City of Westminster

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Westminster 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  City of Westminster covers an area of 8 square miles in the heart of London, including much of the West End. It is bordered by the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea to the west, Brent and Camden to the north, City of London to the east and with the River Thames to the south. According to the 2011 Census, about 40% of the housing stock was privately rented which is significantly higher that 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 the City of Westminster 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 the City of Westminster 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?

The City of Westminster charges an HMO licence fee of £350 (was £285 in 2018/19) per unit of accommodation with an upper limit of £8,750. So that would be £1,750 for a property with five single person lettings. Licence renewals are charged at a slightly lower £315 (was £255 in 2018/19) per unit of accommodation. The fee is payable in two instalments.

Registered charities that provide accommodation solely for vulnerable persons are not charged a fee when they apply for a licence.

We couldn’t see any discount offered to accredited landlords, which we think is a shame.

The fees we have listed were correct as of September 2020 but could be subject to change in the future. You can view the fees in full on the council’s website. Once you click on the link, you will need to select option 3 – Licence fees.

How do I apply for a licence?

The City of Westminster has an online HMO licensing application process that you can access from the council’s website

You will need to submit various supporting documents such as a floor plan of your property, gas and electrical certificates, so make sure you’ve 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, the City of Westminster have a suite of HMO standards covering Bedsits / studio flats, self-contained flats, flats in multiple occupation and hostels.

You can download the standards from the council’s website. Once you click on this link, you will need to select option 7 – HMO standards and further information.

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 March 2015, the City of Westminster told us they had licensed 276 HMOs. By April 2016 the number had fallen slightly to 268, by May 2017 there were 289 and by July 2018 there were 278 licensed HMOs according to their public register. In May 2019, the council told us they had licensed 306 HMOs.

Every council must have a public register of licensed HMOs. The City of Westminster register can be viewed online here. Once you click on the link, you will need to select option 8 – Public HMO Register.

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

In May 2019, the City of Westminster told us they estimated there were about 425 Houses in Multiple Occupation that needed licensing under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. This does suggest there are currently over 100 licensable HMOs operating without a licence.

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?

The City of Westminster told us they took four housing prosecutions over the three year period from April 2011 to March 2014. They told us they have no figures for prosecutions in 2014/15 so we have assumed the figure was zero. In 2015/16 the council took a further four successful prosecutions under the Housing Act 2004. 

The City of Westminster did not obtain any Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed HMOs over the five years from April 2011 to March 2016.

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 607 accredited landlords in the City of Westminster, which was the 10th highest out of all London boroughs.

By January 2018, there were 674 accredited landlords, by January 2019 there were 790 accredited landlords and by January 2020 there were 848 accredited landlords, which is slightly above 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?

In March 2015 the City of Westminster told us they were carrying out a scoping exercise to investigate the links between anti-social behaviour and the private rented sector. They said that the exercise would help to ascertain if there was a need for a selective licensing scheme.

In October 2016, the council told us they had decided not to move forwards with a development of a selective licensing scheme, mainly due to ‘database issues’. The council are still keeping open the option of an additional licensing scheme.

Things changed again in September 2020 when the council published their draft strategy aimed at raising standards for private tenants. One of their proposals is to introduce an additional licensing scheme covering all HMOs. The draft strategy is out for consultation until 25 October 2020 and you can find more information here.

We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep you posted if we hear any further news.

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 October 2016, we checked with Westminster City Council and found that there is currently no HMO Article 4 Direction in force and no known plans to consult on 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 out more 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: 

Residential Environmental Health Team
Westminster City Council
City Hall, 4th Floor
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP

Tel:       020 7641 6161

Westminster News

Westminster Events

Westminster Comment

At a Glance

Licence Overview

No additional or selective licensing in the City of Westminster but the mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide.

More Information

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 7641 6161
Weblink: Westminster HMO licensing

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