The writing’s on the wall for shared housing

“We are aiming to make the Order amending the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, which will create the HMO use class, by 8 March 2010. This order does not need to be laid before Parliament.”

…straight from the horse’s (Minister’s!) mouth…

The truth is there is nothing anybody can now do to stop the Government introducing their new HMO planning rules on 6 April – i.e. planning permission needed for three or more unrelated sharers.

About four weeks ago the NLA launched a campaign tool for all landlords to be able to e-mail their MP with their objection. We knew there was very little chance of that bearing fruit.

And this week the RLA launched a similar tool. Amazing that both organisations are singing from the same hymn sheet, but this is unlikely to achieve much either.

Tragically, for both organisations, there was literally nothing that could be done.

The Order making this changes doesn’t even need to be laid before Parliament. In fact, it’s already been signed and will come into effect on 6 April 2010. Which is probably the day Gordon will scurry off to Buck Palace and ask HMQ to dissolve Parliament.

But do we need to take stock here? The fact is that most MPs actually support these changes. Or, at the very least, are not going to do much to oppose them.

Why? They, like many local councillors, have mail bags full of letters from residents who are complaining about noise, anti-social behaviour, the so-called ‘studentification’ of traditionally ‘family’ areas and a whole host of other very real problems associated with shared housing.

Oh yes, no one is denying that shared housing is not problem free. Where there are specific issues, local authorities and law enforcement agencies have all the powers they need to deal with them.

However, this will be the first time planning laws will be used to decide WHO can live somewhere as opposed to WHAT someone can live in.

Let the reader be clear: absolutely no one – and certainly not the Government – has any idea what these changes might do to local housing markets and up and down the land.

For the latest NLA Campaign News, click here.

13 thoughts on “The writing’s on the wall for shared housing

  1. So, the powerful landlord lobby groups have not been listened to on this occasion and I get the feeling that this has come as a bit of shock. The comment about government only listening to the views of the HMO Lobby in the hope of getting the ‘middle England’ vote and the reference to NIMBYs has been somewhat disparaging. Whilst I am not a great fan of extensive legislation, if HMO’s had been better managed and their licencing had been better enforced then perhaps this measure would not have been taken?
    And why should the views of settled residents be any less important than those of the business landlord community?

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head…but you can’t blame landlords for councils who don’t properly enforce existing rules. Nor blame landlords if enforcement agencies and councils don’t tackle the real problems where they exist.

    The truth is that the Secretary of State has been trying to stop the build up of shared housing in Southampton since 1982…once he arrived at CLG he had the power to do something about it…

    And he’s published it all just in time for a General Election when he needs every vote he can get…

    The fact that the Order will not even be given any Parliamentary time says it all, to be honest.

  3. Its my understanding that local housing authorities may apply to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to have the whole or part of their area designated as requiring a licensing scheme if they are likely to become:
    1) Areas of low housing demand;
    2) If there is a persistent anti-social behavior;
    3) Landlords have failed to improve the problem.

    The designation must give details of how this action contributes positively to the social and economic conditions in the area so I wonder how many licences have been granted in areas that have one if not all of these problems?

    I also understand that the NLA works closely with local authorites and whilst the points you raise are perhaps fair, would you not have had plenty of opportunities to press them for better adherence and enforcement to benefit everybody?

  4. We have to careful not to mix two issues here.

    ON LICENSING:

    If the Government get their way, local authorities will have general consent for additional selective licensing. No need to apply to the Sec. of State!

    Now that is scary!

    There are 16 discretionary licensing schemes (12 Selective, 4 Additional) where the council has demonstrated these problems exist.

    You have to admit, that isn’t very many.

    So it does beg the question: if the problems are so small and localised, why do we need major changes to how councils apply for these powers?

    ON PLANNING:

    The Rugg Review says that out of 8,000 English council wards only 59 had high student (i.e. shared housing) density. That is 0.7 per cent.

    So, for the remaining 99.3 per cent of wards, there are mixed communities already. There is no need for the Government to socially engineer where people live. It is not their role.

    The NLA does work closely with local councils. But when you raise this area for discussion, there are limited resources available to town halls.

    Local authorities simply do not have adequate resource to ensure that problems are dealt with.

    Now the reason that general consent wasn’t given to councils for HMO licensing in the first place, is because the Gov’t admitted that councils did not have the resource to manage both mandatory and discretionary licensing at the same time.

    Just in time for an election…they have changed their mind. Result = councils STILL do not have enough resource and God knows how much they will lose as a result of the economic downturn.

  5. As I freely admit that this is not my area of expertise I really appreciate your responses and the statistics you have provided are certainly interesting.

    I do have another question though. Councils have to consult local landlords before introducing additional licensing and they have to publicise it when it comes into force. Have there been many instances of this?

    1. The NLA is regularly consulted about potential licensing schemes. In addition, we have also made at least two formal complaints to the local authority in question (and CLG) where we have felt there was not sufficient consultation.

      I think it’s fair to say that the consultation process is patchy and merely a ‘tick box’ exercise. The council has made up its mind by then and what the landlords think will not affect that decision.

  6. Can’t think of anything else to ask for the moment and although we are often on the opposite side of the fence, we often have good exchanges so thanks again..

  7. One of the other big problems is the HMO legislation itself – it’s enabled action groups to apply a “label” to a select set of housing (i.e. this house is a “HMO”).

    When people hear this, they assume that it means a BAD thing. So just like “whack a mole” it’s getting hammered at. To be clear, this is not the end of the story re HMO’s – it’s going to get worse until HMOs are wiped out of existence or politicians agree that they need a few and change message.

    I consider this as all part of the general war on Landlords (i.e. all Landlords are bad because they are Landlords). I’ve been a landlord for over 10 years (and a HMO landlord for over 5) and I’m finding it pretty tough to keep on correcting my letting agents and workmen to make sure the properties stay legal, esp with the sheer amount of legal changes that have appeared since 2004.

    My biggest concern is the simple ways a landlord can be vilified by a simple miss on one of the legal changes (and it’s getting to a point where the landlord is assumed to be guilty before being proved innocent anyway). I’m also very concerned that each council has different safety requirements for HMOs across the country and the lack of consistency is dangerous for tenants in the long term.

    Just so I don’t sound completely “whiney” :-) – I do believe that a lot of HMO changes have made HMOs safer and this WILL save lives. I do believe this is important. I just completely dislike that the safety message has been converted into a political message about where people can live…

  8. Does this mean than every existing student let will now require planning permission even if not in the current HMA classification ie al our properties are not three floors and under one AST? Can someone please clarify

    1. Tony, you shouldn’t see any changes.

      Louise, the plans aren’t retrospective. So the planing rules will only apply only if there is a ‘change in the material use’ of your property. Exactly what this means in practical terms still needs to be clarified. But from what we can see, if the use of your properties continues as it is now then you won’t require planning permission.

  9. The fact that there is clearly a need for landlords who rent rooms (HMO) rather than whole of house makes it a problem when we all sell up and leave no accommodation! The council will then be back peddling..

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