Rogue HMO landlords – is more legislation the answer?
Last month, Camden Council report released a report outlining the problems faced by some of the tenants living in Camden’s 8,585 HMOs (houses in multiple occupation). This includes homes covered in black mould caused by dampness, defective toilets, faulty electric circuits posing electrocution risks, collapsed ceilings and dangerous sleeping quarters.
The new report on HMOs was drawn up after a six-month consultation and fact-finding mission from the council between December 2013 and May this year, in which officials surveyed landlords and tenants and inspected HMOs across the borough.
Eighty-five per cent of private renters who responded to the survey said the council should do more to improve living standards in privately-rented homes and nine of the 12 landlords who responded to the survey agreed.
In the wake of the report’s findings, council bosses are now considering new rules requiring all landlords to apply for a licence before converting any property into a HMO, regardless of size. But will the tougher legislation improve living conditions in the private sector?
Currently, landlords only need to apply to a for a HMO licence if they intend to convert their property into a ‘large HMO’. A large HMO is any property which has at least three storeys with at least four tenants, all of whom each share toilets, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants. HMOs also require annual certificates to be obtained for emergency lights, interlocked smoke alarm, along with gas and PAT testing and if applicable, electrical and gas certificates.
Across the UK, properties are being converted into HMOs predominantly by professional property developers and investors. However, there are a few HMO landlords providing extremely poor and dangerous housing and not a week goes by, without a HMO landlord hitting the headlines.
In fact, earlier this month a Croydon landlord and agent were fined £3,000 plus £2,500 in court costs, after being found guilty of running an unlicensed HMO, where seven people were rescued from a fire. They had failed to register the property, which had five paying tenants at the time of the fire.
Some HMO landlords are also charging tenants excessive fees for non-specific administration including credit checks (which are often not carried out); the lease; inventory preparation; and finally, the check-out. Due to the supply and demand issues in some areas of the country, landlords can make extra, or inflated charges, because the tenants have no choice if they wish to rent a property. Students are particularly vulnerable to these bad practices, as they are usually first time renters and are unaware of correct procedures.
It’s a sad fact that many tenants are getting a raw deal and the problem of rogue HMO landlords is getting worse, as demand for cheap rental property increases across the UK. The new trend of ‘Hutching Up’, which involves young people squeezing into smaller accommodation to meet soaring rental costs, is driving demand for more HMO properties.
We strongly recommend that both landlords and students use a letting agency which has extensive experience in managing HMOs. This will ensure the properties are maintained as per the legal standards and safety of tenants is guaranteed. The real benefit from landlords is that they can avoid being prosecuted and fined up to £20,000.
* Mish Liyanage is Managing Director of the Mistoria Group