without a licence will be subject to the full range of penalties for failing to comply.

It is also important to point out that landlords who currently require a licence under a local authority additional or selective licensing scheme and who are not licensed will not be able to benefit from the 6 month grace period just because their property has fallen within the new mandatory licensing category. These landlords could face enforcement action at any time.

What happens if I already have a licence under the local authority’s additional or selective licensing schemes?

The response paper confirms that properties already licensed under local authority additional licensing schemes will be passported into the mandatory licensing scheme without any cost to the landlord or alterations to the licence conditions for the remaining period of the licence. The distinction between mandatory HMO licences and additional HMO licences is largely artificial as both licences are granted pursuant to Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004. Passporting these existing licences into mandatory licensing should not be too problematic because they both fall within the HMO licensing scheme.

Some local authorities also have selective licensing schemes requiring all privately rented properties to be licensed whether they are HMOs or not. Selective licensing is governed by Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004. Some HMOs are only caught by selective licensing schemes, for example, where they do not fall within the current definition of mandatory licensing or the local authority has no additional licensing designation. In these circumstances, the government proposes to issue converted licences at no additional charge to the landlord. Converting Part 3 licences to Part 2 licences will require more consideration as there are differences between the two licensing schemes. Part 2 of the Housing Act, for example, requires the local authority to be satisfied that the property is suitable for multiple occupation and this includes assessing whether the property meets prescribed HMO standards.

What happens if I don’t get a licence?

There are serious consequences for landlords and letting agents who do not obtain licences for licensable properties. The local authority can bring a prosecution against the landlord in the magistrates’ court and fines for Housing Act 2004 offences have been unlimited since March 2015. Local authorities are also able to issue landlords with civil penalty notices of up to £30,000 per offence as an alternative to prosecution. Tenants and local authorities have additional remedies in the form of RROs where rent or housing benefit can be claimed back from the landlord by order of the First-Tier Tribunal.

Repeat offenders may also be subject to a banning order prohibiting them from letting property once these are brought into force. This is expected to happen in April 2018.

The new rules extending mandatory licensing are expected to come into force in October 2018. Landlords should start reviewing their properties now in preparation for the changes.

Source: Lexology

Marijana No Comments

Buy To Let Investor Fined For Incorrect Licensing In Nottingham

A private buy to let investor has been told he must pay almost £6,500 for renting four properties in Nottingham without a license.

Rogue landlord Dilip Gohil was prosecuted after his failure to acquire the correct licensing for his houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). This was in spite of the fact that each property boasted a sizeable seven bedrooms, clearly rendering them most suitable for multiple occupancy and suggesting instead a blatant disregard for licensing regulation.

Furthermore, several health and safety issues were uncovered at the properties, rendering them potentially unsafe for tenant habitation. One house did not have a single fire door within the property, whilst the kitchen door did not have a handle and therefore could not be closed. Issues such as fire safety hazards often lead to councils taking a particularly hard line with negligent landlords.

Gohil admitted to seven breaches of the Housing Act in front of the court. He was subsequently subjected to fines amounting to £4,750. He was also told that he needed to pay council costs of £1,519 and a government tax of £170. The rogue buy to let investor was then given seven months to pay this.

Under the terms of the conviction, Gohil may in future be denied licences for the four properties. It was deemed that this would ‘affect his income.’ However, the landlord’s early guilty plea was acknowledged, along with the fact that the punishment would have been ‘a lot more than that’ according to presiding magistrate Joan Charlett.

Portfolio holder for community and customer services at the council, Toby Neal, spoke out about the case: ‘We take licensing issues really seriously, since landlords who ignore them are putting the safety, well-being and lives of their tenants at risk. We will always prosecute where breaches are found as they were in this case.’

Source: Residential Landlord

Marijana No Comments

Bath Landlords Fined For Operating HMO Without Licence

Two Bath private landlords have been told that they must pay more than £16,000 due to their failure to obtain the correct House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing.

Elizabeth Vowles, 48, and Hayley Book, 55, both from Weston pleaded guilty at Bath Magistrates’ Court to their licensing failure, deemed an offence under the Housing Act 2004.

The court was told that the two landlords had been caught operating a pair of HMOs in Bath’s designated Additional Licensing Area without the adequate licensing. Their flouting of the regulation was discovered in January 2017, despite the fact that it had been a legal requirement in certain locations in Bath since 2014. The licensing scheme was introduced to enable officers to know the location of HMOs and place conditions on the landlord to enforce minimum standards of safety, as well as making sure that the property’s management is maintained.

The pair of private landlords were also managing a third HMO in the Additional Licensing Area, so both landlords would have been well aware of the additional licences that were required for houses of multiple occupation licensing, the court was told.

Vowles and Book were each fined £4,000 for each property. They were also ordered pay prosecution costs of £550, as well as a victim surcharge of £170. In the Bath designated licensing area, operating a property without a licence is an offence punishable by a fine up to £20,000

Councillor Paul Myers commented on the case: ‘Our Housing Services will try to work in partnership with landlords to improve housing standards wherever possible. Additional licensing helps to ensure that occupants of HMOs are able to live in safe and well managed properties. Where landlords fail to licence their properties such as the case here, they are undermining the objectives of the additional licensing scheme.’

Source: Residential Landlord

Marijana No Comments

Fresh eviction fear for residents after council refuses Willenhall HMO plans

The saga over a former warehouse which has been used for housing without permission for more than two years has taken another twist after planning chiefs refused plans to make it legitimate.

Tenants have been living in the premises at 51 to 53 Wolverhampton Street, Willenhall, which is now a house of multiple occupation, since at least 2015.

Last year Walsall Council took enforcement action against the owner Jim Haliburton effectively evicting the residents, but the move was put on hold after he formally submitted an application to ‘change the use’ of the building retrospectively.

Now the authority’s planning committee has refused the proposal and is considering enforcement action once again, meaning residents face fresh eviction fears.

However it may not be the end of the lengthy dispute if Mr Haliburton contests the latest decision.

A council spokeswoman said: “This application was refused for lack of shared parking, limited bin storage and poor outlook for residents all impacting detrimentally on amenity.

“The planning file will now be passed to the Planning Enforcement team who will commence work on taking action to cease the use of the building as a HMO.

“This action though will need to be placed on hold if the applicants appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol in an effort to overturn the decision to refuse planning permission. If the appeal is dismissed, officers will press ahead with enforcement action.”

Earlier this month Mr Haliburton appealed the council’s decision to turn down planning permission for another of his properties in Butts Road, Walsall, in a very similar dispute.

Source: Express & Star

Marijana No Comments

Another dent to landlords’ profits

Renting out a house as a multiple-occupancy let can be very lucrative, allowing landlords to rent out rooms on an individual basis rather than via one tenancy. However, government plans to crack down on the sector are about to make this type of investment less attractive than it once was.

The Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation paper on houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) last October, setting out its plans to “raise the standards”. The rules are expected to come into effect next spring, later than expected (probably because of June’s surprise general election). But despite the fact that thousands of properties could be affected by the government’s proposals, as many as 85% of landlords are still unfamiliar with the proposed changes, according to a survey by Simple Landlords Insurance.

One of the main aims of the legislation is to widen the definition of properties that require a licence to be legally let. At the moment, a property is classed as being a HMO if three or more people from more than one household live there, and share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. Currently, only houses that are classed as “large HMOs” – properties rented to five or more people (from more than one household) – and set over three or more storeys, need to have a licence. However, the new legislation would mean that all large HMOs – regardless of the number of storeys – would require a licence. The government also plans to extend mandatory licensing to flats above and below business premises. Currently around 60,000 HMOs across the UK require a licence, but the government reckons that a further 174,000 properties will need a licence if the rules come in.

Although the cost of a licence will vary between local authorities, a five-year licence typically costs about £500. Landlords may also be subject to new, enhanced “fit and proper” tests before they can be granted a licence, which, if introduced, would probably require them to submit a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, at a cost of £25. Note that if your HMO should be licensed, but isn’t, you can be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months’ rent.

The government also plans to impose a new minimum room size of 6.52 square metres for a single person, in line with the current standard for overcrowding. For couples, the minimum is likely to be 10.23 square metres. Importantly, this new minimum may affect the number of rooms in a home that can be legally let. For example, if a “box room” in a four-bedroom student house falls below the minimum room size, the property would be considered a three-bedroom house. Landlords letting a room smaller than the prescribed dimensions would be liable for an unlimited fine or a civil penalty of up to £30,000. Finally, owners of licensed HMOs will need to provide “adequate” waste-disposal facilities.

Once the rules are confirmed, landlords should be careful to budget for any added expense they bring. The changes also come at a time when many landlords are already under increasing financial pressure, with lenders now required to take a more stringent approach to buy-to-let mortgage applications from those who own four or more mortgaged properties. That’s on top of the recently introduced 3% stamp-duty surcharge on second homes, and the scaling back of mortgage interest tax relief. If you didn’t already have the message, buy-to-let looks like an increasingly risky bet as an investment.


Yours for £25m: a 30ft hole

A Grade II-listed London townhouse with a 30-foot hole in its garden has been put on the market for £25m, says Sean Morrison in the Evening Standard. The Knightsbridge house was once owned by conman Achilleas Kallakis, who ordered the excavation of the home’s “mega-basement”, which was designed to hold a swimming pool, spa and car-lift. However, workers abandoned the job in 2008 when Kallakis was convicted of 21 charges related to his property business, including conspiracy, forgery and money laundering. In December, Kensington and Chelsea council approved plans to build an “astonishing” nine floors of living space, featuring a pool, underground parking and reception areas.

Source: Money Week