Mandatory licensing of large HMO’s with 3 or more storeys and 5 or more occupants was introduced in 2006 and it can be argued, that the aim of the legislation was to improve fire safety in these dwellings as more deaths occurred in buildings with 3 or more storeys than in 1 or 2 storey buildings and the likelihood of fire in bedsits (as many of these dwellings were) was greater.
Since 2010 when rules were relaxed, additional licensing schemes focussed on HMOs and selective licensing schemes focussed on Anti Social Behaviour problems have also become widespread. It is one such version of additional licencing which covers southern Portsmouth and Southsea and requires all small HMO’s to be licensed. This scheme was introduced in 2013/14 and ends this year.
The government now plans to extend mandatory licensing to cover any dwelling with 5 or more occupants regardless of the number of storeys, aimed at bringing smaller HMO's into the scheme.
Read on to see how this will affect you…..
Up until now, there has been no specific legal minimum size for a bedroom though a number of legal cases have set some boundaries and the building regulations do provide guidance for new builds. HMO landlords in Portsmouth, whether ‘mandatory’ (3+ floors, 5+ residents) or ‘additional’ (not mandatory but at least 3 unrelated residents) have been allowed rooms as small as 6 square metres depending on communal space and layout.
That is all about to change….
At this months PDPLA members meeting we had a presentation on the regulatory changes that now mean that ALL landlords should:
There was much debate about, for example, how often you need to check someone’s passport if they are British (and remember, 15% of Britons don’t have passports – so what do you do then?). But the key point in all of these areas is that you need to have a clear audit trail to show you are legally compliant. If you do, you should have no problems. If you don’t you run the risk of major problems in the future.
For details of what you must do, read on….
In an earlier article, we quoted the example of Fife Digs and rooms contracted for 6 months being vacated after less than 3 months. Unfortunately this was not a 'one-off' and we have had a number of members and at least one letting agent who have let us know of their bad experience with this agency.
Obviously we are not in a position to say anything bad about this agency, but we are duty bound to warn our members of the bad experience of others and to advise a great deal of care should this agency approach you.
Here is what we know...
In last months newsletter we commented on the left over food from our Christmas party and how it was shared with homeless people on the streets of the city by several volunteer members who toured the city seeking them out. (And no, there have been no complaints about bearded landlords turning up in the middle of the night and waking people up, which shows all of our members abide by our code of conduct! :-) )
Subsequently there have been discussions about what to do with the monies raised from the raffle at that event, as in previous years some people have questioned how much the homeless benefited from our donations to charities active in this area. Our objective was to ensure that the money was 'well spent' and directly benefited those who most need it. One of our issues is that we lack the expertise to do something ourselves, but as a result we gained some interesting guidance...
Last year, Chris from Alliance Remedial Supplies came to one of our meetings to talk about damp and mould and his talk was very well received. With that in in mind, and it being that time of year again, we have invited him back to come and talk at our March meeting - so do come along, you will be guaranteed to learn something.
If you can't wait...
Ever since the 1st of the new aircraft carriers arrived in Portsmouth we have seen a huge upswing in requests for accommodation for contractors working on the carriers or related infrastructure. Much of this has been very positive for our members but there have been instances where issues have arisen.
It has also led to debates about what sort of contract should be used and how they can be enforced, whether properties are HMO’s and need to be licensed, etc. On the one hand we have had requests for 40 or 50 rooms for 6 months which have proved good for some landlords and on the other, we have examples of a similar number of rooms taken for the same period and then vacated after 3 months with payments stopped. In both examples we are faced with people looking for serviced accommodation at long term unfurnished let rates which is just not possible.
What can we do to minimise the risks?....
National letting agent Leaders send all of its landlords a monthly newsletter and we were intrigued to see that this month, according to Leaders, Waterlooville is the ‘go to’ destination for property investors around the country, so we checked some of the claims with some of our Waterlooville based members.
Here is what we found…
I am sure that most of you, like myself, have spent some time recently completing your self-assessment. While we are happy to pay our dues, few people would want the taxman to benefit by more than necessary. This is where shorts lets get interesting.
Many members know Lorna Eastwood from her time at PCC leading the HMO Licensing Team and other roles. She was at our last members meeting and her 'Property Consultancy' service was mentioned by Alwin, but many will not know she is also a co-owner and founder of Southsea Brewing Company.
For those of you who have commercial premises in your portfolio, see her request below:
With so many new student blocks opening or being built around ‘Station Square’ (soon to be renamed 'Student Central') is it time that we stopped worrying about all the minor details and ask the big question – will these new halls kill small business in Southsea? Could they be the death knell for the University itself?
Let’s get the minor details out of the way 1st….
In addition to the fact that we already provide homes for nearly half of the population of Portsmouth*, local landlords once again raised money for the homeless and took direct action after our Christmas party, distributing the leftover food from the hotel to people in need around the city. We also raised money on the night which we are making arrangements to ensure is used to provide food to the homeless by a local charity.
Comments from our distribution volunteers and more details…
At the recent meeting of the HMO Licensing Governance Board we learnt about the large number of empty properties currently in the city, the attempts to ensure student halls have to meet the same regulations as we do, enforcement action on another local letting agent and were warned to take rubbish disposal more seriously.
There were also discussions about what replaces HMO licensing next August…
This time of year can be tricky, I look back over the changes of the last year and see that progress has been made but there is a nagging doubt, is progress a good thing? Is progress even progress? Am I barking up the wrong tree perhaps and should my focus be more personal, less business-y? Is my life ebbing away as I chase shiny pennies? Self doubt creeps in and I need a fresh start!
Did you know that 75% of the high rise residential blocks in Hampshire can be found in Portsmouth? Did you also know that 85% of those blocks in Portsmouth are privately owned? And as new regulations post-Grenfell are created that could mean big problems for freeholders, landlords, leaseholders, tenants and service providers.
Some of the examples we heard at this months Additional (HMO) Licensing Governance Board meeting…..
If a visiting worker stays in your property for 12 months is it a tenancy? What if he booked and paid for it via Airbnb and has the ‘holiday let’ contract that service provides? What if he goes home to his main residence in say, Manchester, every weekend? And if he is sharing the property with 2 fellow workers does that make it an HMO?
There is no easy answer to any of these questions and different cities answer them differently. Short-term rentals in Greater London are subject to a planning restriction, which makes the use of residential premises as temporary sleeping accommodation a “material change of use” for which planning permission is required. New York are more stringent and state that owners or tenants cannot legally rent their apartments out for short periods (less than 30 days) unless they are also living in the property. Elsewhere, many rentals are expected to pay hotel or tourist taxes. In Portsmouth any issues have yet to result in regulatory changes but some people may be surprised by the existing regulations which already apply in this area…