Ben Reeve Lewis takes a look at the new rules
Well, now it’s official.
The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences) (England) Regulations are being ushered in on the 1st October 2018 with an 18 month roll-out period for compliance.
What it’s all about
New mandatory floor size requirements are part of the deal, with the aim of putting an end to overcrowding by rogue landlord’s and those twilight, ‘Are they tenant’s or landlord?’ types operating under spurious rent to rent arrangements that increasingly be-dog the days of enforcement officers everywhere.
Also of great interest is the concomitant change to the definition of what constitutes a mandatory licensable House in Multiple Occupation.
Gone will be the three or more storeys requirement, to be replaced by just a property occupied by five or more people (including children) as two or more different households.
I’m interested in where this particular development will take us, having as I do, a foot in both landlord/tenant enforcement and homelessness work.
How many are there?
When the Bill for all this was drafted, the government estimated that these changes would bring 160,000 new properties into mandatory licencing.
I could find no record anywhere of how they came up with that estimate but it seems woefully short of the mark to me, for London alone, let alone the rest of England.
I recently enquired of a colleague who had just carried out a series of property visits in just one ward of one London borough, how many properties they got into on the day (they didn’t get into all of them) would be considered mandatory HMOs come October. Eighty-two was her reply.
Now that is just one ward, in a borough with twenty-nine and that particular ward I know of old, is far from being an area known for overcrowded slums.
So we will have to wait and see how many extra HMOs this new definition will throw up in reality
Where are they?
The next problem out of the bag is the age-old dilemma of finding the bloody things.
I have written elsewhere on Tessa’s blog about the problems facing enforcement officers trying to track down problem accommodation, due in part to the fact that there isn’t a single software database used by all enforcement teams, even in the same borough and those that are being utilised, lack the facilities for the different programmes to talk to each other.
And while much software doesn’t talk to other software, you also have to factor in the problem of enforcement officers also not talking to other enforcement officers. Regular readers will know I am messianic about the value of joined-up working and thinking, also highly critical of many authorities who still don’t do it, although some are getting better, albeit it very, very slowly.
On the other side of the coin, the true criminal landlord fraternity frequently will only house tenants not in the system, in other words, those not claiming housing benefit for one reason or another and those not used to seeking assistance from local authorities when they have a problem.
Inadequate enforcement resources
Many tenants taken on this way finding themselves swiftly illegally evicted if they do happen to claim housing benefit, later on, thus limiting the chance of intel gathering that might lead the authorities to their landlord’s cheap plywood door.
Come October, existing licensing teams already stretched as a result of a combination of the above, will have even more properties to track down and the question will then be, ‘How will they do it?’.
- Will they employ more staff?
- Will they bring in better procedures?
- Will they just carry on and keep their fingers crossed?
Probably a mixture of all three, including simply knocking on doors and asking to come inside for a nose around. Don’t knock the obvious. 99% of the time the occupants are more than happy to oblige.
But then what happens when they do find them?
Some of the problems
Often it is the case at the moment, that the criminal landlord or agent simply chucks out, or forcibly relocates enough people to get the numbers down under the required five.
Its that double-edged sword that the more effective enforcement teams get at finding problem properties the more it drives up other problems as the perpetrators evade action, only to keep their heads down for a couple of months before re-letting, relying on the fact that the enforcement teams haven’t got the time or resources to keep re-visiting the same properties, although you make an extra effort if the landlord or agent is one of the ‘Usual suspects’.
It won’t be just the same old slum-runners who are caught out either. Many reputable landlords may find themselves falling foul of an increasing London trend for more young professionals to cram into properties in an attempt to meet the rents, either with or without their landlord’s knowledge.
In addition while the space standards have an 18 month rollout period the mandatory HMO definition rules don’t, merely requiring the council to publicise the scheme, process licence applications and issue them during the first six months and where landlords will be immune from prosecution and Rent Repayment Orders during this grace period, they still won’t be able to serve a valid s21 in that time frame and any HMOs previously subject to additional and selective licensing won’t even be protected from enforcement.
Which brings us to the final consideration. Under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 a person is deemed threatened with homelessness in 56 days and therefore owed housing duties if a landlord has served a ‘Valid’ s21 notice.
But the new, more stringent HMO definition will mean that a lot of those S21’s aren’t going to be valid if the landlord hasn’t applied for a licence or been given a temporary exemption – regardless of whether or not they know about the new definition.
On the last PiE statistics (recently replaced by H-CLIC) for homelessness acceptances in England, 32% are the result of eviction following service of an s21, around 40% in London and post HRA there is an increasing tendency for homelessness prevention officers to focus on S21’s and the twelve or so factors that can render them invalid. I know…………I’m training them to spot them.
We live in interesting times …
So all in all the new HMO definition is going to throw up a lot of questions, anomalies and problems in practice.
One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a very interesting Autumn on the PRS, enforcement and homelessness front.