Landlords will soon need to get a licence for HMO properties that they let to five or more tenants from two or more different households. The guidelines have been published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as part of wider guidelines to improve rental housing conditions and stamp out overcrowding. From October 1 this year, landlords will need a local authority licence for rentals occupied by at least five people from at least two separate households. This affects around 160,000 houses which will now come under the House in Multiple Occupation category. Rules regarding minimum sizes for bedrooms in HMOs will also come into force, in a bid to stamp out overcrowding. Also, landlords will have to comply with local authority refuse schemes to prevent problems with rubbish.

In a guidance document, the MHCLG lays out details on extending the mandatory licensing schemes for smaller HMOs and bringing in minimum bedroom sizes. At present, the licence covers larger HMOs which are three or more storeys. Now, smaller properties will require a licence too. It has also launched a review into selective licensing itself, to see how it is used and how well it works. Independent commissioners will put together documents from local councils and bodies which represent landlords, tenants and other housing professionals. The findings will be published in spring next year, but there will be an interim report this autumn.

Housing minister, Heather Wheeler, explained that the new guidance, which has just been published, will protect tenants against poor, overcrowded conditions as well as poor management practice. She said that landlords will have to apply for a licence in areas covered by selective licensing. The council needs to check that they are a ‘fit and proper’ landlord, as well as ensuring the property is managed well and has the appropriate safety measures in place.

The guidance acknowledges the importance of the private rental sector, with 4.7 million households in England living in rented accommodation. This sector has grown rapidly over the past 10 years and is expected to continue rising for the foreseeable future. It is now the second largest sector in England, representing 20% of households. The guidance says that HMOs are an important part of this sector, as they often provide more affordable accomodation. Many students live in HMOs, but more young professionals and migrant workers are also now sharing houses and flats. The guidance goes on to say that some HMOs are lived in by more vulnerable people. These properties were not built for multiple occupancy and there can be a greater risk of overcrowding and fire than in other types of accommodation. It also acknowledges that demand for HMOs is growing.

The aim of the new regulations is, as always, to crack down on rogue landlords exploiting vulnerable tenants. However, where there is an acute shortage of quality properties, people still need somewhere to live. Tenants are having to accept substandard, or even unsafe, homes to live in, because there are no alternatives.

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