The private rental market is being debated in Parliament today, with the government proposing new regulations to prevent landlords charging sky-high rents for tiny, cramped, potentially unsafe rooms.
The proposals will help local authorities track, monitor, tackle and punish rogue landlords, helping prevent the exploitation of tenants and promote a clean-up of the private letting industry.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: ‘‘It is simply unacceptable that people are living in cramped, unsafe accommodation provided by landlords who are more interested in a quick profit than the safety or welfare of their tenants.’
‘The actions of these rogue landlords are creating a shadow housing market, that carries dangers to people’s health as well as communities.’
Minimum space allocation
One of the plans set out in the paper is that bedrooms in HMOs have to be a minimum of 6.5sq m, and any landlords reported to be letting anything smaller would be found guilty of a criminal offence.
The 1985 Housing Act does specify a minimum space standard, but a tribunal case in April this year caused confusion amongst local authorities.
A landlord based in Manchester was taken to tribunal for renting out a ‘bed deck’ above a box room, which only measured 5.8m sq. it was argued by Manchester City Council that the space breached the standards set out in the Housing Act, but the tribunal ruled in favour of the landlord. This decision raised fears that rogue landlords across the country would push the rules to the limits, and the proposals were put in place for more regimented rules.
The proposed changes also focus on raising standards in HMOs, by making the mandatory licensing rules apply to more shared homes, including:
- Those that are one to two storeys. Current rules apply to homes of three storeys
- Ensuring rules apply to poorly converted blocks of flats and flats above and below shops, which are often exempt.
- Setting a minimum size of rooms in line with existing overcrowding standards
Should a landlord fail to obtain a licence they are liable to pay a potentially unlimited fine.
In addition to these proposed changes, the government is reviewing the information that is required when applying for an HMO licence, to help speed up the process and make sure it is as simple as possible.
The changes to the licensing will ensure that HMO licenses are more robust, and landlords are completely transparent. This announcement comes just a couple of weeks after the announcement of the Right to Rent scheme, which will further crack down on rogue landlords letting property to illegal immigrants.
The licences will help local authorities take action against any landlords and letting agents not complying with safety and best-practice regulations. New rules set out in the Housing Bill gives local authorities the ability to take strong action against rogue landlords, including:
The creation of a database of rogue landlords and letting agents, helping councils to focus any required enforcement action on where it’s most needed. They can also keep a close track of anyone who has been convicted of housing offences
- Seeking banning orders for the most prolific and serious offenders
- Issuing civil penalty notices of up to £5,000 for breaches of certain elements of housing legislation, ring-fencing resources for housing compliance activity
- Extending rent repayment orders to cover situations where a tenant has been illegally evicted or the landlord has failed to rectify a serious health and safety hazard in the property, and allowing local authorities to retain that money for housing purposes where the rent was paid through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit
- Applying a more stringent ‘fit and proper’ person test for landlords letting out licensed properties, such as HMOs, to help ensure that they have the appropriate skills to manage such properties and do not pose a risk to the health and safety of their tenants
Brandon Lewis said: ‘The government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and these measures, alongside those in the Housing Bill, will further strengthen councils’ powers to tackle poor-quality privately rented homes in their area.’
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