Posted by: Jules Birch28/01/2010
Local authorities are about to get extensive new powers over the private rented sector but are they equipped to use them?
Housing minister John Healey confirmed yesterday that new houses in multiple occupation (HMO) will need planning permission and that councils will be able to introduce new selective licensing schemes in areas with substantial numbers of substandard properties without permission from central government. Meanwhile a new national register of landlords will be part of a package of new reforms due shortly in the government’s response to the Rugg review.
The proposed new use class for HMOs - defined as properties shared by three or more people who are not part of the same household - has already drawn protests from landlords and cheers from local campaign groups.
The National Landlords Association (NLA) accused Healey of ‘taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ and warned that it would reduce the supply of shared homes (20% of the private rented sector and rising) and create no-go areas for students and migrant workers.
But they will be popular with resident groups and could be a big vote winner in towns and cities with large numbers of students. Communities secretary John Denham tells his local paper in Southampton today: ‘I’ve campaigned for these changes, alongside local residents, for years so am delighted they will now be made.’
The big question though is whether local authorities will be able to cope with the new system. The report on mandatory licensing of HMOs published yesterday confirms that that only 16,000 out of an estimated 56,000 licensable properties were licensed in the first two years of the schemes. By March 2009, 35,000 were still unlicensed.
Add possible new selective licensing schemes, planning permission for new HMOs and dealing with the landlord register and that’s quite a workload for town halls. The Rugg review described the planning permission idea as ‘an extreme response given the limited nature of the problem. Change to the use classes order introduces the need for additional activity that local authorities are ill-equipped to handle’.
John Healey acknowledged the problem in his statement. ‘I am therefore reviewing the support available to local authorities in relation to regulation of the private rented sector,’ he said, ‘including publishing draft guidance on licensing provisions, and will put in place any changes before the commencement of the new powers I am announcing today.’
However, with public spending cuts imminent, it’s a problem that won’t go away
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context