A busy 2017 for the buy to let market saw many lenders, advisers, and their clients adapting to changes in tax relief and the PRA changes on lending to portfolio landlords. This meant staying on top of the latest news and talking to clients about how this might affect their financial plans.
In December 2017 the government announced that it would proceed with extending mandatory property licensing of houses in multiple occupations (HMOs). On 23 January 2018, Housing Minister, Dominic Raab, stated that, subject to Parliamentary approval, the necessary regulations would be brought into force in October 2018.
What is mandatory licensing?
Since the Housing Act 2004 came into force it has been a requirement that large HMOs are licensed under mandatory licensing. Currently mandatory licensing applies nationwide to HMOs that:
- Comprise 3 or more storeys;
- Are occupied by 5 or more people living in two or more single households; and
- The occupiers share basic amenities such as washing and cooking facilities.
As these large HMOs are deemed high risk they are all required to be licensed regardless of where the HMO is located. Recent years have seen local authorities implement additional licensing schemes to cover smaller HMOs in an attempt to tackle poor housing conditions in the private rented sector. For example, in some areas, HMOs comprising one or two storeys need to be licensed.
What is changing?
New rules will be introduced that will mean that many landlords of Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) will require new licenses. At the moment some 60,000 HMOs require a license, which may increase by a further 174,000 under the new rules.
The government has now decided to extend the scope of mandatory licensing to bring smaller HMOs within the scheme. Mandatory licensing will include:
- All HMOs with 5 or more occupiers living in 2 or more households regardless of the number of storeys. Effectively this means the storey requirement will be removed from the current definition.
- Purpose built flats where there are up to two flats in the block and one or both of the flats are occupied by 5 or more persons in 2 or more separate households. This will apply regardless of whether the block is above or below commercial premises. This will bring certain flats above shops on high streets within mandatory licensing as well as small blocks of flats which are not connected to commercial premises.
As is the case now, it is the individual HMO that is required to be licensed and not the building within which the HMO is situated. This means that where a building has two flats and each is occupied by 5 persons living in 2 or more households, each flat will require a separate HMO licence.
What are the proposals for implementing the changes?
The government proposes to implement the extension of mandatory licensing in two phases.
Phase one will last for 6 months. During this time local authorities will publicise the new licensing regime, process applications and issue licences. Landlords that did not require a HMO licence before the change in the rules will not be prosecuted during phase one for failure to license a licensable HMO and will not be exposed to rent repayment orders (RROs).
However, landlords will be expected to apply for a licence during the 6 month grace period and they are encouraged to do so because they will not be able to serve valid section 21 notices seeking possession until an application for a licence has been duly made (unless the landlord has instead applied for a temporary exemption in order to remove their property from licensing).
The government’s response is clear that the 6 month grace period does not mean that applying for a licence is optional. It just means that the criminal sanctions for not having a licence will be put on hold. Once the 6 month period is over and phase two begins any landlord without a licence will be subject to the full range of penalties for failing to comply.
It is also important to point out that landlords who currently require a licence under a local authority additional or selective licensing scheme and who are not licensed will not be able to benefit from the 6 month grace period just because their property has fallen within the new mandatory licensing category. These landlords could face enforcement action at any time.
What happens if I don’t get a licence?
There are serious consequences for landlords and letting agents who do not obtain licences for licensable properties. The local authority can bring a prosecution against the landlord in the magistrates’ court and fines for Housing Act 2004 offences have been unlimited since March 2015. Local authorities are also able to issue landlords with civil penalty notices of up to £30,000 per offence as an alternative to prosecution. Tenants and local authorities have additional remedies in the form of RROs where rent or housing benefit can be claimed back from the landlord by order of the First-Tier Tribunal.
The new rules extending mandatory licensing are expected to come into force in October 2018. Landlords should start reviewing their properties now in preparation for the changes.
If you would like to speak to one of our mortgage advisers or tax experts please contact us on 01908 523 420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: National landlords association