Houses in Multiple Occupation often provide cheaper accommodation for people whose housing options are limited. Some of the occupiers of HMOs are the most vulnerable people in our society so regulation of this type of housing is essential. Mandatory licensing of HMOs came into force in 2006 and applies to those properties of three storeys or more.
In the decade since mandatory licensing was introduced the number of HMO’s has expanded significantly with flats and single and two storey houses, originally designed for families, let as HMOs. While many are managed to good standards by reputable landlords, unfortunately this is not always the case. The increased demand for HMOs has been exploited by opportunist rogue landlords, who feel the business risks for poorly managing their accommodation are outweighed by the financial rewards.
Typical poor practices include: overcrowding, failure to meet the required health and safety standards, housing of illegal migrants and intimidation of tenants when legitimate complaints are made. Tenants are sometimes exploited and local communities blighted through, for example, rubbish not being properly stored, excessive noise or anti-social behaviour.
Although only a minority of landlords, the impacts of their practices are disproportionate, putting safety and welfare of tenants at risk and adversely affecting local communities. They cause much reputational harm and it is often pot luck whether a vulnerable tenant ends up renting from a rogue or a good landlord. We want to remove that uncertainty by creating a level playing field between landlords, so the rogues cease to be able to operate substandard accommodation for maximum profit.
Following my campaigning and a public consultation, the Government has decided that properties used as HMOs in England which house 5 people or more in two or more separate households should be licensed by local authorities. This will help ensure they are not overcrowded and do not pose risks to the health or safety of occupiers.
Mandatory conditions in licences will regulate the size and use of rooms as sleeping accommodation in licensed HMOs. They will also require the licence holder to comply with Cornwall Councils rules for the provision of facilities for the proper disposal and storage of refuse. Private providers of purpose built student housing will require a license and will have to pay the full price to the Council.
The new measures complement those in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which tackle rogue landlords. They will also operate within the new enforcement regime introduced last year that is enabling Cornwall Council to take action against rogue landlords, initially funded by a grant I helped secure.
It’s a shame that Cornwall Council has chosen not to voluntarily license/register more private rented property. But this mandatory licensing of HMOs is a significant step in the right direction to improve standards. Also, as a result of these changes it should be easier for Cornwall Council to calculate the loss of Council tax from student accommodation and seek compensation through business rate retention, an important source of Council funding.
First published in the West Briton 11/01/18