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Survey finds majority of council websites provide unsatisfactory information on HMO licensing

Friday, May 25, 2018 - Better Connected

In an important new report published today (25 May 2018), 65% of local authorities were found to have poor or unsatisfactory information on their website about the property licensing application process.

With increasing numbers renting their home from private landlords there is growing concern about conditions in such properties. Obtaining a licence from their local authority is already mandatory for landlords who rent out houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) containing five or more people on three or more storeys who share kitchen or bathroom facilitates.

The survey, conducted by Better Connected, examined the HMO licensing information on 69 council websites comprising London boroughs and metropolitan districts.

The independent survey was undertaken with assistance from London Property Licensing who helped to develop the question set and provide expert advice, but were not involved in conducting the research. 

The purpose of the survey was to assess and ease with which landlords and letting agents can find out about the mandatory HMO licensing requirements and how to apply for a licence.

Only 7% of local authorities were awarded the top 4 star (very good) rating while a further 28% were awarded a 3 star (good) rating.

Of more concern 58% of local authorities were awarded just 2 stars (unsatisfactory) while a further 7% were awarded a 1 star (poor) rating.

What are the penalties if you don’t apply for a landlord licence?

A key question in the survey asked:

Is information about the penalties for not having the correct licence clear and accurate?

Better Connected was looking for sites to mention all the penalties that currently apply, including risk of criminal prosecution with unlimited fines; a civil penalty of up to £30,000; and repayment of up to 12 months rental income.

However, the vast majority (88%) of council websites failed to mention the full range of penalties for landlords and agents that breach HMO licensing requirements.

Only 12% of sites got this completely right. Some gave a penalty figure of £20,000, which used to be the maximum fine following conviction but changed to unlimited in 2015. Some made no mention of civil penalties which can be up to £30,000 and several failed to give any information on penalties at all.

For landlords visiting the gov.uk website, things were not much better. The government website also fails to mention the new penalties introduced last year and refers people to a HMO licensing booklet last updated in 2007!

Some emerging good practice

Amongst the survey results, Better Connected did highlight the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Rochdale Council as examples of good practice.  The researchers found both sites were easy to navigate, and content was complete, well presented and customer focused. Rochdale’s site provides an exemplary journey according to Better Connected, from ‘initial understanding of what defines an HMO, to the final task completion of applying for the licence. You are told what documents you need and the criteria a landlord must meet.’

According to Richard Tacagni, Managing Director of London Property Licensing, who advised Better Connected on its survey questions, councils should be playing an active role in streamlining the licence application process and making landlords aware of the penalties they might face if they do not apply:

"Even in instances where the council takes no action against an unlicensed landlord, tenants can (and do) apply for Rent Repayment Orders (RROs) for rent paid while the property was unlicensed" he says.

"Equally landlords may be unaware that a civil penalty (in this case up to £30,000) can be issued without taking the landlord or agent to court."

With the mandatory HMO licensing scheme set to be extended on 1 October 2018 to include thousands more properties, combiend with many selective and additional licensing schemes, the message is clear. Councils need to look at how well their websites are presenting information for those that need to apply for a licence.

You can find the Better Connected 'Apply for Landlord licence' report here.

For landlords and letting agents based in the London area, we have published a simple and user friendly guide to the property licensing requirements in every London Borough, which you can access by clicking on the ‘Select Borough’ link at the top of this page.

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