A recent consultation, for buy-to-let landlords to have their say on proposed changes to Houses in Multiple Occupation and residential property licence reforms, has now ended. The survey, conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government, was held ahead of proposals to amend existing legislation and increase the number of homes in England which have mandatory HMO licensing.
These changes will mean more properties are classed as HMOs. For instance, proposals are that all houses with five or more people from two households or more, regardless of how many storeys in the building, will be subject to licensing. The DCLG believes this will enable local authorities to tackle problems of poor standards or illegal immigration. Flats above or below business premises will also be included. The new rules, which may come into operation early in 2017, will also set a minimum room size of 6.52 square metres. Landlords who fail to obtain a licence could be fined. They would be given six months’ grace to familiarise themselves with the requirements.
Housing and planning minister, Gavin Barwell, said the measures give local authorities the power to address substandard rental properties. It will also deter unscrupulous landlords who do not stick to the legislation, as well as raising standards and protecting tenants. These new rules could mean a further 174,000 rental properties are covered by mandatory HMO licensing – at present there are about 60,000. Other changes could mean landlords have to provide adequate rubbish storage space and disposal facilities, and the ‘fit and proper person’ checks for landlords could also be tightened.
However, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA) have hit out at the strategy. ARLA managing director David Cox said landlord licensing does not work. He said councils already have the power to prosecute landlords because of the condition of the property or bad management, and landlords can face fines of up to £30,000 or even a prison sentence. He pointed out that councils do not have the resources to effectively enforce existing legislation, so more regulations will simply mean more laws which are not being enforced. It would make more sense to have the means to take action against anyone flouting existing laws, rather than introduce even more legislation unless more resources are made available.
RLA policy director, David Smith, pointed out that the extension to buildings classed as HMOs could triple the number of homes under mandatory licensing. He also posed the question of what the point is in bringing in more regulations, if the resources are not there to enforce them. Whilst he agreed that tenants should not be forced to live in small rooms, he also pointed out that they may have access to other space within the property. By concentrating on bedroom size, the government could have removed thousands of rooms from the rental sector, possibly forcing some tenants to have to move. Although the idea to clampdown on rogue landlords has to be applauded, there could be knock-on effects for tenants, as well as an even bigger workload for local authority housing officers.