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. Our Landlord Suppliers Directory (view here) lists companies that offer a licence application handling service. You can also find companies offering a wide range of other goods and services to help you manage your property portfolio and achieve compliance.

To help set the scene, 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. 

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 a mandatory HMO licence if your property meets the standard test, self-contained flat test or converted building test HMO definition in section 254 of the Housing Act 2004 and is occupied by five or more people.

But what are these tests and what does this mean in practice? It means you need a licence for any house or flat that is occupied by five or more people who are not all related and live in the property as their main home. For example, it includes:

  • Shared houses and flats occupied by students and young professionals;
  • Properties converted into bedsits with some shared facilities; and
  • Properties converted into a mixture of self-contained and non self-contained accommodation.  

Prior to 1 October 2018, the mandatory HMO licensing scheme only applied to properties that were three or more storeys in height, but that restriction has now been lifted.

The government have decided to exclude purpose built self-contained flats within a block comprising three or more self-contained flats from the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. While this will be good news for some landlords, it does make the licensing scheme far more complicated.

To find out more, you can read our free guide to mandatory HMO licensing (here).

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

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 per-bedroom HMO licence application fee in the country.

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 fees we have listed are correct as of December 2020, although they could be subject to change in the future. The fees can be viewed in full on the council’s website

How do I apply for a licence?

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, you will need to set up a 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 significant 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 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, but it has been like this for a long time.

If you need assistance with your licence application, you can find companies offering a licence application handling service in our Landlord Suppliers Directory (here). Whilst we do handle some applications, we have limited capacity and specialise in more complex cases where we provide our clients with expert advice and assistance.

It is important to remember that submitting a licence application is only the start of the licence approval process. To help landlords understand what happens next, we have published a free guide here.

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Yes, the Lewisham HMO standards can be viewed on the council’s website.

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 to note that new absolute minimum bedroom sizes for licensed HMOs have been introduced for HMO licence applications approved on or after 1 October 2018:

  • 4.64m2 for a child under 10 years old
  • 6.51m2 for one person over 10 years old
  • 10.22m2 for two people over 10 years old

The council can still ask for larger minimum sizes. These new minimum sizes apply throughout England to HMOs licensed under a mandatory HMO or additional licensing scheme.

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.

When we checked the published register in March 2018, we found that 301 properties had been licensed of which 254 were under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme and 47 under the additional licensing scheme.

In May 2019, the council told us that 521 properties had been licensed of which 419 were under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme and 102 under the additional licensing scheme.

In December 2020, we found there were 915 licensed HMOs listed in the public register although the list is not divided between the two licensing schemes.

Lewisham Council keeps a public register of licensed HMOs that 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 May 2019, Lewisham Council told us they think there could be 1,250 properties that require licensing under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme and a further 1,500 properties that require licensing under the additional licensing scheme.

This suggests there could be almost 2,000 HMOs operating illegally without a licence.

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

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.

Alternatively, 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.

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

Lewisham Council told us they took 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 obtained two Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed HMOs over the six years from 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.

For all the latest information, you can search for housing prosecutions on the Mayor of London’s ‘Rogue landlord and agent checker’, available here.

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 placed them just above the bottom third of all London boroughs.

By January 2018, there were 692 accredited landlords, by January 2019 there were 729 accredited landlords and by January 2020 there were 808 accredited landlords which is slightly below average when compared to all the London boroughs. To find out more about becoming accredited, you can visit the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme website here.

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?

Yes, from 28 May to 21 August 2019, the council consulted on plans to implement borough wide additional and selective licensing schemes. You can find out more information on the council’s website.

On 11 March 2020, the council approved plans for borough wide additional and selective licensing schemes and the Cabinet report can be read here. The council will need approval from the Secretary of State to implement the selective licensing scheme. The start date for the additional licensing scheme has not yet been confirmed. This may have been delayed due to the pandemic.

Prior to that, a more restricted additional licensing scheme was introduced on 11 February 2017, although the implementation process did not run very smoothly. We will 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 confirmed there was no evidence of a link between the poorest private rented accommodation and anti-social behaviour, so the council had no plans to proceed with selective licensing of all private rented homes at that time.

Lewisham Council conducted a licensing consultation from 2 September to 24 November 2015.

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.

On 16 January 2019, the council’s Mayor and Cabinet approved plans to implement a non-immediate HMO Article 4 Direction in the council wards of Bellingham, Downham, Whitefoot and Grove Park.

A public consultation took place from 7 March to 2 May 2019. The HMO Article 4 Direction came into force on 7 March 2020 and you can find out more information on the council’s website.

From 7 March 2020, planning permission is required to change a single-family home (use class C3) to an HMO with up to six occupants (use class C4) within the designated area. So even letting your property to three people who are not all related could require planning permission.

The changes are not retrospective and so properties converted from use class C3 to C4 under permitted development rules before 7 March 2020 are not affected.

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 or fire risk assessment, we have got it covered – and far more besides!

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! 

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. 

How do I find out more?

You can contact the council at: 

Environmental Health Residential Team
Lewisham Council
3rd Floor, Laurence House
1 Catford Road
London SE6 4RU

Tel:      020 8314 6420

Lewisham News

Lewisham Events

Lewisham Comment

At a Glance

Licence Overview

No selective licensing in Lewisham but the mandatory HMO and additional licensing schemes apply borough wide.

The council approved plans for new additional and selective licensing schemes in March 2020. Awaiting start dates to be confirmed.

More Information

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 8314 6420
Weblink: Lewisham HMO licensing

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