London Borough of Tower Hamlets

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Tower Hamlets 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 Tower Hamlets is in East London covering an area of 8 square miles. It is bordered by the boroughs of Hackney to the north, Newham to the east, the City of London to the west and with the River Thames to the south. According to the 2011 Census about 33% of the housing stock was privately rented which is significantly above the London average of 25% (1 in 4).

Do I need a licence to rent out my property?

You need to study the arrangements carefully as there are two different licensing schemes in Tower Hamlets.

You may need a licence if you rent your property to a single family or individual as Tower Hamlets Council have implemented a selective licensing scheme in certain parts of the borough. The scheme came into force on 1 October 2016 and last for five years until 30 September 2021.

If you rent your property as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), the answer is a bit more complicated. Whilst Tower Hamlets Council do not operate an additional licensing scheme, some HMOs will need a licence under the new selective licensing scheme and some are covered under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme that applies throughout England and Wales.

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 an 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. Selective licence

You need a selective licence if your property (house or flat) is let out to a single person, couple or single household in Whitechaple, Weavers, Spitalfields and Banglatown, based on the council ward boundaries that existed pre 22 May 2014 – in the west of the borough.  

The selective licensing scheme will also apply to most HMOs in that area that are not already licensed under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme.

To find out if your property is in one of these areas, you can carry out a postcode search on the Council’s website

How much does a licence cost?

It depends on what type of licence you are applying for.

Mandatory HMO licensing

The fee is £525 (£520 in 2015/16, £422 in 2014/15) for the property plus £35 (£29 in 2014/15) for each habitable room. So it would cost £700 for a three storey shared house with five single person lettings and no communal living room. 

Whilst the fee rates are below average for the London boroughs, it does say on the website that you need to re-licence after three years rather than the five year licences issued by most councils.  

Selective licensing

The fee is £520 for an online application, increasing to £660 if you apply by post and do not include all the information requested. Licences will normally be issued for 5 years, although if two warning letters have been sent, the council say you will only receive a 1 year licence.

The website doesn’t list any discount for accredited landlords, which we think is a shame.

The fees we have listed are correct as of September 2017 but could be subject to change in the future. You can view the mandatory HMO licensing fees here and the selective licensing fees here

How do I apply for a licence?

A new online application process has been introduced covering both the mandatory HMO and selective licensing schemes. You can apply by visiting the council’s website and clicking on the ‘Apply for a selective or mandatory Landlord Licence or temporary exemption’ link.

You will need to submit various supporting documents with your application so it is important to read the instructions carefully and make sure you’ve got all your paperwork ready.  

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.  

For selective licence applications for a single family let, you may wish to contact our colleagues at McDowalls Surveyors Limited who specialise in that type of licensing. You can visit their website here.

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Yes, Tower Hamlets Council told us they have adopted the HMO amenity standards produced by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). When we last checked in November 2015, the standards were not available on the Council’s website which makes it more difficult for landlords who want to check what the requirements are.

We have asked Tower Hamlets Council if we can share the standards with you online but they have said we will need permission from the CIEH. When we checked with the CIEH, they have provided us with a link to a copy on their website. Unfortunately, it's a poor quality photocopy and runs to about 80 pages so you may prefer to contact the Council and ask them to send you a copy.

The standards cover a range of issues such as kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities, fire precautions, heating, lighting, ventilation and room sizes.

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, Tower Hamlets Council told us they had licensed 132 HMOs, although by February 2016, the number of licensed properties had risen to 201. When we checked again in February 2017, there were 273 licensed HMOs listed in the public register.

In February 2017, the council told us they had received approximately 2,100 applications under the selective licensing scheme of which about 1,000 have already been approved.

Tower Hamlets Council keeps a public register of licensed properties that is regularly updated. You can view the HMO licensing register here and the selective licensing register here. Once you click on the link, scroll down to the ‘Public Register’ section where you can download a copy.

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

Yes, there do seem to be. In March 2015, Tower Hamlets Council told us they think there could be about 1,400 properties that are covered by the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. This suggests there could be well over a thousand licensable HMOs operating without a licence in Tower Hamlets.

The council also think there could be around 6,000 properties that need licensing under the new selective licensing scheme, so there are still thousands of properties where no licence application has yet been submitted. It shows there is a huge amount of work still to be done.

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 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 get your property licensed! (find out more

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

Tower Hamlets Council told us they had took thirteen successful housing prosecutions over the three years from April 2011 to March 2014. A further two prosecutions were taken in 2014/15, two in 2015/16 and six in 2016/17, so they are quite busy when it comes to enforcement action.

We expect this uplift in housing prosecutions will continue with so many unlicensed properties still out there.

Tower Hamlets Council have not obtained any Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed properties over the last six years (April 2011 to March 2017). This is based on data published by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. 

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 618 accredited landlords in Tower Hamlets, which is the 8th highest out of 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?

Tower Hamlets were originally considering a selective licensing scheme that would cover the vast majority of private rented accommodation in the following areas:

  • Blackwall and Cubitt Town
  • Bow East
  • Bow West
  • Millwall
  • Spitalfields and Banglatown
  • Weavers
  • Whitechapel

Tower Hamlets Council said that they want to use selective licensing to tackle anti-social behaviour, deal with poor housing standards and to assist in improving the overall management of rented accommodation. 

There was a public consultation exercise for 12 weeks from 16 March to 12 July 2015. 

On 2 February 2016, Tower Hamlets Cabinet were presented with a report on ‘Licensing of the private rented housing sector (read here). The report was approved and the council decided to implement selective licensing in three council wards:

1. Weavers;
2. Whitechaple and Spitalfields; and
3. Banglatown

To make matters slightly more complicated, the scheme applies to the ward boundaries as they existed pre-22 May 2014 and it came into force on 1 October 2016. 

In February 2017, Tower Hamlets Council told us that whilst there are no current proposals to introduce more licensing schemes, various options are being considered.

There is clearly a lot happening in Tower Hamlets so we will monitor the situation closely and will keep you posted.

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.

In February 2017, we checked with Tower Hamlets Council and found that there is currently no HMO Article 4 Direction in force.

This means that you do not need planning permission for a change of use from a single-family property (use class C3) to a small HMO shared by three to six unrelated residents (use class C4), although the situation could change in the future.

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: 

Health & Housing Team
Tower Hamlets Council
Mulberry Place
5 Clove Crescent
London E14 2BG

Email: housinglicensing@towerhamlets.gov.uk
Tel:      020 7364 5008
Website: www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

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At a Glance

Licence Overview

No additional licensing in Tower Hamlets but the mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide. A selective licensing scheme covers part of the borough.

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