London Borough of Southwark

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Southwark you have come to the right place! We are experts in housing regulation and have produced this free guide to help you understand the council’s property licensing schemes.

If you find that you need a licence for your rented property our support doesn’t end there. We can handle the licence application process and give you expert advice and guidance along the way (read here). Once you have read through our guide, if you do need any assistance you can contact us here.  

We also have a Landlord Suppliers Directory (here) to help you find the goods and services you need in the London area, with new suppliers regularly added. 

To help set the scene, 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); and
  • 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 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. This includes all house and flat shares occupied by three of more people who are not all related, even if they occupy the property on a single tenancy. 

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) less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied; and
c) and the conversion did not comply with the relevant Building Regulations in force at that time and still does not comply.

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 but the scale is far too small to see exactly what properties are included. The scheme covers seventeen distinct areas, each of which incorporate several residential streets and partial streets – it covers about 134 streets in total.

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

In our opinion, this is one of the most complicated licensing schemes we have come across, 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 standard licence fee is £255 per bedroom (£250 in 2016/17, £180 in 2014/15) for the first 10 rooms and an extra £153 per bedroom (£150 in 2016/17, £60 in 2014/15) after that. So it costs £1,275 to license a three storey shared house with five single person lettings. 

Selective Licensing

The selective licence fee is £510 per house or flat (£500 in 2016/17).

Discounts

The council offer a 20% discount for landlords accredited through the London Landlord Accreditation Schemeor another approved scheme, so you could save £255 when licensing a property with five lettings!

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

How do I apply for a licence?

To apply for a licence, you can visit the Council’s website and click on the ‘Property Licensing Portal’ link.

We understand you can submit a paper application although there is an extra £100 fee to cover the extra administration costs. 

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 and all for a fixed fee. As part of the service, we carry out an inspection of your property, arrange a measured floorplan and provide expert advice on compliance. 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 can issue you with a civil penalty 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 us 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 six years (April 2011 to March 2017). This is based on data published by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. 

In 2015, a group of five tenants successfully obtained a Rent Repayment Order of £16,263.94 after their landlord was convicted of operating an unlicensed HMO.  

How many accredited landlords are there?

There are 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.

In addition to training and development, accredited landlords are entitled to various benefits, including discounted licensing fees in some boroughs. If you are not already a member, we would encourage you to think about joining! 

Is the Council planning to introduce any new licensing schemes?

Southwark Council have already implemented a 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. 

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!

As the leading experts in property licensing, we also offer a range of services ourselves. From handling the licence application process to advice on new HMO developments, we can help to ensure your property business remains compliant. If you need assistance, please drop us a line and see if we can help! 

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?

You can contact the council at: 

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

Email: resi@southwark.gov.uk 
Tel:      020 7525 3114
Website: www.southwark.gov.uk

Southwark News

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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
Email: resi@southwark.gov.uk
Weblink: Southwark property licensing

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