Last week I was in Newcastle at a surprisingly popular landlord meeting.
Even here at NLA Towers, where we immerse ourselves in everything ‘landlord’, we were surprised to see 75 landlords turn out on a wet Tuesday to hear yours truly talk about Capital Gains Tax.
Except that I wasn’t the main reason why so many landlords had flocked to the meeting.
Newcastle City Council had accepted our invitation for representatives to discuss the Council’s implementation of the new HMO planning rules and many landlords had questions they wanted to ask.
Full credit should go to Newcastle City Council for seeking to engage with NLA members; this sort of general collaboration has been successful for both landlords and the council (full details soon) in a way other councils should pay attention to.
That said, I think many local authorities are finding implementing these HMO planning rules a bit of a shambles.
As many of you will remember we were told by the then Labour Government that this would not be a retrospective change. In practice, every shared housing landlord is trying to work out whether their local authority will take the new rules as an opportunity to change a planning permission fee or shut down their shared house.
We’ve had many landlords contacting us confused about how they are supposed to convince their local authority that the shared house they’ve been renting out for the last five years has not suddenly become an HMO and needs planning permission.
Different local authorities across the country are asking for different things when it comes to the proof landlords have to provide that they are not running HMOs without planning permission.
So far, all that landlords and councils have are questions about how to implement this seemingly small change to planning law, and not many answers.
A recent property forum on the issue highlighted Peterborough Councils particular approach:
“Landlords can contact them before trying to use/buy/let a property as HMO, and get a decision in principle within 2 weeks (10 days i think) of making a pre-application application, at a cost of £185. This should allow the landlord make a reasonably swift decision(!)”
It is this kind of hidden charging that infuriates landlords.
Even more worryingly we’ve started to hear about areas of the country where the local authority is using the planning rules to instigate a ban on all new shared housing. As it stands, we’ve not seen any consultations on new housing or local spatial strategies to inform any caps on new HMOs.
As Communities and Local Government’s own research shows, local authorities are better placed to look at direct action rather than planning law to tackle the problems faced by their communities.
This could now turn into a little acknowledged fiasco for the private-rented sector and the tenants who depend on shared housing. We need the Government to act swiftly on its principle that regulation should be targeted and proportional – something the current system is totally lacking.