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A Guide to Responsible Landlordship in HMOs

Jan 20th 2024

While maximising your ability to rent out your property to multiple occupants is appealing, it is important to consider that being an HMO landlord may require more responsibility than managing an average property.

Bristol HMO Legislation Update

Comes into force on 6th August 2024

  • The whole of the City and County of Bristol is designated as subject to Additional Licensing
  • Bishopston and Ashley Down, Cotham and Easton wards are designated as subject to Selective Licensing

This means that all HMOs within the Bristol City Council boundary, and most other types of privately rented properties in Bishopston and Ashley Down, Cotham and Easton wards, will need a licence from Tuesday 6 August 2024. The schemes will be in operation for five years and each property will be inspected at least once during the lifetime of the scheme to ensure that they meet licensing standards.

Landlords and agents will have up to three months from the start date to submit their licensing applications (until 5 November 2024) together with the part 1 fee. We will not consider enforcement for an unlicensed property until that period ends.

When the landlord of the property fails to carry out required duties, significant fines and prosecutions can be carried out in response. To steer clear of any mistakes, here ia a guide of the requirements that HMO landlords face:

  • Mandatory HMO Licensing: This applies to properties housing 5 or more people from 2 or more households sharing amenities
  • Discretionary Licensing: Over 600 different schemes exist across the UK, and landlords must be aware of the specific requirements of their local area.
  • Additional Licensing: This applies to properties with 3 or more people from 2 or more households. It is borough-specific and requires careful attention to local regulations.
  • Selective Licensing: This can be applied to specific areas, roads, or wards, and is entirely at the discretion of the local borough. Compliance requirements with these licenses can vary greatly and requires landlords to be well-informed about their specific locality.
  • Planning Permission: This is required if the local authority has an Article 4 direction in place. It’s crucial to verify this before converting a property into a HMO.
  • Fire Safety and Prevention: Installation of hard-wired smoke and heat alarms, provide fire blankets and extinguishers, and ensure 30-minute fire doors with self-closers and thumb-turn locks for quick, safe evacuation.
  • Room Sizes, Facilities and Storage: Minimum room sizes are set for bedrooms and living spaces. Adequate cooking, sanitary, and waste facilities proportional to the number of occupiers are a must. Adequate storage facilities, including for bicycles, are required to meet the needs of all tenants.
  • Security: Locks on bedroom doors are essential for individual privacy and security.

Now that we know how to fulfil the legal requirements of HMO landlordship, we will asses cases of HMO landlordship gone wrong:

Case Studies of Negligent HMO Landlords

Landlord Joe Sutera was fined £44,000 after neglecting to ensure clear passage out of the property in the case of a fire. There were also no working smoke alarms in the property. As cited in the The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006 – “The manager must ensure that all means of escape from fire are kept free from obstruction.” Alongside the necessity to display prominent notices that indicate the means of escape through the property, all fire fighting equipment and fire alarms are required to be working in good order.

When appearing in Bristol Magistrate’s Court Sutera refused to identify himself – bizarrely referring to himself only as “a man” and claiming that the real Sutera was lost at sea. The “man” was found guilty in Sutera’s apparent absence. 

 

Bristol landlord Thomas Flight was fined £32,000 after hiding his identity from his tenants in order to steal deposits and charge hidden fees. As listed in the government HMO regulations; managers “must ensure that their name, address and any telephone contact number are made available to each household in the HMO; and such details are clearly displayed in a prominent position in the HMO.” 

 

Not only did this landlord assume a false identity, Flight’s property management business went by multiple trading names and when in court Flight attempted to blame his crimes on a letting agent who was never found. Unless all of his associates were as flighty as Flight himself was, this was assumed to be yet another made-up identity, alongside the multiple non-existent landlords he cited in court.

The Importance of HMO Licensing

Landlords not licensing their HMOs is also an issue of growing concern – as landlords Ramiz Kafai and Naomi Knapp have been held accountable for. Kafai, receiving a fine of £9,600, failed to licence a property rented by four tenants who successfully received individual rent repayment from Kafai. They were informed of their legal rights by a private housing case worker at Bristol City Council.

In Knapp’s case, she was fined £22,000 with an additional £7,000 paid in costs. After three decades of acting as a landlord it was found that out of her 29 Bristol properties, 18 were in need of licensing. The properties found numerous issues including missing fire doors, battered walls, shabby communal areas and rubbish strewn gardens. 

Knapp was banned from any form of renting for five years for her misdeeds and added to the rogue landlord database, a list of landlords and property agents who have been given a banning order.

Knapp could have avoided going rogue had she abided by the HMO regulations which requires that “any garden belonging to the HMO is kept in a safe and tidy condition” and that each part of the HMO that is used as living accommodation has an internal structure that is maintained in good repair. 

The Straight and Narrow

These cases highlight the moral and legal imperatives of responsible property management. The HMO regulations are designed not only to uphold legal standards but also to ensure the safety and well-being of tenants. For landlords navigating the complexities of HMO regulations, understanding and compliance are key.

Here is a list of valuable resources that provide comprehensive information:

The Moral and Legal Imperatives

The cases of these punished HMO landlords serve as valuable lessons for those engaged in property management and for potential HMO renters. Responsible property management is not only a legal obligation but also a moral one. By prioritising the safety and satisfaction of your tenants, you not only avoid legal troubles but also contribute to creating a positive community within your properties.

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