So many landlords see PCC as dark overlords who will hit them with massive fines if they so much as forget to check a fire alarm, they go out of their way to give PCC no cause to admonish them. And what is the result, the landlords in question experience stress and financial pain and PCC add to their incorrect statistics of how many rogues they have sorted and how many homes they have improved, when in reality all they have done is wasted the time of local people, pushed up rents and been a drain on the local economy
One Members Tale
I'm in my eighties with poor eyesight and a dodgy heart. My only income is the state pension (which not as much for my generation as recent retirees get) plus what's left over after all expenses from a single two-storey 5-bed student house. I live simply and it's enough, but if I lose my HMO licence and rental income, the upkeep expenses of the house would bankrupt me in a matter of months, if the stress of the situation didn't kill me first.
My let property has been licenced since 2013. In both 2013 and 2018, my managing agent completed the licence applications for me, and deals with all the regular stresses of finding tenants and maintaining the property. But this time they say they can't do the licence application for me. I believe this is because they simply don't have the resources to take on such a large amount of work for all their affected landlords.
I asked HMO Licencing in good time before my licence expiry if I could have an accessible form to print it out extra large, but they said I had to wait then use the online version.
With lots of help from my step-daughter and a good friend who is also an HMO landlord and PDPLA member, we have managed to navigate through the NRLA's system for me to become accredited (I needed help just to know where to point the mouse to get to the next section in the training material). It still baffles me that my managing agents' accreditation is not sufficient for PCC.
Then, just before the expiry date of my licence last week with the stress of the time pressure, we had to complete PCC's licence application form (again, I would never have been able to find my way through this without someone sitting with me). I would estimate about 25 hours taken combined effort with both the accreditation and licence application, and still counting -- just to apply for a renewal of an existing mandatory licence when PCC must have almost all of the information needed on file anyway.
I then received notice that I would get just a 1 year licence with no explanation why it was not for 5 years. And this is in the context that PCC inspected the house less than 6 months ago. I couldn't sleep, but again my two helpers have managed to calm my nerves and advise how to move forward. At this point, we are hopeful the issues can be resolved in the next two weeks left of the 'representations' period, but it remains a stressful experience.
I would not survive going through this process every year, and I cannot keep asking my friends and relatives to help me to this extent. If I do only get a one-year licence, I will need to sell the property during that year, if only to be sure that keeping it licenced doesn't kill me or ruin the good relationships I rely on most.
I have several friends the same generation as me also impacted by PCC licencing schemes to a worrying extent too.
The PDPLA information has been extremely useful, and whilst I agree with everything you are doing in challenging PCC on the licencing schemes. I hope you understand I could not bear the stress of joining in with any PDPLA member action.
If you wish to cite any of the above in communications to others for any purpose, you may do so, but strictly on the condition that you make it anonymous first (including if sharing within PDPLA).
My Response To That Landlord And Others Like Him/Her
I am sorry to hear of your situation and wish you had reached out sooner.
Some comments - if you want to be the Licence holder, then obviously you need to complete the paperwork - but given all day to day management is undertaken by your agent, I would argue that they should perform that role and perhaps you should be looking for an agent who was willing to do so (I don't know who yours is, but I have seen several avoid the commitment because they know they would not pass the PCC checks and don't want that exposure).
If you are not managing yourself – I would have advised going for a 2.5 year licence if your agent was not accredited as the hassle of getting accredited just for the licence and to save £700 is probably not worth it (just my view).
As regards the stress you experienced trying to get the application completed online, I have seen many members in exactly the same position – there seems to be a mentality of 'I do not want PCC to think I am incompetent so I will persevere, otherwise they will make life difficult for me if they think I can't even complete the forms'. Sadly, PCC know their application process is a complete disaster and the more landlords who behave as you have done, the easier it is for them to just ignore it and do nothing. My advice is always that if you have even the slightest issue with applying, collect all the necessary certificates together, phone PCC and book an appointment and then sit and watch while they fill in the application for you (apparently it takes them a couple of hours per application – which to me confirms it is overly complex, repetitive and badly written). Unless members do this – you are paying them a huge amount to give you a licence and then you do all of the work for them.
We have seen a few landlords unexpectedly being granted 1-year licences when they were expecting to get one for the full 5-years.There seem to be a few reasons why this happens – lack of an EPC even though an HMO does not need one and also, PCC's somewhat extreme interpretation of fire regulations. If you don't 'self-declare' that the alarms are in good working order and tested, they will drop you instantly to a 1-year licence yet if you sign their 'self-declaration' saying they are fine and tested, then you get the 5-year version. We are still working through this but our advice is always to appeal or complain about each and every decision that strikes you as unfair, daft or incorrect – any one who does not do so, not only ends up paying £2,784 extra over the 5 years but also, encouraging PCC to continue making the same mistakes and counting each as 'a bad landlord' or a 'property improved' neither of which is true.
Hope this helps.
A more balanced view which highlights the issue we face from Simon Fletcher:
I don't agree with Martin that this member is partly at fault:
- I'd say PCC are in breach of Licencing Regs 2012 and Provision of Services Regs 2009 (PSR09) on points of requiring members to freshly provide information PSH already have on file with an existing mandatory Licence renewal, and in not making the application form accessible -- either in a reasonable time in advance of the mandatory licence expiry date, or a version for those with impaired vision.
- PSH are treating Mandatory renewals (where properties have been recently inspected, and info is all in their files already) just like Additional fresh licence applications (not inspected, incomplete records). Irrespective of whether we think they are asking/expecting too much of ALS applicants, treating existing MLS licence holders the same way is deeply inappropriate;
- If an MLS property has been inspected relatively recently with no major concerns, and there have been no complaints, there's no excuse whatsoever for cutting down an MLS renewal applicant to a one year licence.
- Important Point: the only official reason for altering the MLS scheme is merely "alignment to ALS" and nothing directly to do with MLS scheme objectives, there should NOT be any repercussions at all for MLS renewal applicants that provide EPCs and can show they are accredited; PSH should have everything essential for a 2.5 year licence on file already; if they don't, that's due to PSH's own shortcomings during the prior/expiring licence period, not the landlord's fault.
- If PSH record-keeping is not up-to-date at time of Mandatory licence renewal, it is more reasonable to add a licence condition to a 2.5 year or 5 year licence for the update to be made within a reasonable timeframe than for PSH to say the property should be subject to annual re-inspection and issue a 1 year licence; the case for a 1 year licence in such circumstances would never stand up at tribunal, and it's deeply inapproriate to vex the landlord with the stress and anxiety that goes with that process.
- This is JR territory if only we had a few landlords in this position willing to put themselves forward.
What this story brings to the fore in my mind:
- HMOs are livelihoods: HMOs are the pension and significant part of the livelihood for many landlords, over pension age, or what the landlord will expect to use for their livelihood in retirement within the next few years. Situations that pose a real threat to our livelihood are amongst the most stressful situations any of us face at any stage in life. Action by PCC has the same sort of impact on the individual as notice from an employer of someone relying on a salary that one's position is under threat of redundancy.
- Stress can kill: It's something like 2 out of every 3 men over 50 (a bit less/slightly later for women) have either high blood pressure or a heart condition. The vast majority of landlords are over 50, and a significant proportion considerably older than that. The way PSH communicate is not with any sense of humanity, and ironically without any cognizance of the risk and impact of their actions on others at the same level they expect of us in our service provision.
- We somehow need to get the message across: (a) what PSH do naturally always feels like a threat to an individual's livelihood and is extremely stressful for the person on the end of that, often someone older in a fragile state of health - there needs to be more sensitivity and a much higher standard of communication, (b) the majority of landlords are quiet about ALS and changes to MLS not because they are ambivalent but because they understand their own personal fragility, generally related to age and/or health condition, (c) the small number putting their heads above the parapet do represent a much larger constituency that is silent for such personal reasons.