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Councillors vote on compulsory licensing of all HMOs

A city council is to vote this evening on whether to consult the public on plans to introduce a compulsory licensing scheme for all Houses in Multiple Occupation.

About 6,500 homes in Southampton would be affected if the additional licensing scheme gets the go-ahead, as expected. The consultation exercise, expected to be rubber-stamped later today, would start on September 3.

The council says the aim is to tackle the ‘significant’ problem of rogue landlords.

It said: “Although the council recognises that there are many good landlords, this sector, concentrated in the north and central areas of the city, has some significant problems.

“Research suggests that within the 6,500 properties affected, there is evidence of unsatisfactory management, disrepair, inadequate safety standards and community harm.”  

Landlords would have to pay £500 for a five-year licence per property shared by three of more people, making the scheme self-financing and bringing in more than £3m over five years. The council would hire 15 members of staff to run the scheme, which would be fully implemented by 2017.

A consultation would seek views from landlords, tenants and others.

Councillor Warwick Payne, Southampton’s cabinet member for housing, said: “Good landlords have nothing to fear with this scheme, and will gain from the landlord sector having a better reputation in the city and aiming for higher standards across the board.

“The aim is to improve neighbourhoods for all residents and we want to consult as widely as possible and take all views into account.”  

However, landlords warned that rents would rise as a result of the scheme. Roger Bell from the Southern Landlords Association said the £500 fee was ‘totally unjustified’.

He said: “The cost will be passed on to those least able to pay it. These are people due to force of circumstance who are forced to live in HMOs.”

He said the unintended consequence would be higher rents and more homelessness in the city.

He said: “We will be creating a cardboard city in Southampton. The fact that Labour is pushing it through is an absolute travesty.”

Currently, there are just 392 licensed HMOs in Southampton, all of which are mandatorily licensed because they are properties of three or more storeys shared by five or more unrelated people.

Southampton Council has already cracked down hard on HMOs by invoking Article 4 Direction powers, meaning that it requires planning permission to be sought for change of use each time a property previously rented by a single household is let to three or more sharers.

Southampton MP John Denman, a former housing minister under Labour, introduced a policy by which every HMO in Britain would have to have planning permission. This was subsequently reversed by Grant Shapps, who left it to councils’ discretion.

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