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Agents and landlords ‘could be in trouble’ as most councils fail to understand new HMO rules

A series of Freedom of Information requests has found that only a minority of local authorities have established the number of properties that need to be licensed under new HMO rules.

Even fewer councils – only a tiny handful – know whether the properties would meet licensing conditions, for example, as to fire safety and new minimum room size requirements.

As a result, thousands of HMOs could be illegal, exposing landlords and agents to fines and other penalties, and inability to serve Section 21 notices.

Tenants meanwhile could face losing their homes.

From October 1, the old HMO rules changed, and now apply to properties of any height where there are five or more sharers in two or more households.

Previously, only properties of three storeys or more were covered.

A 2008 Government report estimated there were 56,000 HMOs licensed under the old regime.

These will automatically be passported over to the new arrangements, but the Government estimates a total of 160,000 properties could be covered by the new regulations and has given local authorities up to three years to identify them.

Research carried out by Doncaster-based property investment firm Touchstone suggests that many councils will need all of this time, while meanwhile a large number of HMOs are illegal.

The research has apparently revealed massive gaps in local authorities’ knowledge of where these properties are and who owns them.

Most, it is claimed, are relying on landlords to submit licence applications.

Of the 238 authorities that responded to a Freedom of Information request, sent at the start of September, asking how prepared they were for the changes, 93 said they had carried out research to establish how many properties in their area require an HMO licence.

However, only 14 had conducted research to establish how many of those properties were in a condition where they could expect to be granted an HMO licence.

Touchstone CEO Paul Smith said that the Government had passed legislation without any clear idea as to the sale of the issue.

He said: “We’re aware of one local authority with 1,800 properties classed as HMOs and privately it told us that only around 40% will meet the [HMO standards required in] the new regulations.

“If that’s happening across the country, we could be looking at a major problem.
“Ministers have estimated 160,000 properties could be affected but I would be interested to know how they arrived at that figure as most local authorities have not conducted any research.”

Responses to the Freedom of Information requests showed that while Manchester City Council estimated it now has 5,000 HMO properties, it hasn’t researched how many will meet licensing standards.

North Somerset Council said it had 2,940 properties affected, Peterborough and Bournemouth put their numbers at up to 2,500 while Cambridge, York and Hull city councils estimated they had more than 1,000 HMOs.

None was able to say how many were currently operating illegally.

Leeds, Bristol, and Norwich were among the majority of authorities which said they had not carried out any research to establish how many properties in their area might be affected or how many might pass or fail.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, had already said that landlords enquiring about licences were being given wrong answers by local councils which appeared to know nothing of the changes.

He now says: “This is an unacceptable failing on the part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

“We‘re also concerned that local authorities appear unprepared for the changes and have, anecdotally, heard that landlords may be being given advice which could put them at risk of breaking the law.

“Our advice to all landlords is to check if your property falls under the new regulations, and if your local authority does not yet have a process in place, make sure you apply using the existing mandatory HMO licensing scheme and receive an acknowledgement of your application.”

Source: Property Industry Eye

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New HMO and Section 21 rules start today

Landlords and agents should be aware of important changes to the rules covering HMOs (house of multiple occupation) and issuing Section 21 notices, which come into force from today.

New HMO rules

From today, all landlords, or managing agents, of properties which have five or more occupiers who form two or more households will need to have, or have applied for, a mandatory HMO license.

If you have a property with five or more occupiers who do not form just one household, and this includes children, regardless of the number of storeys the property has, you need an HMO license issued by your local authority.

There is no grace period and the penalties for not complying can be severe: up to a £30,000 fine, a First Tier Property Tribunal Rent Repayment Order and a Banning Order, and a criminal record.

Some landlords may need to make structural alterations or improvements to safety standards to comply with the new minimum room sizes in HMOs.

New section 21 rules

From today, all landlords in England with Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), regardless of their start date, will need to comply with the requirements of the Deregulation Act 2015 as to when and how a landlord can serve a Section 21 Notice, which enables them to terminate a tenancy agreement.

When issuing a Section 21 Notice of Possession, landlords will now be required to use Form 6A.

The form, prescribed by government, combines the two previous types of Notices into a single Notice for both periodic and fixed-term tenancies. Therefore, landlords should stop using their old Notices from today.

In addition, under the Deregulation Act 2015, landlords wishing to issue their tenants with a Section 21 Notice should ensure they have shared the ‘How to rent: the checklist for renting in England’ guide with tenants; make sure the property has an up to date Gas Safety Certificate and the tenants have seen it.

Landlords must also publish the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (except when the property isn’t required to have one); inform tenants which scheme their deposit is protected in; where the property is licensed, provide a copy of the licence to all of the tenants.

Source: Simple Landlords Insurance