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HMO Reforms From 1 October 2018

New rules relating to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) apply from 1 October 2018. The key reform is the extension of mandatory licensing of HMOs. There are also new provisions regarding minimum room sizes and the management of household waste. Criminal and civil penalties can be imposed for non-compliance.

Extension of Mandatory Licensing

In simple terms, a house or flat is an HMO if it is occupied by three or more tenants who form two or more households and the tenants share some or all of the toilet, bathroom, or kitchen facilities.

Mandatory licensing applies to “large” HMOs, meaning those that are occupied by five or more people. A large HMO no longer needs to have three or more storeys to come within mandatory licensing.

Mandatory licensing will also now apply to purpose-built flats where there are up to two flats in the block and one or both are occupied by five or more people in two or more households. Each flat, if occupied as an HMO, will require a separate licence.

National Minimum Room Sizes

From 1 October 2018, HMO licences will specify which rooms in an HMO are suitable for sleeping accommodation, and by how many adults and children.

A room for a single adult or child aged 10 or over must have at least 6.51m2 of usable floor space. A room for two adults or children aged 10 or over must have at least 10.22m2 of usable floor space. A room with a usable floor area between 4.64m2 and 6.5m2 may be occupied as sleeping accommodation by a child under the age of ten.

Household Waste Management

For HMOs in England (but not in Wales), a licence granted on or after 1 October 2018 must include conditions requiring the licence holder to comply with any scheme provided by the local housing authority relating to the storage and disposal of household waste at the HMO pending collection. Schemes will vary from area to area but the idea is to require landlords to provide appropriate and sufficient refuse storage facilities for tenants.

Failure to Comply with HMO Legislation

There are serious consequences for landlords and letting agents who do not obtain licences for licensable properties, or who are in breach of licence conditions. These include unlimited fines for criminal offences, civil penalties of up to £30,000, rent repayment orders and, for persistent non-compliance, the possibility of a banning order being made against the landlord or agent. However, in relation to room sizes the local authority will allow landlords a period of time (up to 18 months) to rectify a breach.

How Do These Reforms Affect You?

Are you a landlord or tenant or local authority affected by these reforms? What steps have you had to take to prepare for 1 October? Will the new rules have the desired outcome of improving the standard of HMO accommodation? Please share your thoughts with us.

Reminder to Landlords and Agents – Section 21 Reforms Apply to All ASTs in England from 1 October 2018

On 1 October 2015 a prescribed form of Section 21 Notice was introduced for properties in England. Initially, use of the prescribed form was mandatory only for tenancies granted on or after 1 October 2015. From 1 October 2018, the prescribed form must be used to terminate all assured shorthold tenancies, regardless of when they were entered into.

Other rules were introduced on 1 October 2015 relating to the service of Section 21 Notices. These rules cover:

  • • Not serving a Section 21 Notice in the first 4 months of a tenancy
  • • Starting possession proceedings within 6 months of the date of service of the Section 21 Notice
  • • A ban on “retaliatory eviction”
  • • A requirement to provide tenants with a valid energy performance certificate, a current gas safety certificate and a copy of the publication “How to rent: the checklist for renting in England” published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

Again, these rules originally applied only to tenancies granted on or after 1 October 2015. However, from 1 October 2018 they apply to all assured shorthold tenancies, even those granted before October 2015.

Landlords and agents should now ensure that all Section 21 Notices are drafted using the prescribed form of Notice and that the conditions mentioned above are complied with. For more information please refer to our Guidance on Section 8 and Section 21 Notices and our template Section 21 Notice for properties in England, available here on the Simply-Docs website.

Call for Evidence on Energy Performance Certificates

The government has published a Call for Evidence on Energy Performance Certificates for Buildings. Landlords, tenants and agents of both domestic and non-domestic properties are all encouraged to respond.

The government foresees an expanding role for Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) as part of its drive to reduce building energy use. The Clean Growth Strategy 2017 set out an aim for homes in the private rented sector to be upgraded to EPC band C by 2030, and an aspiration for as many homes as possible to be upgraded to band C by 2035. In March 2018 the Green Finance Taskforce recommended that the government set a target for all commercial properties to meet EPC band B by 2035.

With these aims in mind, the Call for Evidence aims to collect evidence on the effectiveness of EPCs, to gather information on the suitability of the current system of EPCs for both their current and emerging uses, and to obtain feedback on suggestions for improvement.

The consultation document is 53 pages long and sets out the government’s take on how the EPC system is currently working and how it might be improved. Respondents are asked to answer 26 questions (on pages 44-46). Responses must be given by 19 October 2018.

As a landlord, tenant or agent, how are you finding the current EPC system? Have the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards had an impact on your business? What do you think about the proposals for the minimum standards to be higher? Have your say in the Call for Evidence and share your thoughts with us below.

Longer Terms for Residential Tenancies?

Time is running out for landlords and agents to respond to the government’s consultation on its proposal to introduce a three-year minimum term for residential tenancy agreements in the private rented sector in England. The consultation closes on 26 August 2018.

Responses are sought to 29 questions. They include questions about respondents’ current practices and attitudes and questions about the new proposed framework of three-year tenancies with a six-month break clause and a yearly rent review.

The private rented sector in England doubled in size between 2002 and 2017. In 2016-17 it provided accommodation to 4.7 million households, 20% of all households. 38% of households in the private rented sector include dependent children. Providing these households with a long-term home is one of the government’s key objectives.

Reaction to the government’s proposals has been mixed. Longer tenancies have obvious benefits for tenants in terms of security and stability. They may also benefit landlords by providing a more certain income stream, reducing rental voids and reducing letting fees. It is also suggested that longer term tenants tend to look after properties better, reducing repair costs for landlords. However, many landlords are resistant to the idea as it will reduce their ability to sell or re-occupy a property and there may be issues with mortgage lenders’ rules which usually require tenancies to be granted for 6 or 12 months.

So, what do you think? Have you responded to the consultation? Are longer term tenancies desirable and can the current barriers be overcome? Let us know by commenting below.

April 2018 Legal Changes for Residential Landlords and Tenants

The Government is on a mission to drive up standards in the private rented housing sector. More new rules and regulations apply from April 2018 with the introduction of new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), Banning Orders and the Rogue Landlord Database.

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) – England and Wales

From 1 April 2018 it will be unlawful for a landlord to enter into a new letting (or extend or renew an existing letting) of a property with an F or G energy efficiency rating unless an exemption has been registered. From 1 April 2020, it will be unlawful to continue to let a residential property with an F or G-rating.

Landlords who let F or G-rated properties without having registered a valid exemption will be liable to financial penalties of up to £4,000 as well as “publication penalties”. A publication penalty means that the local authority will publish details of the landlord’s breach on a publicly accessible part of the National PRS Exemptions Register.

By now landlords should have taken steps to ensure that their properties are up to standard or, alternatively, have claimed an exemption. Detailed information can be found on the gov.uk website, here.

Banning Orders – England Only

Banning orders are to be introduced in England from 6 April 2018. They can be made against landlords, letting agents and property managers and will ban that person from letting property or engaging in letting agency or property management work for a period of at least 12 months.

Banning orders are intended to be used for landlords and agents who deliberately and persistently fail to comply with their legal obligations. Local authorities will be able to apply for a banning order against a person who has been convicted of one of the offences listed in The Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Banning Order Offences) Regulations 2018. The offences are, in summary:

  • ● Using violence to secure entry (Criminal Law Act 1977)
  • ● Eviction or harassment of occupiers (Protection from Eviction Act 1977)
  • ● Failure to comply with an improvement notice or prohibition order (Housing Act 2004)
  • ● Control or management of an unlicensed property under the HMO or selective licensing regimes (Housing Act 2004)
  • ● Fire safety offences (Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005)
  • ● Gas safety offences (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974)
  • ● Landlord and agent offences under the Immigration Act 2014
  • ● Various serious criminal offences committed by a landlord or agent against or in collusion with the tenant of the landlord’s property or committed at the property

A landlord who breaches a banning order may face a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine. As an alternative, the local authority may impose a financial penalty of up to £30,000.

Database of Rogue Landlords – England Only

Also on 6 April, a database of rogue landlords and property agents will be established. This will be maintained by local housing authorities in England. Only central government and local authorities will be able to access the database.

Local authorities must add to the database the details of any landlord or agent against whom a banning order has been made. The entry will be maintained while the banning order is in force and must then be removed.

Local authorities may also add the details of any person who has been convicted of a banning order offence (even if a banning order has not been made) or who has at least twice within a period of 12 months received a financial penalty in respect of a banning order offence. Government guidance will be issued in relation to these discretionary entries in the database.

Advice for Landlords

The residential tenancy sector is subject to ever greater levels of regulation. Whilst some of the new provisions, such as banning orders, are designed to catch the worst “rogue” operators, even “good” landlords and agents need to make sure they don’t inadvertently fall foul of the law. Sensible steps to take are:

  • ● Keeping up to date with legislative changes
  • ● Engaging with the local authority on matters such as licensing and health & safety
  • ● Regularly reviewing your business: are there any issues with the properties, the tenants or your paperwork that need attention?
  • ● Networking with other landlords and agents
  • ● Taking professional advice from lawyers, surveyors, accountants and others as appropriate.

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for Commercial Properties from April 2018

From 1 April 2018 it will be unlawful for a landlord in England or Wales to enter into a new letting (or extend or renew an existing letting) of a commercial property with an F or G energy efficiency rating unless an exemption has been registered. From 1 April 2023, it will be unlawful to continue to let a commercial property with an F or G rating.

Landlords who let F or G-rated properties without having registered a valid exemption will be liable to financial penalties based on the rateable value of the property. The minimum fine is £5,000 and the maximum £150,000. There will also be “publication penalties”. A publication penalty means that the local authority will publish details of the landlord’s breach on a publicly accessible part of the National PRS Exemptions Register.

By now landlords should have taken steps to ensure that vacant properties, and those about to become vacant or be re-let, are up to standard or, alternatively, have claimed an exemption. Landlords need to have plans in place to bring all properties up to standard (E or above) by April 2023 or ensure that exemptions are registered.

Detailed information can be found on the gov.uk website, here.

Fitness for Human Habitation – New Rights for Tenants

The Government is committed to improving standards for tenants in the private and social rented sectors. It is therefore supporting a Private Members’ Bill tabled by Karen Buck, a Labour MP: the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill. (visit the Parliament website here to track the Bill’s progress.)

New Duty for Landlords and Remedies for Tenants

The Bill obliges landlords to keep rental properties in good condition by implying into a tenancy agreement a covenant by the landlord to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation at the beginning, and for the duration of the tenancy.

If a landlord fails to keep a property in good condition, the tenant will have the right to sue the landlord for breach of contract on the ground that the property is unfit for human habitation.

What are Landlords’ Current Obligations?

Landlords already have a statutory duty to keep their properties fit for human habitation. Relevant factors include damp, ventilation, lighting, and facilities for food preparation. This duty is enforced by local authorities using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). An offence is committed if a landlord fails to comply with an enforcement notice.

However, there is currently no means for a tenant to take direct enforcement action against a landlord. They are reliant on the local authority doing so on their behalf.

How will Tenants Benefit from the New Law?

If the Bill is enacted (which is expected to happen) tenants will be able to take their landlord to court. The court may order the landlord to take action to make the property fit for human habitation and/or to pay compensation to the tenant.

How does this Affect You?

Are you a residential landlord, tenant, or agent? Do you welcome this legislation or are you worried about vexatious claims? As ever, we are keen to know your views.

HMO Reforms Update

Last month we wrote about the Government’s proposed HMO reforms. An Order has now been made extending the scope of mandatory licensing by removing the “three or more storeys” requirement. Landlords have until 1 October 2018 to apply for a licence for properties not previously subject to mandatory licensing. There will be no grace period after 1 October.

We await news on the introduction of minimum room sizes standards.

The Residential Landlords Association believes many of the HMO reforms are unnecessary and says they will put a huge strain on local authorities. Despite their raising these concerns with the Government, the Government has pressed ahead with the changes. What do you think? How are landlords, local authorities, and mortgage providers responding to the new HMO licensing rules? Please share your experiences with us by leaving a comment.

HMO Reforms Expected in 2018

The Government has indicated that new rules relating to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) will be brought into force in October 2018. The key reform is the extension of mandatory licensing of HMOs. There are also new provisions regarding minimum room sizes.

What is a HMO?

In simple terms, a house or flat is a HMO if it is occupied by three or more tenants who form two or more households and the tenants share some or all of the toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. There are an estimated 500,000 HMOs in England.

If your rental property is a HMO you will need to comply with legislation relating to the management of HMOs. Depending on the size of your HMO you may also need a licence to operate your HMO.

Mandatory and Additional Licensing – The Current Rules

Currently mandatory licensing applies to “large” HMOs, meaning those that comprise three or more storeys and are occupied by five or more people. Licences to operate HMOs are obtained from the local housing authority.

Additional licensing applies if the local housing authority has designated an area as subject to additional licensing of HMOs. This means that a licence is required for the types of HMO specified in the designation, not just those fitting the description of a large HMO. Additional licensing may be introduced to address problems caused by ineffective management of HMOs in the particular area.

There are serious consequences for landlords and letting agents who do not obtain licences for licensable properties. These include unlimited fines for criminal offences, civil penalties of up to £30,000, rent repayment orders and, from April 2018, the possibility of banning orders.

Why Extend the Scope of Mandatory Licensing?

The Government has decided that smaller HMOs need to be brought within the mandatory licensing scheme. This is because HMOs are particularly attractive to so-called rogue landlords who exploit vulnerable tenants by charging high rents but failing to manage their properties properly. Overcrowding, health and safety issues and a failure to deal with anti-social behaviour are common problems.

What Will Be the New Scope of Mandatory Licensing?

The storey requirement will be removed, meaning that all HMOs with five or more occupiers living in two or more households will require a licence.

Mandatory licensing will also apply to purpose-built flats where there are up to two flats in the block and one or both are occupied by five or more people in two or more households. Each flat, if occupied as a HMO, will require a separate licence.

The new rules will affect around 160,000 houses.

How Will the Licensing Changes be Implemented?

The extension of mandatory licensing is expected to be implemented in two phases. Phase one will last for six months. During this period, landlords who are new to the mandatory licensing regime should apply for a licence. However, they will not be prosecuted if they fail to do so. (But they will be unable to serve a valid Section 21 Notice seeking possession if they have not applied for a licence.) During phase two, landlords can be prosecuted and have rent repayment orders made against them if they have not applied for a licence.

Conversion from Additional or Selective Licensing to Mandatory Licensing

If your HMO is currently subject to additional licensing, your licence will be passported into the mandatory licensing scheme at no cost and with no alterations to the licence conditions for the remaining period of the licence. The Government has indicated that similar conversion arrangements will be made for properties currently affected by a selective licensing scheme (a scheme which requires all private rented properties, including HMOs, in a designated area to be licensed).

National Minimum Room Sizes

Currently there are no mandatory HMO conditions or prescribed standards relating to room size. This is set to change. It will be mandatory for a HMO licence to specify which rooms in a HMO are suitable for sleeping accommodation, and by how many adults and children.

  • A room for a single adult or child aged 10 or over must have at least 6.51sqm of usable floor space.
  • A room for two adults or children aged 10 or over must have at least 10.22sqm of usable floor space.
  • A room with a usable floor area between 4.64sqm and 6.5sqm may be occupied as sleeping accommodation by a child under the age of ten.

These are minimum standards and local authorities may impose higher standards. It will also be for local authorities to make rules about room sizes for rooms occupied by more than two people.

How do These Reforms Affect You?

Are you a landlord or tenant affected by the proposed HMO reforms? Do you agree that they provide a much-needed tightening up of regulation in this area, or are residential landlords being excessively regulated? Do you have any concerns about the implementation of the new HMO licensing regime? Please share your thoughts with us.

Banning Orders for Residential Landlords and Agents from April 2018

Back in April we wrote about the introduction of new measures to tackle “rogue landlords”. Rent repayment orders and financial penalties have already been introduced. From April 2018, the government intends to bring in banning orders for landlords and agents who have been convicted of certain “banning order offences”.

What are the Banning Order Offences?

Draft Regulations have set out the list of banning order offences. If a landlord or agent is convicted of one of these offences, the local authority will be able to apply for a banning order against that person. The list of offences, including Housing Act offences and other serious crimes, can be found here.

What Effect will a Banning Order Have?

A banning order will prevent a person from letting or managing a property or carrying out agency work for a period of at least 12 months.

Database of Rogue Landlords and Property Agents

There will also be a new database of rogue landlords and agents. The database will include the names of people against whom a banning order has been made. It may also include people who have been convicted of a banning order offence but who are not the subject of a banning order.

Access to the database will be for the government and local housing authorities only. It does not appear that the public will be able to access it.

What Should I Do?

If you are a responsible law-abiding landlord, you don’t need to worry about banning orders. Banning orders are designed for landlords who deliberately and persistently fail to comply with their legal obligations. Their introduction gives local authorities one more tool to use in the fight against rogue operators.

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