How many wash hand basins are required in a licensed HMO?

Friday, July 3rd, 2020 - By Richard Tacagni, Managing Director at London Property Licensing

When the mandatory HMO licensing scheme came into force in April 2006, the government directed that in HMOs with five or more occupants, all units of living accommodation must contain a wash hand basin, unless there was already a sink.

This highly prescriptive requirement was amended the following year by Schedule 3 of the Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Additional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007.

From October 2007, the amended requirement was to provide a wash hand basin in each unit of living accommodation where reasonably practicable, having regard to the age and character of the HMO, the size and layout of each flat and its existing provision for wash-hand basins, toilets and bathrooms.

The amended wording was far more pragmatic and gave local authorities flexibility in deciding what was appropriate on a case by case basis. This in turn provided landlords more flexibility to install ensuite bathrooms, individual wash hand basins or adequate shared washing facilities, having regard to the use, layout and occupancy of each property.

Since the regulations were amended in 2007, the idea of wash hand basins in every bedroom has become far less common. It now seems somewhat old fashioned and it is an issue that rarely gets raised with me. I was therefore surprised to be approached by a client facing such an issue involving a district council outside of London.

Washing hands in an HMO

I undertook a case review and found there were two eight-bedroom properties that had been operating as licensed HMOs for over 10 years. The layout of each property was identical. They contained two bedrooms with ensuite facilities. The remaining six bedrooms shared two bathrooms, each with a full set of facilities. There was also a separate toilet cubicle and basin. In total, each property had five wash hand basins shared between ten people.

When both properties came up for licence renewal, the council decided more wash hand basins must be installed. They issued draft licences requiring additional wash hand basins in five of the six bedrooms with four years to undertake the work. Having reviewed all the circumstances, I did not think it was necessary or reasonably practicable to do so.

A detailed representation was submitted asking for this licence condition to be deleted. It was argued it would necessitate upgrading of the water main, installing a new high capacity water heating system and the existing washing facilities were adequate. The work would also be disruptive to the tenants, two of whom had lived there for over 10 years. Interestingly, all the tenants also told my client they objected to the proposal.

The council responded to the representation but held firm. They would not take account of tenants’ views as none of them had responded directly to the council. They also wanted quotations and other documentation to support the contention that the work was not reasonably practical.

A further representation was prepared, again reiterating that requiring ten wash hand basins in a eight bedroom HMO was excessive. A quotation for over £10,000 was submitted for the installation cost, including a new boiler and high capacity hot water tank. Letters of objection were also submitted by all the tenants.

I think the tenants’ letters were the most powerful submission as they universally condemned the proposal. Issued raised by the tenants included not wanting a basin taking up space in a room the tenant had occupied for over 10 years, never experiencing difficulties accessing a shared bathroom, making the room feel cramped and uncomfortable and the work causing unnecessary disruption. Several tenants commented that they would probably move house if forced to have a basin installed. Yet, the work was intended for their benefit.

Fortunately, the follow-up submission did the trick. The requirement to install more wash hand basins was dropped by the council and this significant expenditure and disruption was avoided.

Through effective negotiation, the issue was resolved without the need to submit an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, thereby avoiding more time and expense for both parties. Needless to say, the client was pleased with the outcome. Case ref: INV0942/2019.

The author of this blog, Richard Tacagni MCIEH CEnvH, is Managing Director of London Property Licensing. You can contact him at Richard@londonpropertylicensing.co.uk.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of London Property Licensing. These blogs are designed to stimulate discussion and debate within the property industry. This article does not represent legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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