Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – Government Announcement
Progress at last!
On 27 January 2010, Communities Minister, John Healey MP, announced local powers for councils to control the unplanned spread of high concentrations of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and to improve standards in the private rented sector, to take effect from April this year. This will place greater restrictions (change of use) on creating HMOs and give councils greater power to regulate concentrations of HMOs.
I have been campaigning on this issue for many years - see my response to a Government Consultation on the Selective Licensing of Private Landlords from 2001 and my response to the Housing Green Paper in July 2000 as an MP representing a university area, reproduced below (click here).
The changes will mean that landlords will need to apply for planning permission in order to establish a new HMO with a change of use, for example when the use of a property is altered from a family home to a shared house, with three or more tenants who are not related and who are sharing facilities.
The new definition is not retrospective and so does not apply to existing HMOs in areas where landlords do not maintain or manage their properties in a proper manner. However, to address existing problems, the Government is currently consulting on introducing a general consent for councils to set up local landlord licensing schemes (at the moment, local authorities have to apply to central government for approval for a discretionary licensing scheme). The aim of this is to give councils more flexibility and control to secure improvements for both established communities and tenants.
The Government’s announcement shows common sense at last – it is just a pity it has taken so long!
Response to the Consultation on the Selective Licensing of Private Landlords - January 2001
Lynne Jones MP
My main interest in this issue arises as a result of the expansion of the private rented sector in my constituency coinciding with the expansion in the student population. Other colleagues representing university areas share my concerns and we submitted a joint response to the Housing Green Paper calling for the Government to recognise the unique problems in such areas. A copy of this paper is included in this response as all the issues are still relevant.
This paper clearly outlines the problems in areas with high student populations. These are as acute as those in low demand areas. Whilst the current consultation paper provides for discretionary licensing in other areas, this is subject to Secretary of State approval. This is an unnecessary interference in local autonomy. Local authorities powers to introduce mandatory licensing should not be restricted to low demand areas. I see no reason why local authorities should not be given complete discretion in this matter but if the Government is unwilling accept this, specific licensing powers should be allowed for areas with high student populations.
Our main demand in the response to the green paper was the introduction of compulsory licensing for HMO landlords and a change in the definition of an HMO to take in smaller properties shared by students. The Home Energy Conservation Bill, a private member’s bill, includes mandatory HMO licensing and is currently under consideration. I understand the Government is supporting this Bill, which will, hopefully, be enacted in this parliament, in advance of the implementation of the proposals for selective licensing. It would be very helpful in ameliorating the problems experienced in my constituency if this legislation could provide for the definition of a house in multiple occupation to be changed to include 2-storey properties occupied by 4 or more adult members of different families.
Even with provision for licensing of HMOs, the current proposals for selective licensing of other privately rented properties would clearly still be necessary. I share concerns expressed by Birmingham City Council in its response to this consultation that there should be common standards and criteria for all housing licensing schemes. It would, indeed be bureaucratic and confusing to have two parallel licensing schemes perhaps applying to the same type of property.
APPENDIX: Response to Housing Green Paper – July 2000
DEALING WITH STUDENT HOUSING IN THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR
- A RESPONSE TO THE HOUSING GREEN PAPER FROM MPs REPRESENTING UNIVERSITY AREAS - July 2000
In Chapter 5 of the Green Paper Promoting a Healthy Private Rented Sector, proposals are put forward for a compulsory licensing system for houses in multiple occupation and for the prospect of limited licensing for other types of housing in areas of declining housing demand, where the activities of unscrupulous landlords are destabilizing local communities. We welcome these proposals but we are also concerned about the impact of privately-rented shared housing occupied by students, which are not necessarily in areas of low demand.
We do recognise the value that learning establishments bring to areas and are not seeking to control access to higher education. It is the lack of strategic thinking between public, quasi public and private sectors in planning and providing for the needs of students that has given rise to the problems many areas now face.
Although there is some variation in the problems faced by constituents in our different areas, depending on the type of housing, a common theme is the decline in traditional family neighbourhoods where student housing has taken over, or where unscrupulous landlords have taken over the market without taking responsibility for management of their tenants, causing stress and misery to many local people.
In the parts of our constituencies located near to universities, up to half of the population now live in shared housing. In some cases these are large houses that would meet the description of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) but in others students share family-sized houses which are not classified as HMOs.
It is a characteristic of neighbourhoods with a high concentration of shared housing that there is an element of anti-social behaviour. This often occurs late at night when young people, who have been drinking, return home. The nuisance behaviour is not necessarily in the vicinity of their accommodation, making it difficult to identify the perpetrators. However the impact on local communities is much wider than this:
· Close proximity of housing to educational establishments is more of an attraction than the quality of accommodation. Falling standards have not lead to a decline in demand.
· The transient nature of the student population has a serious impact on local school rolls as families move out.
· The nature of local facilities change. For example, fast food outlets replace traditional shops, public houses become un-welcoming to the traditional population and opening hours change to reflect students’ late night lifestyles
· Crime, particularly burglary, increases as thieves can get multiple stereos and computers from one house and properties are empty at weekends and in vacations. Students are not the only victims as this spreads the fear of crime among remaining local people, many of whom tend to be elderly.
· Student housing puts increased pressure on local government services, especially refuse collection and street cleansing as well as pest control, as undisciplined storage of rubbish attracts rats and urban foxes. Car parking becomes a problem because there may be several cars to each household.
· There is an adverse impact on visual amenity, fly-posting, unkempt gardens, chronic neglect of property and a reduction in the willingness of existing owners to invest in their properties.
There is also considerable resentment from council-tax payers that student lettings do not directly contribute to this fund.
It is appropriate that the Government should link the Housing Green Paper with other policies put forward by the Policy Action Team to ensure the maximum impact from any investment. Although areas around the country affected by student housing are not those traditionally referred to as deprived areas, they exhibit the early signs of neighbourhoods in decline.
Unfortunately, the measures in the Green Paper do not give sufficient priority to the need to restore balance to these communities to prevent further decline. The additional powers for local authorities proposed in the Green Paper to enable them to deal with areas of declining housing demand need to be extended to student areas. Thus local authorities would have powers to license all privately rented dwellings whether or not they met the criteria for HMOs. Development control powers could be extended to limit the conversion of family homes into shared houses. Local authorities could use such powers in a strategic way to both allow appropriate development of student housing and to demand closer working with colleges over future needs and predictions on student numbers as well as enforcement of university discipline codes. Local authorities need powers to require landlords or occupants to preserve the appearance of the properties that they occupy (curtains, rubbish, bottles etc.) and its exterior maintenance (painting, walls and gardens).
Most students, in the areas under discussion, occupy existing dwellings but the presence of this lucrative market has brought in property developers who are building purpose-built student accommodation. There is no mention in the Green Paper of the need for local authorities and government to work with universities to plan these developments and ensure that they provide appropriately for the needs of students, for example with security and recreational facilities and appropriate amounts of parking. It should also be possible for development control committees to insist that smaller new-build infill developments can, if needed, be converted to family use. As more purpose-built accommodation is built, there is a danger, already in evidence, of an over supply of the older private-rented properties. In some areas, landlords who are unable to let to students, are moving to let to asylum seekers. These are often groups of single people sharing which will put new pressures on local communities. Resources should be allocated to enable RSLs to buy surplus properties for letting to families.
The large concentrations of young people in residential areas results in our receiving regular complaints from residents about behaviour and decline of property. It is naïve for Government to believe that landlords have sufficient vested interest in the maintenance of standards to control anti-social behaviour. Local authorities need powers to ensure standardisation of tenancy conditions and their effective enforcement.
There is considerable scope for further work to provide proper regulation and control of the student housing market.
Licensing of HMOs and of other types of dwellings in specific areas as proposed in the Green Paper and the promotion of good practice by responsible landlords are to be welcomed.
The Government is urged to get licensing under way but also to take up the suggestions in this paper to help deal with the very serious issues affecting many of our communities.
HILARY BENN MP (Leeds Central)
HAROLD BEST MP (Leeds North West)
JIM COUSINS MP (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central)
VALERIE DAVEY MP (Bristol West)
BILL ETHERINGTON (Sunderland North)
JON OWEN JONES MP (Cardiff Central)
LYNNE JONES MP MP (Birmingham Selly Oak)
JULIE MORGAN MP (Cardiff North)
ALAN SIMPSON MP (Nottingham South)
ALAN WHITEHEAD MP (Southhampton Test)
back to top