Southwark landlords warned as new licensing schemes come into force
Southwark landlords and letting agents are being warned that all houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) need to be licensed under an additional licensing scheme that came into force on 1 January 2016.
The additional licensing scheme, which applies borough-wide, has extended property licensing to an estimated 10,000 HMOs in Southwark. It includes all private rented accommodation shared by three of more people who are not all related, even if the tenants moved in together on a single tenancy.
The licensing scheme also includes ‘Section 257 HMOs’. These are properties that have been converted into self-contained flats but do not comply with the relevant building regulations and where less than two-thirds of the flats are owner-occupied.
On 1 January 2016, the council also rolled out selective licensing to certain parts of the borough. The selective licensing scheme, which extends property licensing to all private rented homes, including houses and flats rented by an individual or single household, is expected to cover an additional 5,000 properties. Selective licensing applies across a patchwork of areas and so landlords and letting agents will need to study the arrangements carefully.
Landlords can now apply for a licence!
Technical issues with Southwark Council’s website have lead to considerable confusion with the licence application process.
On 20 October 2015, London Property Licensing revealed that the licensing schemes had been delayed by two months to allow landlords time to apply for a licence before the scheme started (read here).
But in early November, when the application process with due to go live, the Council displayed a message on their website saying:
“Please note we are currently having technical issues with the portal. It will be available within the next few weeks. If you would like us to notify you of when the portal comes online, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org“.
That message has been displayed ever since and was still on show when we checked earlier today (6 January 2016).
In the meantime, further enquiries by London Property Licensing have revealed that the online application form was actually published on a different part of the Council’s Website in December 2015.
According to the council, technical issues with their website meant they have been unable to update the information to let people know, although they said they have notified landlords who contacted them direct.
Landlords are being advised to act quickly as until a licence application has been submitted, any Section 21 notice of seeking possession to end a tenancy will be invalid. Landlords who fail to comply could also risk prosecution and a hefty fine.
Background to the schemes
According to the Council, Southwark’s private rented sector has seen rapid growth and about 70,000 people now live in private rented homes – about a quarter of all residents.
The Council says that whilst much of the sector provides decent accommodation and is well managed, there are problems associated with parts of the sector arising from poor management, poor property conditions and issues of anti-social behaviour.
The Council says that their enforcement activity involving multiple occupied properties has increased by 289% over the past 5 years, leading to a 500% increase in the number of HMO prosecutions over the same period. Research by London Property Licensing places Southwark in the top five London councils when it comes to taking housing prosecutions.
Whilst the selective licensing fee has been set at £500 per house or flat for up to five years, the additional licensing fee for HMOs has been set at £250 per bedroom, making it £1,250 for a five-bed shared house for up to five years. This will become one of the highest additional licensing fees in London.
Landlords who apply by 30 June 2016 will receive a 20% discount, with a further 20% discount offered to accredited landlords.
The council says that all properties will be inspected before a licence is issued.
Further information about property licensing in Southwark is available at www.londonpropertylicensing.co.uk/southwark.