Memorandum by the National HMO Network
The National HMO Network notes that the Select
Committee is seeking written evidence on the Draft Housing Bill
in advance of the consultation exercise and submits the following
The proposal for the licensing of HMOs is welcomed
and long awaited. However, the Network does have a number of reservations
and concerns about some of the proposals for HMOs.
The consultation paper is lengthy at 274 pages
and the draft bill appears to be overly complex. For example the
definition of an HMO is covered by seven sections (164 to 170)
rather than the current single section (345 of Housing Act 1985).
The research on version one of the
HHSRS (rating system) has never been published.
We have concerns about how the rating
system will be applied to HMOs particularly concerning the overall
provision of fire precautions, amenities and overcrowding standards.
These were not satisfactorily addressed in version one.
It is understood that version two
is unlikely to be available until the end of 2003 which makes
it impossible to comment on the detail.
There is currently no guidance on
how the rating system should be used for enforcement. A particular
concern is how changes in occupancy will affect the rating of
an HMO and any subsequent enforcement action.
There is concern over the proposed
repeal of section 190 of the Housing Act 1985 which covers substantial
disrepair and material comfort. This will remove an enforcement
tool for tackling disrepair that is of concern to the tenants.
Many disrepair matters will not be covered by the rating system.
Dealing with disrepair and the overall improvement of houses is
a fundamental plank of Housing Renewal Policy. Tackling disrepair
can prevent houses from falling into major disrepair and becoming
unsafe. Disrepair is also an element of the Decent Homes Standard.
There is a need to have a quick way
to deal with emergency hazards. The proposed Improvement and Prohibition
Notices do not offer a speedy remedy.
PARTS 2 & 4LICENSING
The definition of an HMO based on
household is welcomed but the length of the definition has made
it extremely complex and easy to misinterpret.
It appears that section 164 will
exclude certain hostel type accommodation where there is no sharing
of amenities. An example would be a bed and breakfast premises
accommodating 100 residents where all the rooms have en-suite
bathrooms and WCs and full board is provided. These high risk
HMOs need to be included.
It is disappointing to note that
it is proposed to restrict mandatory licensing to HMOs of 3 storeys
or more and occupied by five or more persons who form two or more
households. Our experience shows that in fact many two storey
HMOs can be just as hazardous. There are a range of factors that
contribute to risk and the number of storeys is only one element.
Other elements are the number and vulnerability of the tenants,
the layout of the property and other uses of the building. Ideally
the mandatory scheme should cover all HMOs.
The ENTEC report is now quite dated
and it would be helpful if some new research was carried out to
establish the level of risk in HMOs.
The proposal to have additional licensing
for "smaller HMOs" that fall outside mandatory licensing
is welcomed if mandatory licensing is limited to certain HMOs
but it will create a two-tier system. It appears that it is going
to be an onerous and bureaucratic process to bring in additional
licensing. The ability to adopt model schemes that can be rubber-stamped
by the Secretary of State would be welcomed.
It is felt that HMOs owned or managed
by Registered Social Landlords should not be exempted from HMO
licensing. Many RSL properties are aging conversions which do
not comply with current standards. There is concern that the Housing
Corporation is not in a position to regulate this sector and ensure
these properties are brought up to standard.
It is felt that University Halls
of Residence and similar type buildings should not be excluded
from the definition of HMO. Many of these buildings lack adequate
fire precautions and are high risk due to the number of residents.
The proposal to introduce national
prescribed physical standards for HMOs is welcomed. This will
ensure some consistency throughout the country and overcome the
frequent complaints of landlords that every local authority has
different standards. It would be helpful to see these draft standards.
There is a need for more clarity
on how these physical standards will link with the rating system.
The intention to retain HMO management
regulations is welcomed. The current regulations have a proven
track record. They are easy to understand and have been a very
important tool in driving up standards in HMOs. The current regulations
do need up dating to reflect changes in technology and legislation.
It is disappointing to note that
section 372 of the Housing Act 1985 would be repealed. This gives
the power to serve notice under the management regulations and
enables the local authority to carry out works in default. It
is felt that the power to serve notice and carry out default works
should be retained.
The Approved Code of Practice on
the management of HMOs is welcomed. However, this should not be
seen as a replacement for the management regulations.
The new Interim and Final Management
Orders are only likely to be used as a tool of last resort. It
is of great concern that a local authority shall "use"
this power if refusing or revoking a licence. The taking over
of the management of an HMO is resource hungry and extremely expensive.
It is unlikely that the rental income will cover costs incurred
and there is no option to use compulsory purchase powers. A local
authority would find it very hard to deal with more than one of
these orders at a time. The current use of Control Orders is a
good indication of the likely use of this power. It is felt that
this power should be discretionary and include the option to use
In most situations where a licence
is to be refused or revoked it is felt that prosecution and the
use of management regulation powers with the power to do works
in default would be a better option that serving a management
For HMOs that fall outside mandatory
licensing there is a need to have appropriate powers to deal with
these properties. The removal of most of the current powers is
seen as a retrograde step.
The definition of "fit and proper"
person is welcomed. This is an opportunity to develop schemes
to accredit landlords and ensure landlords acquire adequate training
in the management of HMOs. There is a need of a central body or
database to enable local authorities to share information about
landlords who fail to meet the requirements of the "fit and
proper" person definition.
The draft bill is silent about transitional
arrangements for current HMO Registration Schemes and Voluntary
Accreditation Schemes. It is felt that there should be some passporting
into licensing for HMOs that have complied with these existing
schemes. This would reduce the burden on those local authorities
and the landlords who have spent considerable time and effort
in bringing HMOs up to standard under existing schemes.
Paragraph 7 (page 17)Comments on
a) A power to deal with badly managed HMOs
outside the licensing regime through the making of IMOs
b) The scope of the proposed power
c) Requirement that a local housing authority
should be required to apply to a county court to deal with individual
problematic HMOs not required to be licensed.
d) The issue of statutory guidance about
the circumstances in which this power can be used.
The need for a power is accepted. However, it
is felt that the proposal is too complicated and that a simple
method linked to enforcement of management regulations would be
a better approach.
There is the need to be able to use CPO powers
as an alternative to managing the property long term.
In section 96 (1) there is great concern about
the use of the word "shall". Some reasons have already
been given earlier in this response about the mandatory requirement
to serve management orders in certain circumstances. Additionally
it is felt that this pushes the local authority straight into
severe action without allowing any means to manoeuvre where matters
are easily resolvable.
The scope of the power is appropriate though
the definition of a "high risk" HMO is not agreed with.
There is concern about the appeal powers particularly
given that landlords will be able to introduce mitigating evidence
at a later stage. Suspension of the management order during an
appeal will further hinder the local authorities power to act
and can be costly.
The need to apply to the County Court adds a
further layer of bureaucracy and will lengthen the time to deal
with a property. The power should lie with the local authority
who should operate within published guidance. However, it is felt
that the County Court should hear the appeals as they already
have a wealth of experience in dealing with these matters.
Paragraphs 8 to 11 (page 18)
"The Government invites views on this."
The view that there is no need to provide a
similar power is supported.
Paragraphs 12 & 13 (page 18)
"The Government seeks your views on whether
the authorised person should be required to be accompanied at
all times by a police officer when exercising the power in this
It is considered that this proposal would be
unworkable based upon current experience with the local police
and other operational pressures upon them.
We do welcome the without prior notice for power
Appeals on housing conditions and licensing
Paragraphs 1 to 4 (page 20)
The Government invites views on whether appeals
should be determined by the county court or a dedicated tribunal.
It is considered that appeals can be deal with
more efficiently and effectively through the County Courts.
The National HMO Network supports the aims and
objectives of this draft housing bill to improve standards, protecting
tenants and tackling bad landlords and particularly welcomes the
mandatory licensing of HMOs. However, if is felt that mandatory
licensing should apply to all HMOs and that the current proposals
are too limited. The definition of HMO is so complex that it is
open to misinterpretation and confusion. Many of the exemptions
in the definition of HMO are not supported. The proposed management
orders appear too complicated and can only been seen as a tool
of last resort. The management regulations along with a management
notice need to be retained. There is also a need to retain adequate
powers to deal with HMOs that fall outside licensing. There is
a lack of information on the rating system and how it will be
enforced which makes it difficult to comment. The removal of a
whole house standard and the power to deal with disrepair is seen
as a retrograde step.
Chair of the National HMO Network