Multiple occupancy homes divide opinion within communities and the rental sector. In this month’s column, Alex Byard, explains how dubious activity is being curbed through extended licensing...
The private rental sector has seen rapid growth and now represents the second largest property group in England, after home ownership.
Currently, 4.3 million households (19%) are let, the majority by responsible landlords. However, increased demand on the sector has opened it up to exploitation, particularly by rogue owners of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
In response to this rise in unsuitable HMOs, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned a report questioning whether its regulations need to be updated.
The threshold at present for mandatory licensing is two storeys, but it is proposed that this should be extended to cover all HMOs, regardless of size, as some landlords choose to let smaller houses to avoid the legislation.
It is also suggested licensing should cover flats located above or below business premises, where there are less than three units in the building. For example, residential accommodation above shops in traditional high streets, currently governed only by the ‘two-storey’ rule.
A second issue raised by the government’s report was the need for minimum room sizes. Section 326 of The Housing Act 1985 specifies bedrooms should be at least 6.5 metres square, but a recent ruling by the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber), created uncertainty among local authorities about whether this standard applies to HMOs.
Overall, there was strong support for a national minimum sleeping room size in HMOs. The government has subsequently decided that illegal activity should not be overlooked and has clarified the ambiguity caused by the Upper Tribunal by making compliance with the space requirements a mandatory condition of local authority licensing.
Arguments put forward by those who believe students and others on low income are content to occupy smaller rooms will not be accepted, as no evidence was put forward from tenants to support this point of view.
Alex Byard is a specialist in property litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. For more information, telephone (0114) 218 4000, visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk or follow the firm on Twitter @te_propertylaw.