Sunday, 03 February 2019 17:27

Has your HMO been ROBBED of a room????

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Has your HMO been ROBBED of a room????

There are properties which were OK under additional licensing and some of these were also accredited by PCC,  but now they are having their occupancy reduced and only being granted a 1-year licence for the number requested under Mandatory Licensing. (See prior notification to members)

 In this case, as many of these decisions appear to have been made simply on a desktop evaluation of the plans submitted for previous inspections, we came up with the ROBBED acronym (Reduced Occupancy By Basic Evaluation on Desktop)

 The issue is predominantly whether the property has sufficient communal space. Elsewhere, 12-15 sq m is adequate but Portsmouth are looking for up to 34 sq m. Interesting as one student we spoke to this week said, “The kitchen has one cooker with only one cooking shelf, a 4 ring hob and 3 fridges and 2 freezers which are not sufficient for the 6 students, 2 sinks with draining boards, a microwave and toaster. We have had to provide our own kettle.   We eat using a section of work surface where the toaster and microwave are situated which is the only work surface we have for food preparation in our very small kitchen.  There is not sufficient room for all 6 to be in the kitchen at one time or indeed to be able to cook at one time.  ”  - diabolical you say, no wonder PCC are rejecting them. Well, actually, this is one they are fine with – it is James Watson House, one of the student halls managed by Unite for the University of Portsmouth and approved by PCC.

 We know that at least 10 members are already affected by ROBBED and as a result, we have a virtual ‘class action’ of  6 of these cases going to the First Tier Tribunal and we hope for a decision in March.

 

In the interim:

  • PCC are still processing the new Mandatory licence applications and inspecting properties
  • Any properties that are OK are being licensed as usual
  • Any properties that may have issues similar to those currently being appealed will be put on hold until the outcome of the appeal is known, then they will be processed in accordance with the appeal outcomes
  • Unfortunately, the vast majority of properties in question are student lets, and good student lets are typically let to groups in the Nov-Feb timeframe.  Other properties tend to be let on a per room basis in the months from March until start of the student year in September
  • Obviously, a group of friends is a far preferable way to let a house than a random group of singletons. Our advice therefore is:
    • EITHER To let 5 bed properties that may be reduced to 4 as 4 bed properties, and if the appeal is won, put in a claim against PCC through the courts for loss of revenue from the empty room
    • OR To let to 5 and plan to make the necessary modifications to the property during the summer to ensure that the house meets the new interpretation of the standards. If the appeal is won and the works are unnecessary, put in a claim against PCC through the courts for any costs incurred in planning the works that will no longer be required

We have met with Clare Hardwick, the departmental manager, and Councillor Darren Sanders and they are well aware of members outrage that the standards bar has been raised without any clear justification for the change of application of relatively unchanged standards. PCC does not agree that no clear justification has been given.  They state that each property is being given a fair assessment of its suitability for the proposed number of occupants in accordance with the legislation. While understanding members frustration they conclude they can offer no help to those who have already been given 1-year licences and who may or may not have signed up tenants until the outcome of the appeals is known.

This is a real concern, as PCC appear to be pocketing the £700 fee for a 5-year licence and then bouncing quite a number of properties out of the scheme by reducing them to 4 tenants, but doing so by offering a 1-year licence in order to retain the £700 fee.  A fairer approach would be to reject the application outright and return the fee granting a Temporary Exemption to cover current tenants.

If you are concerned that you do not meet the PCC HMO standards DO NOT panic. Each property is decided on its individual characteristics. We are told  “it is not a numbers” game though it is hard to see how that can be the case when decisions are being made based on desktop evaluations.

Please remember, if you do not like the terms of a DRAFT licence you must appeal to the case officer. Please copy  housing.privatesector@portsmouthcc.gov.uk  and us info@pdpla.com . You can only appeal to the First Tier Tribunal once you have failed to reach an agreement with PCC and they either reject your application or give you a full licence for say 1 year or the licence has conditions you are not happy with. REMEMBER to read all the conditions carefully, unusual requests are usually tagged on at the end. 

We have just heard that PCC have changed their mind on the first property to be appealed and if the landlord drops his FTT appeal they will give him a licence as requested. A bit late as the process has already cost him a fee, all the time to prepare his case and the anxiety over 2 months. The lesson is do not take anything they tell you as the final word, if you are not happy appeal locally and then when that fails appeal to the  FTT.

For those new to this issue, all the properties awaiting appeal were inspected and granted licences under Additional Licensing that ended last August and would meet the space standards of any other local Local Authority.

For updated guidance on the issue see here.

For the latest version of our template grounds for appeal see here.

(Note these links are only accessible to "signed in" PDPLA members)

We are also talking to a barrister as we may need to take this to a Judicial Review of the standards document and its application. Obviously, this would be a costly next step and as always in these cases, there is never a guarantee of success.

Last modified on Monday, 04 February 2019 17:25

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