Up until now, there has been no specific legal minimum size for a bedroom though a number of legal cases have set some boundaries and the building regulations do provide guidance for new builds. HMO landlords in Portsmouth, whether 'mandatory" (3+ floors, 5+ residents) or 'additional" (not mandatory but at least 3 unrelated residents) have been allowed rooms as small as 6 square metres depending on communal space and layout.
That is all about to change….
An update to the Housing Act originally slated for this April but which is likely to be approved in October stipulates a minimum room size of 6.51 square metres for a single occupant and 10.22sqm for a room occupied by two adults but this will not be retrospective.
This change will not mean that rooms that meet the new minimum size will automatically be deemed suitable for occupation. Other factors will also be taken into account.
The newly agreed update to Portsmouth"s 'Strategic Planning Document" (PCS20) specifies a minimum room size of 7.5 square metres (applies only to HMO"s).
So, what does this all mean for the average landlord? In short, if you are letting legally today then you will still be legally letting until something changes as none of the changes are retrospective.
However, if you need planning consent for any reason, the planning committee will look at any proposal and reject any HMO with a bedroom smaller than 7.5 square metres.
If licensing changes, for example new rules for mandatory licensing are introduced (see related article) or PCC decide to replace the current Additional Licensing Scheme with a new one, then the new 6.51 minimum will be applied.
This is a shame, as floor space is a very poor measure of habitability - much depends on layout, furnishing, ambient light and other considerations - plus if house A has a room with 6.51 square metre floor space and very little communal space, is it better than one which is perhaps 6.4 square metres but has a massive lounge and kitchen and en suite bathrooms? PCC"s use of discretion in looking at the whole environment was preferable to the mandated minimum that will replace it.
Based on our calculations, the introduction of a step from 6 to 6.51 square metres minimum will eventually make just about 200 currently occupied rooms in the city illegal. That is 200 of the most affordable dwellings no longer available (possibly more as in some cases the landlord will not be able to viably offer the remaining rooms). And all of these rooms are currently occupied - so argue whether it will increase homelessness or push up rents or both, but it will definitely have one of these effects.
We have objected to the fixed minimum at every opportunity. We agree that there should be a minimum bedroom size for new builds. The fixed limit was lobbied for by local authorities less sensible than Portsmouth. PCC have always considered the house at a whole and the practicality and safety of the individual room layout. Many tenants are very happy in their 6 sq m rooms and no one has ever produced evidance that the occupants are at any risk. (We have had our disagreements with PCC over room sizes but have appreciated their flexible approach.)
If the 7.5 square metre limit became the 'norm" in the city, we believe it could take 500 rooms off the market which would be catastrophic for those who most need them.
But now for the good news - according to the proposed new law introducing the 6.51 square metre limit, landlords will be given time to make the necessary changes. How one enlarges a small room is an interesting question, however much time one is allowed. Answers on a postcard to the new housing minister please….
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.