London Borough of Southwark

The London Borough of Southwark is in South London covering an area of 11 square miles. It is bordered by the boroughs of Lambeth to the west, Croydon and Bromley to the south, Lewisham to the east and with the River Thames to the north. According to the 2011 Census about 24% of the housing stock was privately rented which is marginally below the London average of 25% (1 in 4).

Do I need a licence to rent out my property?

There is a high chance you will need a licence to rent out your property in Southwark although you need to study the arrangements carefully as one of the licensing schemes only applies to part of the borough. We will try to explain.

On 1 January 2016, Southwark Council implemented a borough wide additional licensing scheme together with a selective licensing scheme that covers part of the borough. The schemes will last for five years until 31 December 2020.

There is also the mandatory HMO licensing scheme that applies across England and Wales.  So in total, there are three separate licensing schemes.

If you think you may need a licence, you now need to decide which one. We will try to help you choose the right licence for your property.

1. Mandatory HMO licence

You will need a mandatory HMO licence if your property:

  • Is three or more storeys high (a storey includes a basement, loft conversion and any storey comprising business premises);
  • Contains five or more people in two or more households; and
  • Contains shared facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.  

Following a recent government announcement, the mandatory HMO licensing criteria look set to change in 2017 bringing thousands more properties within the scope of licensing. It is important to keep up to date as these changes could impact on you. You can sign up to our free newsletter for all the latest news.   

2. Additional licence

You will need an additional licence if your property is let as a House in Multiple Occupation that does not fall within the remit of the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. So licensing will apply to all HMOs in Southwark.

The House in Multiple Occupation definition is not straightforward and you will need to study it carefully or seek advice. For example, Southwark Council have included ‘section 257 HMOs’ within the additional licensing scheme. These are properties that:

a) have been converted into self-contained flats;
b) the conversion did not comply with the relevant Building Regulations in force at that time and still does not comply; and
c) less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied.

So a building containing both owner-occupied and rented flats may need one licence for the whole building. This is a complex area of law and you may need further advice.

3. Selective Licensing

You will need a selective licence if your property (house or flat) is let out to a single person, couple or single household and is located in one of the council’s selective licensing areas. This is where it becomes really complicated.

The scheme designation says it “…includes but is not limited to Walworth Road, Camberwell Road, Camberwell New Road, Camberwell Green, Coldharbour Lane, Denmark Hill, Camberwell Church Street, Bellenden Road, Southampton Way, Old Kent Road, Meeting House Lane, Queens Road, Rye Lane, Evelina Road, Lordship Lane (North), Lordship Lane (South)”.

There is a map attached to the scheme designation (reference SL001), but the scale is far too small to see exactly what properties are included. To find out whether your property falls within a selective licensing area, you can check your address using the interactive map on the Council’s website

So what area does the selective licensing scheme cover? The scheme includes seventeen distinct areas, each of which incorporate a number of residential streets and partial streets. We will try to explain as best we can.

The schemes cover (using the map titles provided by the council in their 21 July 2015 Cabinet Report):

1. Bellenden Road (and surrounding area)
2. Camberwell Church Street (and surrounding area)
3. Camberwell Green (and surrounding area)
4. Camberwell New Road (and surrounding area)
5. Camberwell Road (and surrounding area)
6. Coldharbour Lane (and surrounding area)
7. Denmark Hill (and surrounding area)
8. Evelina Road (and surrounding area)
9. Lordship Lane – North (and surrounding area)
10. Lordship Lane – South (and surrounding area)
11. Meeting House Lane (and surrounding area)
12. Old Kent Road (and surrounding area)
13. Peckham Road (and surrounding area)
14. Queens Road (and surrounding area)
15. Rye Lane (and surrounding area)
16. Southampton Way (and surrounding area)
17. Walworth Road (and surrounding area)

The council produced a separate map for each area in the Cabinet Report. There was no map for Lordship Lane (South) although we understand this is still within the scheme. At the same time, a map of Peckham Road area was included, although the council have told us it was included in error and that area it not subject to selective licensing. If you want to refer to the maps, see Appendix 1 of the Cabinet Report.

In total, the selective licensing areas cover about 134 streets. A full A to Z list of the streets and house numbers subject to selective licensing was included in Appendix 2 of the Cabinet Report, although we since understand it was not a complete record and some properties have been missed off. So we wouldn't recommend you use the list.

In our opinion, this is the most complicated licensing scheme we have come across so far – so allow plenty of time to study the details! 

In summary, if you rent out a House in Multiple Occupation in Southwark, it needs to be licensed. If you rent out a property to a single family, it will need to be licensed if it is in one of the selective licensing scheme areas. 

How much does a licence cost?

Southwark Council’s licence fees vary according to the type of licence you are applying for.

Mandatory HMO & Additional Licensing

The fees increased by an additional £50 per bedroom on 1 November 2015. The standard HMO licence fee is now £250 per bedroom (£180 in 2014/15) for the first 10 rooms and an extra £150 per bedroom (£60 in 2014/15) after that. So it costs £1,250 to license a three storey shared house with five single person lettings.

Selective Licensing

The selective licence fee is £500 for each house or flat.

Discounted Fees

The council offer a 20% discount for landlords accredited through the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, another London Rental Standard approved scheme or Southwark's own accreditation scheme. So that could save you up to £250 when licensing a property with five lettings!

The fees we have listed are correct as of March 2017 but could be subject to change in the future. The fees can be viewed in full on the Council’s website.

Can I apply for a licence online?

Yes, a new online application system was launched by Southwark Council in September 2016. To apply for a licence, you can visit the Council’s website and click on the ‘Property Licensing Portal’ link near the top of the page.

We understand you can submit a paper application although there is an extra £100 fee to cover the extra administration costs. You will need to contact the council to request a hard copy form.

If you need assistance with your licence application, we can help you. We offer a unique hassle-free, one-stop-shop service to handle your licence application from start to finish. The service means you and your property will be in very safe hands and all for a fixed fee. To find out more, please drop us a line and we will send you further details, or you can study the information published here

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Yes, new HMO standards dated June 2015 have been introduced by Southwark Council and can be downloaded from the Council’s website.

The standards related to bedsit and shared-house type accommodation. These are the most common HMO-types found in the borough. The latest standards include a number of changes to:

  • minimum room sizes.
  • shared living rooms.
  • kitchen and bathroom facilities. 
  • ceiling heights.
  • children in HMOs.

The standards relate to all HMOs covered by the mandatory and additional licensing schemes. It is important document that all Southwark HMO landlords need to be familiar with. 

It is important for us to point out that the government are looking to introduce new minimum bedroom sizes for HMOs – 6.52m2 for one person and 10.23m2 for two people. The local council will still be able to ask for larger minimum sizes. The standards will apply throughout England to HMOs licensed under a mandatory HMO or additional licensing scheme. If you are concerned about how this will impact on your properties, please contact us for advice. 

How many properties has the Council licensed?

In March 2015, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 225 HMOs.

When we checked again in September 2016, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 572 properties:

  • 318 under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme;
  • 188 under the additional licensing scheme; and
  • 67 under the selective licensing scheme.

A further 1,021 licence applications were being processed in September 2016:

  • 8 under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme;
  • 685 under the additional licensing scheme; and
  • 328 under the selective licensing scheme.

Southwark Council keeps a public register of licensed HMOs that is regularly updated although it is not available online. The Council have told us that if you contact them direct, they can email you a copy or send you a hard copy in the post. 

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

Yes, there do seem to be. In March 2015, Southwark Council told us they think there could be up to 800 properties covered by the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. 

The Council also think there could be up to 10,000 HMOs that need licensing under the additional scheme and a further 5,000 properties that need licensing under the selective scheme. When we asked again in September 2016, the council thought these initial estimates may be too high, but no one really knows.

In any event, it seems there are still thousands of properties being rented out in Southwark that need licensing but where no licence application has yet been submitted. If you are one of those landlords operating without a licence, you should apply now to avoid the consequences.

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.

From April 2017, the council could 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. We can help you! (find out more

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

Southwark Council told us they took fifteen housing prosecutions over the three year period from April 2011 to March 2014. A further eight prosecutions were taken in 2014/15 and eight prosecutions in 2015/16, so they do seem to be stepping up their enforcement action.

Southwark Council have told London Property Licensing that they expect to enforce the licensing rules much more strictly in 2017 and they anticipate a steep rise in prosecutions as they crack down on rogue landlords. It seems Southwark really are serious when it comes to housing enforcement!

Southwark Council have not obtained any Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed HMOs over the last five years (April 2011 to March 2016). 

How many accredited landlords are there?

Under the London Rental Standard, there are three approved 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 560 accredited landlords in Southwark, which is above average when compared to all London boroughs.

If you have not yet done so, please visit our London Rental Standard page and decide which scheme you want to join. Accredited landlords are entitled to various benefits, including discounted licensing fees in some boroughs.

Is the Council planning to introduce any new licensing schemes?

Southwark Council recently implemented a new borough wide additional licensing scheme and a smaller selective licensing scheme.

The public consultation exercise ran from 22 September 2014 to 13 March 2015. In summary, the proposal was for:

  • An additional licensing scheme that extends licensing to all HMOs in the borough;
  • A selective licensing scheme that extends licensing to single-family properties in defined areas with a high incidence of anti-social behaviour, poor management and a high density of lower rent private rented properties; and
  • Adoption of new HMO standards. 

The proposed boundary for the selective licensing scheme was particularly complex and two options were put forward for consideration:

Option 1 – the red zone

This included seventeen streets that make up some of Southwark’s main arterial roads and high streets where the council said that the density of private rented accommodation and anti-social behaviour were ‘highly linked’. So all private rented properties on those streets would need to be licensed.

There was a map that accompanied the consultation but the council told us it was only intended as a guide and the actual list of streets was contained in Appendix 10 of the consultation document. We’re not sure everyone would have realised this – it certainly confused us.

Option 2 – the pink zone

This included everything in the red zone plus all properties within 60 meters of those roads where the council said there was a substantial link between anti-social behaviour and the density of private rented accommodation. The council told us that the 60 meter area was broadly measured from the centre line of the roads in the red zone. So all private rented properties on those streets would need to be licensed.

There was a map that accompanied the consultation but it is not detailed enough to make out any of the streets in the pink area – the council told us it was only intended as a guide. The actual list of streets was contained in Appendix 10 of the consultation document – the list included about 170 streets although some streets within 60m don’t seem to have been listed and some streets listed seem to be more than 60m away. Whilst the Council have told us they would produce a definitive list of streets to include in any future scheme designation, the risk is that not everyone realised exactly which properties were intended for inclusion in the scheme.

On 21 July 2015, a proposed additional and selective licensing scheme was approved at Southwark Council’s Cabinet meeting and the licensing scheme was due to come into force on 1 November 2015. You can read the full Cabinet report on the Council’s website.

But that was not quite the end of the matter. A further report was approved by the Strategic Director of Environment and Leisure on 7 October 2015 (read here), which delayed the scheme start date until 1 January 2016.

There is always a lot happening at Southwark so we monitor the situation closely and will keep you posted about any further developments.

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.

On 27 October 2014, Southwark Council implemented a HMO Article 4 Direction that removes the permitted development rights to change a property from a single-family house (use class C3) to an HMO occupied by up to six people (use class C4) without planning permission. This Article 4 Direction only applies in Henshaw Street, Walworth SE17.

On 27 October 2016, Southwark Council introduced a second immediate HMO Article 4 Direction that applies in Bywater Place, Surrey Quays, London SE16.

It is quite unusual for local authorities to issue immediate HMO Article 4 Directions as it means in some circumstances they may have to pay compensation to developers if an application for planning permission is refused. It also shows how planning restrictions can change quite rapidly.

You can find out more information 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, need a legionella or fire risk assessment, or are seeking a Gas Safe registered contractor to service the boiler, we’ve got it covered – and far more besides!

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?

To find out more, you can contact the Council at: 

Private Sector Housing Enforcement and Licensing Team
Southwark Council
Queens Road 2
PO Box 70063
London SE15 9EG

Tel:      020 7525 3114

Southwark News

Southwark Events

Southwark Comment

At a Glance

Licence Overview

Mandatory and additional HMO licensing applies borough wide. There is a smaller selective licensing scheme that covers part of the borough. 

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 7525 3114
Weblink: Southwark property licensing

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