Members have long bemoaned the fact they feel like criminals when they receive a letter from the housing team at PCC and this is something we have raised on their behalf regularly since at least 2012.
Well, the new team at Private Sector Housing appear to be listening and have started a process of updating the standard communications to ensure that whilst they still convey the appropriate legal warnings, they are worded in a less threatening style. Well done PCC.
This is how it used to read:
"I am writing to advise you of the HMO Mandatory Licensing Scheme that was introduced by central Government.
All properties that have 5 or more persons that are either unrelated, or form 2 or more households will need to apply for a Mandatory HMO licence.
We believe you either own or manage a property which falls under this category and therefore it requires a licence and you must apply immediately.
An application for a licence can be found by searching shared houses at httDs://www.portsmouth.qov.uk/ext/housinq/shared-houses—mandatorv-licensinq-ofhouses-in-multiple-occupation.
Failure to apply for a licence is an offence under section 72 of the housing act 2004, which upon summary conviction may render a person liable to an unlimited fine.
An application may also be made to the residential property service for a rent repayment order. Should an order be made there may be a requirement to repay housing benefit paid to an occupier of the house in multiple occupation while the property was unlicensed.
A person may also be liable to a civil penalty under Section 249A of up to £30,000.
If however you are not the owner or manager or feel the property does not fall under these requirements then you must contact the department above as soon as possible to prevent any further action being considered."
And How It Reads Now
"I am writing today as we have reason to believe the above property may be a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) that is required to be licensed.
All properties occupied by 5 or more persons that are unrelated, or form 2 or more households are required to be licensed under the Housing Act 2004.
If this is the case with this, or any other property you own or manage, you must apply for a HMO license within 28 days to prevent enforcement action being considered. The license application form, as well as further information about HMO licensing, can be found by searching 'shared houses' at www.portsmouth.gov.uk.
I would like to advise you that failure to apply for a licence where one is required is an offence under section 72 of the Housing Act 2004, which upon summary conviction may render a person liable to an unlimited fine. As an alternative to prosecution, a person may be liable for a civil penalty of up to £30,000.
An application may also be made to the residential property tribunal for a rent repayment order. Should an order be made there may be a requirement to repay rent and/or housing benefit for the property while the HMO was unlicensed.
If you have any queries or are not the owner or manager, or you think the property does not fall under these requirements then please contact myself on the above contact details."
Not major changes and still in the 'I would rather not receive' category – but replacement of accusations like "We believe you either own or manage a property which falls under this category therefore it requires a licence and you must apply immediately. " with "we have reason to believe the above property may be a House in Multiple Occupation" definitely help.
Obviously there is more work to do and while this example is definitely an improvement, it could be better. PCC tell us that letters reminding of the need to send in gas safety certificates, electrical test results and the like are next on the list for review and update. We will update on progress.
Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.