The government is proposing a national minimum bedroom size and a re-defining of what constitutes a House in Multiple Occupation in the latest example of increased regulation over the private rental sector in England.
Single bedrooms in HMOs would have to be a minimum of 6.5 square metres – roughly 70 square feet – and landords letting rooms smaller than that would be guilty of a criminal offence. It is likely that a minimum double bedroom would be 10.5 square metres.
These roughly follow the existing statutory overcrowding standards set out in Section 326 of the Housing Act 1985.
Briefings to journalists by the Department of Communities and Local Government have suggested that the proposal – contained in a DCLG consultation document which invites responses by the end of December 18 – is a bid to resolve confusion caused by a tribunal case held during the spring.
In it, a Manchester landlord successfully won a reversal of an earlier judgment in which the city council had been backed when it argued that a 5.8 square metre bedroom was too small. The reversal of the decision came despite Manchester council invoking minimum space standards set out in the 1985 Housing Act.
Now the housing minister, Brandon Lewis, says action is required to clarify the position.
“It is simply unacceptable that people are living in cramped, unsafe accommodation provided by landlords who are more interested in a quick profit than the safety or welfare of their tenants” he says.
“The actions of these rogue landlords are helping fuel illegal working, benefit fraud, and illegal immigration by creating a shadow housing market that carries dangers to people’s health as well as communities” claims Lewis.
In addition to the room-size measure, Lewis says the government wants to raise the standards of HMOs by re-defining them and introducing stricter licensing.
Current mandatory HMO licensing is restricted to properties of three or more storeys with five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities.
However the government now wants comments on these proposals:
to make the existing rules applying to three storey or more buildings also apply to more shared homes, including those that are just one or two storeys, providing they contain five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities;
- ensuring those same rules apply to poorly converted blocks of flats, and flats above and below shops, which are often exempt under current legislation;
- the consultation also asks whether ‘five people’ is the correct threshold for the definition of a HMO.
“The government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and these measures, alongside those in the Housing Bill, will further strengthen councils’ powers to tackle poor-quality privately rented homes in their area” insists Lewis.
All of this comes on top of the recent, and highly controversial, Right To Rent measure plus a raft of changes contained in this 2015 Housing Bill includes:
- creating a database of rogue landlords and letting agents, with the offer of government assistance to “help councils to focus their enforcement action”;
- seeking banning orders for the most prolific and serious agent and landlord offenders;
- issuing civil penalty notices of up to £5,000 for certain breaches of housing legislation, ring-fencing resources for housing compliance activity;
- extending rent repayment orders to cover situations where a tenant has been illegally evicted or the landlord has failed to rectify a serious health and safety hazard in the property, and allowing local authorities to retain that money for housing purposes where the rent was paid through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit;
- applying a more stringent ‘fit and proper’ person test for landlords letting out licensed properties such as HMOs, to help ensure that they have the appropriate skills to manage such properties and do not pose a risk to the health and safety of their tenants.