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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Reform of HMOs on the way

Back in 2012 the Department for Social Development undertook a fundamental review of the regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which Housing Rights responded to at the time. Following responses to that review and research into other jurisdictions, the Minister for Social Development has now presented a Bill to the Assembly. 

The Department set out that the key aim of the Bill is to protect tenants living in HMOs by way of:

  • Requiring landlords to meet important standards on quality and safety before a HMO can be let,
  • Updating the physical and management standards for HMOs, and
  • Linking the licensing system with planning and building controls.

The Bill has a total of 91 Clauses and 8 Schedules. 

A new definition of HMO

A HMO will exist where a building, or part of a building, is classed as living accommodation and is occupied by 3 or more persons who form more than 2 households. Apart from prescribed family members, a person who is a personal or domestic carer in a residential capacity will be treated as a member of the same household (Clause 4). Only rented properties will be capable of being a HMO and the occupants must share one or more basic amenities with each other. (Clauses 1 and 2.)

New mandatory HMO licensing scheme

Part 2 of the Bill proposes a new mandatory licensing scheme. A person will not be able to let a HMO unless they have firstly obtained a license to do so and, secondly, have received planning permission to operate a HMO. In most cases the license will be effective for 5 years. A person will be committing an offence if they let out a HMO before obtaining a license. The Department has indicated that the fee for licensing will be £25.00 per tenant per year. The Department hopes that linking licensing to planning will reduce the possibility of some areas having an over provision of HMOs; as has already happened in some areas, such as the Holylands in Belfast.

New ‘fit and proper person’ test for HMO owners

Clause 10 sets out a new ‘fit and proper person’ test for the owners and managing agents of HMOs. When determining if someone is a fit and proper person, local councils must ‘have regard to’, for example, whether the person has committed certain types of offence, practised unlawful discrimination or contravened housing law, actions or failures to act in relation to anti-social behaviour.

New fixed penalties for failing to apply for a HMO license

The Bill proposes new fixed penalties for failing to apply for a license. These will be in addition to possible criminal action and offences. In doing so, the Department recognises that the current system has not worked as a sufficient deterrent; council action against a HMO landlord can sometimes take up to 2 years to complete. Furthermore, the level of average fines imposed by the courts (£292) is seen as inadequate. Under the proposals the minimum fixed penalty will be £200 and the maximum will be £5,000.

Power to make regulations for a HMO Code of Practice

Clause 63 of the Bill gives the Department the power to make Regulations for a Code of Practice. The standards in the Code may relate to, for example, the repair, maintenance and good order of certain aspects of the dwelling; the arrangements for disposal of refuse and litter; arrangements for keeping fire escapes free from obstructions; putting the Code on display in the dwelling. It could also include an occupancy agreement which would set out the rights and responsibilities of all parties.

Welcome developments

Housing Rights is pleased with a number of the proposals in the Bill; particularly a new licensing scheme and the requirement for landlords to pass a fit and proper person test. These are some areas which Housing Rights believes could form part of a wider improvement in the standards and management of HMOs.

The Social Development Committee has put out a request for feedback on the Bill. All evidence submissions must be made by 6th October. Housing Rights will be responding to this call for evidence and we hope that our submission, based on our experiences, will assist the Committee in their consideration of the Bill. Housing Rights will be developing a range of training and information resources on the new HMO regime once implemented. Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on twitter to keep up-to-date on any developments and resources.
 

Tagged In

Fitness, Regulation, Private Tenancies, Landlord, NI Assembly