London Borough of Lewisham

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Lewisham, you have come to the right place! We are experts in housing regulation and have produced this free guide to help you understand the council’s property licensing schemes.

If you find that you need a licence for your rented property our support doesn’t end there. We can handle the licence application process for you and offer expert advice and guidance along the way (read here). But first, please read our guide which should answer many of your questions. We hope you find it useful. 

The London Borough of Lewisham is in South East London covering an area of 14 square miles. It is bordered by the boroughs of Southwark to the west, Bromley to the south, Greenwich to the east and with the River Thames to the north. According to the 2011 Census about 24% of the housing stock was privately rented which is marginally below the London average of 25% (1 in 4).

Do I need a licence to rent out my property?

You do not need a licence if you rent your property to a single family as Lewisham Council do not operate a selective licensing scheme. However, if you rent out a flat in a converted building above commercial premises, you should check the additional licensing scheme outlined below as some buildings containing flats do need to be licensed.

If you rent your property as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), the answer is a bit more complicated. Lewisham Council introduced an additional licensing scheme on 11 February 2017 and you can view the public notice in the 'More Information' box on the right side of this page. Some HMOs will also need a licence under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme that applies throughout England and Wales. 

To help you decide if you need a licence we’ve outlined the two HMO licensing schemes below:

1. Mandatory HMO licensing

You will need an HMO licence if your property:

  • Is three or more storeys high (a storey includes a basement, loft conversion and any storey comprising business premises); and
  • Contains five or more people in two or more households; and
  • Contains shared facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.  

Following a recent government announcement, the mandatory HMO licensing criteria look set to change bringing thousands more properties within the scope of licensing. It is important to keep up to date as these changes could impact on you. You can sign up to our free newsletter for all the latest news.   

2. Additional licensing

The additional licensing scheme started on 11 February 2017 and continues for five years until 10 February 2022.

The scheme applies borough wide to HMOs above commercial premises. So even flat shares with three or more people who are not all related will need to be licensed if there is a commercial unit elsewhere in the building, even in purpose built blocks.

The House in Multiple Occupation definition is not straightforward and you will need to study it carefully or seek advice. For example, the additional licensing scheme includes ‘section 257 HMOs’ above commercial premises. These are properties that:

  • have been converted into self-contained flats; and
  • the conversion did not comply with the relevant Building Regulations in force at that time and still does not comply; and
  • less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied.

So a building containing both owner occupied and rented flats may need one licence for the whole building. This is a complex area of the law and you may need further advice. 

How much does a licence cost?

Licence application fees in Lewisham were substantially increased to coincide with the introduction of additional licensing. 

The standard application fee is £500 per household which includes a family or cohabiting couple. So a property rented out to a group of five people who are all unrelated would be £500 per person, or £2,500 in total! We think this may be the highest HMO licence application fee in the country.

There was an early bird discount of 10% for applications submitted by 31 March 2017, although that has now ended.  

There are discounts available if the landlord is submitting two or more applications, for charities and for landlords accredited through the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme or a recognised landlord association.

The council’s website also lists a fee for varying a property licence, albeit we understand a council has no power to charge for a licence variation. We recently published a guest blog on this topic that you can read here.

The fees we have listed are correct as of August 2017, although they could be subject to change in the future. The fees can be viewed in full on the Council’s website

Can I apply for a licence online?

To coincide with the launch of their new additional licensing scheme, Lewisham Council launched a new on-line application process via the Council’s website. To submit an application, it says you will need to set up a new Lewisham Council account.

It says you will need to supply various documents with your application such as floor plans, tenancy agreements, electrical and gas safety certificates, fire alarm and emergency lighting certificates, etc. If you don’t have them all available, it says you can still apply and send in the certificates later.

Unfortunately, we have discovered some teething problems with their online application form. It isn’t very intuitive or user friendly. For example, you can only go forwards through the form but not back. Once you’ve completed a section and moved on, you can’t go return to the previous section to update or change anything. And we’ve found the automatic fee payment system wasn’t working properly so check the amount carefully before you pay! We understand the council are working with their IT developers to try and resolve these issues.

If you need assistance with your licence application, we can help you. We offer a unique hassle-free, one-stop-shop service to handle your licence application from start to finish and all for a fixed fee. As part of the service, we carry out an inspection of your property, arrange a measured floorplan and provide expert advice on compliance. To find out more, please drop us a line and we will send you further details, or you can study the information published here.  

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Yes, the Lewisham HMO standards can be downloaded from the Council’s website. Once you click on the link and you will find them listed under ‘Documents’.

The standards cover a range of issues such as kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities, fire precautions, heating, lighting, ventilation and room sizes.

It is important for us to point out that the government are looking to introduce new minimum bedroom sizes for HMOs – 6.52m2 for one person and 10.23m2 for two people. The local council will still be able to ask for larger minimum sizes. The standards will apply throughout England to HMOs licensed under a mandatory HMO or additional licensing scheme. If you are concerned about how this will impact on your properties, please contact us for advice. 

How many properties has the Council licensed?

In April 2015, Lewisham Council told us they had licensed 183 HMOs, in January 2016 we found there were 196 licensed HMOs and by February 2017, the number listed in their public register had increased to 212.

Lewisham Council keeps a public register of licensed HMOs that is regularly updated and can be viewed on the Council’s website

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

Yes, it seems like there might be quite a few. In April 2015, Lewisham Council told us they think there could be up to 700 properties covered by the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. This suggests there could be hundreds more licensable HMOs operating without a licence.

According to Lewisham Council, they estimate that a further 1,800 properties will need to be licensed under the new additional licensing scheme.

If you are one of those landlords operating without a licence, you should apply now to avoid the consequences.

What happens if I don't get a licence?

Ignore the law and you could pay a heavy price. You risk being prosecuted by the council and if found guilty you could get a criminal record, be fined an unlimited amount and ordered to pay court costs and a victim surcharge.

From April 2017 the council can issue you with a civil penalty notice of up to £30,000 for not having the correct licence without any warning being given, so this is really serious stuff.  

You could also be subject to a Rent Repayment Order and may have to repay up to 12 months rental income.

Whilst the property is unlicensed, you can’t use a Notice of Seeking Possession under Section 21 Housing Act 1988 to evict your tenants. 
  
And following a successful prosecution, you would probably fail a fit and proper person assessment, making it very difficult for you to obtain a property licence in the future.

Don’t put your livelihood and reputation at risk. Make sure you comply with the law. We can help you get your property licensed! (find out more

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

Lewisham Council told us they had taken five housing prosecutions over the three years from 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2014, but then significantly increased their enforcement action in 2014/15 when they took a further eight housing prosecutions. This does show they are starting to crack down on rogue landlords who evade their legal responsibilities. 

Lewisham Council have obtained two Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed HMOs over the last six years (April 2011 to March 2017). This is based on data published by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.

The amounts reclaimed from the landlords were £37,020.40 and £40,147.79. This is serious money - much better to obtain an HMO licence and comply with the law. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

How many accredited landlords are there?

There are landlord accreditation schemes operated by the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).  

Whilst we don’t have any figures for the NLA or RLA schemes, we have got information about the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme that is supported by all the London Boroughs. In January 2016, they told us there were 391 accredited landlords in Lewisham, which places them just above the bottom third of all London boroughs.

In addition to training and development, accredited landlords are entitled to various benefits, including discounted licensing fees in some boroughs. If you are not already a member, we would encourage you to think about joining! 

Is the Council planning to introduce any new licensing schemes?

An additional licensing scheme was introduced on 11 February 2017, although the implementation process did not run very smoothly. We’ll try to explain.  

On 19 May 2015, a private rented sector licensing report was presented to Lewisham Council’s Housing Select Committee.

The report set out proposals for an additional licensing scheme covering flats above commercial properties. This is where council officers say they have found the very worst housing conditions. The scheme was anticipated to cover about 1,800 properties containing 4,200 lettings.

On 15 July 2015, a proposal to consult on an additional licensing scheme was approved by Mayor and Cabinet (read here - see item 242).

Interestingly, the report confirms that there was no evidence of a link between the poorest private rented accommodation and anti-social behaviour, so the council have no plans to proceed with selective licensing of all private rented homes.

Lewisham Council conducted a licensing consultation from 2 September to 24 November 2015. You can read the supporting document here

On 2 March 2016, a report was presented to the Mayor and Cabinet meeting (read here), recommending a borough wide additional licensing scheme for all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) above commercial premises and the recommendation was approved.

The report also noted proposals to dramatically increase the HMO licensing fees from £180 to £500, ‘per let unit’, increasing a licence for a 5-bed property for five single person lettings from £900 to £2,500, an increase of 278%!

In June 2016, Lewisham Council published a public notice announcing the licensing scheme that was set to come into force on 23 September 2016. However, due to errors in the implementation process, it was subsequently withdrawn.

A further report was presented to Mayor and Cabinet on 9 November 2016 (read here) and a replacement additional licensing public notice was published the following day. The scheme finally started on 11 February 2017. 

There is clearly a lot going on at Lewisham so we will monitor the situation closely and keep you posted.For all the latest developments, you can sign up to our free newsletter.

Do I need planning permission for my HMO?

You will need planning permission if you are changing your property from a single-family property to a house in multiple occupation (HMO) occupied by more than six people. HMOs occupied by more than six people fall within ‘sui-generis’ use for which planning permission is required. You will also need planning permission if you a splitting up a property into smaller self-contained units of accommodation. 

For small HMOs, the rules are a bit more complicated. HMOs occupied and shared by between three and six people fall into planning use class C4 whereas single-family properties fall into planning use class C3.

In February 2016, we checked with Lewisham Council and were told they do not have an HMO Article 4 Direction in force. We checked the Council’s website again in August 2017 and the situation appeared to remain the same.

This means that you do not need planning permission for a change of use from a single-family property (use class C3) to a small HMO shared by three to six unrelated residents (use class C4), although the situation could change in the future.

Remember that this is only intended as general advice and no liability can be accepted for any reliance upon information provided. We would strongly encourage you to contact the Council’s Planning Department or seek independent legal advice before you start a new HMO development. 

Can you help me find the goods and services I need?

We certainly can. We understand the challenges of being a private landlord and so we have developed a Landlord Suppliers Directory to provide you with access to the goods and services you need. The Directory concentrates on businesses that operate in the London area.

Whether you a looking for a letting agent, want a property inventory for a new tenancy, need a legionella or fire risk assessment, or are seeking a Gas Safe registered contractor to service the boiler, we’ve got it covered – and far more besides!

New suppliers are regularly being added and we would encourage you to take a look. Some of our featured listings also contain YouTube videos, helping you to find out more about the business. 

As the leading experts in property licensing, we also offer a range of services ourselves. From handling the licence application process to advice on new HMO developments, we can help to ensure your property business remains compliant. If you need assistance, please drop us a line and see if we can help! 

How do I find out more?

To find out more, you can contact the Council at: 

Environmental Health Residential Team
Lewisham Council
5th Floor, Laurence House
1 Catford Road
London SE6 4RU

Email: pshe@lewisham.gov.uk 
Tel:      020 8314 6420
Website: www.lewisham.gov.uk 

Lewisham News

Lewisham Events

Lewisham Comment

At a Glance

Licence Overview

No selective licensing in Lewisham but the mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide. An additional licensing scheme started on 11 February 2017.

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 8314 6420
Email: pshe@lewisham.gov.uk
Weblink: Lewisham HMO licensing

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