The good news is that Portsmouth City Council (PCC) now believe there are 3,000 active HMO’s in the south of the city and every single one of them has applied for and been granted a licence. The 257’s (properties which were converted to flats or similar before the current building regulations were introduced) are not progressing so well – of the 193 identified only 155 have applied for licences and of those, only 128 are so far approved.
Since the new student halls in Greetham Street and Stanhope Road became available in September we have been hearing scare stories about the number of empty houses where landlords where unable to find students to fill them, but we have been unable to quantify the scale of the issue until now. The PCC team believe there are currently between 150 and 450 empty HMO’s in the city at present. That is quite a range but other data suggests the actual number is probably near the high end of this range – so if you have one of those properties or if you managed to let yours but are worried that you will be in the same situation in a years’ time, when even more halls rooms become available, do come along to our January meeting.
We queried why student halls can be built without the need for the affordable accommodation that other housing has to provide or any of the rules or regulations that our houses have to meet in order to accommodate students. PCC have asked each of the halls to apply for HMO licences. Some older halls like Europa House, Guildhall Walk and Elm Grove are already licensed but discussions are underway with Catherine House (Stanhope Rd) and Greetham Street as both halls need to be licensed in PCC's opinion and are not currently (part of the discussion are the fees associated – they could be as high as £70,000 per hall if the current rules were rigidly interpreted and applied, which is obviously significantly more than the cost to PCC and PCC are not allowed to do more than cover their costs).
It was pleasing to hear that the high level of enforcement action that we saw earlier in the year is now complete. Some of those actions, like the closure of HMO’s on Waverly Road have had mixed success – we no longer have problem HMO’s in the area but many of the residents have either been moved to elsewhere or are now homeless, so in some respects one problem replaces another. Currently there are only 3 enforcement actions underway and none of those appeared to be ‘large scale’ or to have uncovered ‘another rogue’. One local letting agent who fell foul of recent enforcement actions was Poshpads who rent a great deal of student accommodation in Southampton but also have 3 HMO’s in Southsea. They failed to submit gas and electrical certificates within the 14 days allowed and were subsequently taken to court and found guilty of failure to comply with management regulations. You may think this a trivial misdemeanour especially as, when the documents were finally produced, they showed that all gas and electrical checks were in order and up to date and had been at the time of the original request, but….
If you have been found guilty of failure to comply with management regulations, PCC are completely within their rights to ban you from letting property in the city – so if you get a ‘please respond within 14 days’ , do so even if just to confirm receipt or challenge the request. Failure to do so could be very costly and bring a great deal of unnecessary stress into your life.
On a similar note, rubbish continues to be the number 1 source of complaints and whatever we think about BIFFA and/or the contract that PCC negotiated with them, if PCC talk to you about rubbish at one of your properties please take it very seriously and take action to show that you are doing whatever you can to reduce the issue. Current policy within the Licensing team is that if they raise 3 separate rubbish related issues with you, they will withdraw your HMO licence. We hope that common sense will prevail and if 1 landlord has 3 sets of tenants who all do something stupid on the same day, resulting in 3 complaints, that will not be treated as ‘3 strikes’ – but extreme situations aside, do please ensure that you can prove that you have done what you can to educate and encourage your tenants to deposit rubbish in accordance with the rules and that you yourself are not doing anything that contravenes them.
What next after licensing? There was some discussion of where to go when Licensing ends next August. We argue that the aims of the original scheme have been met and standards defined, checked and enforced. Rogues have been identified and removed, so the scheme has been a success, achieved its aim and is no longer required. However, there are 2 factors that may have greater bearing.
Firstly, a number of Southsea councillors have chosen to demonise students and the homes they live in, dreaming of the halcyon environment they will have when all of the students have been driven into halls – the clean streets, easy parking, flower bedecked windowsills, the sound of birdsong, etc. Unfortunately the reality is that what they are voting for could be the death knell for local businesses, from the plumbers who fix our sinks to the many small shops in Albert Road which depend on student business and in turn, that could be the start of a period of decay and neglect for the area as more and more properties show the wear and tear we hide each year with the thousands we invest in their upkeep.
The second factor which may overtake debates about whether to renew licensing is the governments plan, during 2018, to introduce licensing for all dwellings that house 5 or more people. So whereas now ‘Mandatory Licensing’ applies to any property with 3 or more storeys that houses 5 or more people, the new rules will hit all large HMO’s (5 or more people) regardless of layout and exclude small HMO’s (up to 4 people). We will be very keen to see any evidence that supports a continuation of licensing based on issues reported against small HMO’s.