The rules about Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are complex at the best of times with three different licensing regimes - mandatory HMO licensing, the optional "additional HMO licensing" and the sweeping option of selective licensing which affects most rented property. The Government consulted on changes to the mandatory regime in late 2016 and is now finally in a position to move forward but the new rules will hardly be a simplification.
The headline proposal is the removal of the 3 storey limit for mandatory HMO licensing. Currently a mandatory licence is needed for 5 or more people (in at least 2 households) sharing bathrooms/kitchens in a property which spans 3 or more floors. This change will bring an estimated 174,000 properties into mandatory licensing. However this change does not extend to purpose built blocks of 3 or more flats. So a purpose-built student block with at least 3 cluster flats will still not need a mandatory licence.
Converted buildings, even those which are relatively recently converted will however be caught. These will now need a licence for each cluster flat with 5 or more residents.
If the rule change means an existing property needs a licence, there will be a 6 month grace period to get your house in order before enforcement could be taken.
As the 5-person limit for mandatory licensing will be retained, flats and houses with 3 or 4 residents are still not caught by mandatory licensing. Calls from some respondents to the consultation for there to be a lower threshold for flats compared to houses have not been heeded.
The rules where additional or selective licensing have been adopted are unchanged with no additional protection for purpose-built accommodation.
Another very important proposal is the minimum room size standard (6.51sqm for one occupant, 10.22sqm for two) below which a room cannot be used as sleeping accommodation. There will again be a grace period for existing licenced premises to be brought into compliance. There is also a new blanket requirement to meet council refuse standards.
Earlier mooted proposals which did not make the final cut were discounts from licence fees if the landlord meets approved codes of practice and a requirement for managers to provide criminal record checks as part of the application process.
These changes won't need an act of parliament so the next step will be for regulations to be published. Often, such regulations are scheduled to commence at the beginning of April but this could be done much more quickly if the political will is there. Given the frustration with how long it has taken to get to this point, an early start could well be on the cards.
The government response can be found here.