The Housing Act dictates that a local authority needs to keep a register of HMO landlords and the register OR AN EXTRACT FROM IT, needs to be publicly available. We have always agreed that if anyone is having issues with a property or a particular street is affected by something, then of course any interested party needs to be able to ask PCC which houses there are HMO’s and also, who to contact in order to resolve an issue. That is a perfectly acceptable extract to share.
Also, if someone is researching a particular area for whatever reason, PCC should publish or make available the addresses of HMO’s in that area – there is no good reason for them not to do so.
Our issue has always been that when Joe ‘I want to be a letting agent’ Bloggs asks PCC for a list of every HMO in the city and the home address of the landlord, several bad things happen. Firstly, we start getting junk mail – once these lists are out there, they are shared and we get all sorts of weird and wacky variations on ‘I want to manage your HMO’. We would hope that our members are well informed enough to treat these letters as an annoyance and put them straight through the shredder (but our members do get VERY annoyed by the volume of these letters).
Our bigger concern is the accidental or amateur landlords who receive these and who are paying 15-20% of their rent to a letting agent for their property to be managed properly and professionally. A good sales pitch from someone with no skills or experience in the lettings industry offering to manage for 5-8% is going to look appealing. Worse, many of these cowboys – for that is what many of them are – are not enrolled in a Property Redress Scheme (so it is worrying that PCC is encouraging their behaviour without enforcing their duties to ensure that all those locally operating letting management businesses belong to such a scheme) and also, many are only interested in ‘Let To Let’. This can look even more appealing – no management fees at all and guaranteed rent, but see our article on the subject for some of the pitfalls the unwary can fall into and also, see Charlotte’s Blog this month which also has wise counsel on all of these topics.
PCC have stated, “I believe that there were several challenges made regarding the charges we imposed for accessing the public register, and when we changed computer database in 2017 it became very difficult to justify these charges as the public register is now automatically populated from our database and requires minimal input to produce it.
As a result I understand Bruce agreed last year that we would share electronic copies of the public register for free upon request, but this is still not openly publicised and we receive very few requests for it. ”
This is a shame, as recently as 2017 PCC were responding to requests with the following text:
“Under Section 232 Housing Act 2004, Portsmouth City Council are obliged to keep and maintain a public register of all licenced HMO's. This includes the property address and the licence holder's details. This information can be viewed here at the Civic Offices or a member of the public may request a copy of information held on the register.
The Private Sector Housing Team can provide either a certified copy of an individual street at a cost of £200.00 or an individual property, at a cost of £5.00 per property. We cannot provide a certified copy of the whole public register.
As the register provides information on the licence holder only and this may not be the specific landlord details.
Portsmouth City Council has engaged an FOI exemption in accordance with section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act – information accessible by other means.”
Whilst we agree that £200 for details of one street are not justified and single street details ought to be freely available, we will continue to argue on behalf of our members that PCC’s current interpretation of the rules contravenes GDPR and worse, encourages new entrants who lack the skills to manage HMO’s to offer accidental / unwary landlords management services which may well contravene regulations and could well result in increased housing issues in the city as a result.
Should you receive such letters and not be interested, we suggest you follow Charlotte’s advice and ask the sender whether they have the legally defined ‘just cause’ for sending the mailshot and also, if they are not members of a property redress scheme we recommend you report them to PCC and ask PCC to exercise their responsibility to ensure that all letting agents are members of such a scheme.