13 November 2019

Landlords face charges for failing to comply with new multiple occupation legislation

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Legislation introduced to protect tenants in multiple occupancy properties has failed to be implemented by landlords resulting in them facing massive fines.

A landlord in Lincoln was fined for failing to obtain a licence for a house in multiple occupation. They were also fined for a number of failures which rendered the property unsafe for the tenants.  These included failing to install a fire alarm on the property’s ground floor and fixing padlocks on to bedroom doors which would have caused delay in the event of a fire.

The new legislation for mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) was introduced in October. Under the regulations, if a property is classified as an HMO it must comply with special requirements regarding safety, utility supplies and managing communal areas. Furthermore, under the extended regulations, buildings which are under three-storeys will also be an HMO provided that they house five or more people in two or more separate households with a shared kitchen, bathroom or toilet facility.

HMO licences will be refused by local authorities if properties are unsafe, inhabitable and fail to have the correct emergency protections in place. Local authorities have taken enforcement action to ensure that landlords comply with their obligations.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that local authorities can lawfully impose conditions beyond the mandatory requirements set out in the legislation, such as limiting the class of persons that can occupy a specific HMO. The local authority in this case had limited the class of persons that could occupy the property to students and therefore the landlord would have been in breach of their licence if the property was occupied by non-students.

Property law expert Richard Lyne of Howell Jones solicitors explained that letting HMO properties without a licence or failing to comply with conditions of a licence is a criminal offence and landlord may face rent repayment orders, requiring them to return any rent they have received to the occupiers. Further to this, these landlords would be unable to recover possession of the property, as they are not able to serve Section 21 eviction notices while a licensable HMO does not have a licence.  As a consequence of this, they will likely be in breach if they borrow money on the property, as a lender will not be able to recover vacant possession in these circumstances.

Lender are likely to require specific conditions regarding compliance with HMO rules to be satisfied before lending money to landlords. Additionally, a majority of lenders have specific HMO products and if a landlord intends to let a property as an HMO, lenders will not allow them to borrow standard buy-to-let loans.

The new legislation has introduced new requirements on bedroom sizes in HMOs depending on the age and number of occupants. The new requirements state that one child under 10 years old must have a minimum of 4.64m2, and that any over 10 years old must have a minimum of 6.51m2. Also, if two people over 10 years old share a room they must have a minimum of 10.22m2. If any room, regardless of its purpose, is found to be smaller than 4.64m2 it must be reported to the local housing authority.

Richard has stated that Landlords must check their individual situation, as more properties fall within the HMO category under the new legislation and ensure that they are compliant and avoid facing fines.

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