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HMO Bill: Social Development Committee accept Housing Rights’ recommendations

The Assembly’s Social Development Committee has published its Report on the Houses in Multiple Occupation Bill. The committee report has accepted recommendations made by Housing Rights in written and oral evidence.

The HMO Bill was introduced to the Assembly in September 2015, with the aim of enabling better regulation of HMOs by introducing a system of licensing, and new provisions about standards of housing. Housing Rights wholeheartedly supports the intention of the Bill. In written and oral evidence to the Social Development Committee, we sought to ensure that the Bill delivered on this intention by improving standards in the HMO sector; increasing protections for HMO occupants; and ensuring that no-one living in HMO accommodation would be adversely affected.

Housing Rights made recommendations in five areas which have been accepted by the Committee, and the Department for Social Development:

  • Consistent decision making and information sharing by councils.

Local councils will be responsible for much of the enforcement of the Bill, including, for example, the granting of licences and determining whether a prospective landlord is a “fit and proper person.” Given the likelihood of landlords owning HMOs across multiple council areas, Housing Rights recommended that councils should maintain a centralised and shareable register of applications, and should make enforcement decisions in a consistent and uniform way. In its report, the Committee recommend that councils adopt common systems to ensure consistency of enforcement, and that the Department clarifies this with councils as soon as possible.

  • Incorporation of any new or revised Housing Fitness Standard.

Housing Rights expressed a concern that the HMO Bill refers to the existing fitness standard for housing, which is widely acknowledged to be out of date, and which the Department for Social Development has committed to review. The Department has since confirmed that any new or enhanced fitness standard will apply to all housing, including HMOs.

  • Fire Safety protocols in relation to HMOs.

Risk of death and serious injury from fire is considerably higher in HMOs than in single households; therefore, Housing Rights recommended that councils and the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service develop an effective partnership in terms of HMO inspection and fire safety. In its report, the Committee supports a formal Memorandum of Understanding between councils and the Fire & Rescue Service; the Department has agreed to take this forward within its stakeholder group.

  • Clear definition of properties not subject to the HMO Bill.

Under the Bill, where a particular type of accommodation is already well-regulated by other means (such as purpose-built managed student accommodation), it is not subject to the terms of the Bill. In evidence, Housing Rights requested that the Department provide full detail of any such properties not subject to the Bill, and ensure that any occupants of these properties have at least the same protection as is provided by the Bill. The Department have agreed to specify, in Regulations, all acceptable alternative means of accreditation.

  • Protection for occupants of “hybrid” HMOs.

There are many sources of temporary accommodation in Northern Ireland which are owned by housing associations or other public authorities and would therefore escape designation as a HMO. However, many such types of accommodation, such as homeless hostels, are managed by organisations other than the housing association or public body.  These buildings will often cater to homeless and/or transient populations and these properties are therefore high-risk in terms of residents’ health and safety. The Department has agreed to amend the Bill to define any such hybrid accommodation as a HMO, thus bringing this class of accommodation under the remit of the Bill.

The HMO Bill has yet to be scheduled for Consideration Stage; however this is likely to be scheduled soon, if it is to pass before the Assembly dissolves on 29th March.

Find out more about HMOs

Housing Advice NI contains information on HMOs both for landlords and for current or prospective HMO tenants.

Housing Rights’ Annual Housing Law Update, running on 10th March, will include a briefing on the HMO Bill, along with all other major housing policy and law developments over the past year.

Housing Rights has recently submitted its response to the Department for Social Development’s Review of the Private Rented Sector. This includes several policy areas relevant to HMOs, such as landlord licensing, fitness standards and overcrowding.

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Policy, NI Assembly