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Mandatory licensing

It has been mandatory for large houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) with three or more storeys and five or more occupants who do not form a single household, to be licensed in England and Wales since 6 April 2006. Conditions in smaller HMOs have been subject to specific management regulations.

From 1 October 2018, the Government extended the scope of mandatory HMO licensing in England so that it applies to HMOs with five or more occupiers living in two or more households regardless of the number of storeys. At the same time, the Government introduced new mandatory conditions in HMO licences to regulate the size and use of rooms as sleeping accommodation and to require the licence holder to comply with their local authority domestic refuse scheme. This change was introduced as it was suggested that licensing larger HMOs led ‘rogue’ landlords to focus their operations on smaller HMOs. It was estimated that this would bring an additional 177,000 HMOs into the mandatory licensing regime in England.

The Welsh Government had already legislated to provide for all landlords to be registered, and for those carrying out certain letting functions to be licensed in addition to the licensing provisions for HMOs.

Although there are varying views on the effectiveness of licensing, the Government believes that it has helped “tackle overcrowding, poor property management and the housing of illegal migrants”.

Enforcement powers in England

In England, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 gave local authorities new enforcement powers in the form of civil penalties (up to £30,000) which can be imposed as an alternative to prosecuting landlords, and extended Rent Repayment Orders. The 2016 Act also provides for changes to the ‘fit and proper’ person test that applies to landlords of licensable HMOs and for English local authorities to access information held by the Tenancy Deposit Schemes in order to, amongst other things, identify non-licenced HMOs.

Controlling the growth of HMOs

Local authorities in England can seek to control growth in the number of HMOs in their areas by requiring planning applications for the conversion of residential properties into HMOs. The Welsh Government, with effect from 25 February 2016, gave planning authorities the power to require planning consent for new HMOs, and to consider the effects such dwellings might have on local areas, before deciding whether to approve planning permission or refuse it.

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