London Borough of Merton

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Merton 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 Merton is in South West London covering an area of 15 square miles. It is bordered by the boroughs of Kingston to the west, Sutton to the south, Croydon and Lambeth to the east and Wandsworth to the north. According to the 2011 Census about 25% (1 in 4) of the housing stock was privately rented which is the same as the London average for all boroughs.

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 Merton Council do not operate a selective licensing scheme.

If you rent your property as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), the answer is a bit more complicated. Whilst Merton Council do not operate an additional licensing scheme, some HMOs do need a licence under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme that applies throughout England.

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).

How much does a licence cost?

Merton Council charges a standard HMO licence fee of £220 per unit of accommodation (was £200 in 2018/19), followed by £200 (was £180 in 2018/19) for each additional unit over five. So that would be £1,100 for a three storey shared house with five single person lettings.

Renewal fees are charged at half the standard rate.

There is no sign of any fee discount for accredited landlords, which we think is a shame.

The fees were correct as of September 2020 but may be subject to change in the future. The fees can be viewed on the council’s website. When you click on the link, you will need to scroll down to the section called ‘Applying for a Licence’ and download the application form which has the current fees printed on it’.

How do I apply for a licence?

Unfortunately, there is no online application system – it’s a bit old fashioned! Instead, you can download an application form from the council’s website, print it out and complete it by hand.

Alternatively, you can contact the council and ask them to send you an application form in the post.

You will need to submit various supporting documents with your application, so make sure you have got all your paperwork ready.

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, Merton Council has adopted HMO standards which all licensed HMOs must comply with. They were updated in September 2018 and can be downloaded from the council’s website.

The HMO 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 March 2015, Merton Council told us they had licensed 120 HMOs. By May 2019, that number had increased to 174.

Every council must keep a public register of licensed HMOs. Merton Council have told us their register is not available online as it keeps changing.  But they did say that if you contact them direct they would email you an electronic copy. Alternatively, you can book an appointment to view the register at their office.

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

In May 2019, Merton Council told us they think there are about 2,000 properties that need to be licensed under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. This suggests that about 85% of licensable HMOs are being operated with no licence application submitted, which is a criminal offence!

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?

Merton Council told us they took no housing prosecutions over the five years from April 2011 to March 2016, which puts them at the bottom of the housing enforcement league table when compared to all London Boroughs.

Merton Council did not obtain any 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. 

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 259 accredited landlords in Merton, which was the 2nd lowest out of all London boroughs.

By January 2018, there were 271 accredited landlords, by January 2019 there were 377 accredited landlords and by January 2020 there were 403 accredited landlords which is now the third lowest number 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?

In March 2015, Merton Council told us they had no plans to implement additional or selective licensing although this could change in the future. We’ll keep an eye on things and let you know if anything changes.

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 August 2016, we checked with Merton Council and found that there is currently no HMO Article 4 Direction in force and there are no plans to introduce one.

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.

You can find further information about Article 4 Directions on the council's website.

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 Housing Team
Merton Council
Civic Centre
London Road
London SM4 5DX

Email: ehhousing@merton.gov.uk
Tel:     020 8545 3212
Website: www.merton.gov.uk

Merton News

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At a Glance

Licence Overview

No additional or selective licensing in Merton but the mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide.

More Information

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 8545 3212
Email: ehhousing@merton.gov.uk
Weblink: Merton HMO licensing

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