HMOs and licensing in Durham

An HMO or House in Multiple Occupation is a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from one family and share facilities such as a bathroom or kitchen. It does not have to be licensed to be an HMO. This is defined in the Housing Act 2004. The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regs 2006 states that the landlord of an HMO has obligations that extend beyond keeping the fabric of the house and its infrastructure in good repair. Part 7(4) a, b and c state that the landlord must keep outbuildings forecourts yards and GARDENS safe, tidy and in good repair. Boundary fences walls etc must be maintained in good and safe repair.

HMO licensing rules changed on the 1st October 2018, the main change being reducing the number of storeys from three to two. Now an HMO must be licensed if it is lived in by five or more people, including children, forming two or more separate households, spread over two floors and sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities. Licensing involves checking room sizes, as there are set minimums, and bathroom and cooking provision. There are also regular inspections. The HMO licensing fee goes towards paying the inspectors and enforcers. Now that the rules have changed DCC's licensing team expect about 350 more houses to come into the fold. It should be said that my last intelligence was that approximately 10% of the new properties are failing the licensing rules.

PBSAs (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) differ from HMOs in that they consist of separate flats. These may or may not include a kitchen but always include bath/shower rooms and toilets. Cluster flats share a kitchen. They do not need licensing and very few are run by the university. Most are run by large student accommodation companies that have sprung up over the last few years and are basically an investment for large finance and pension companies.

Sadly, planning law has been caught out by the rise in student numbers over the last ten or so years. This has led to the Interim Policy on Student Accommodation which was brought in in 2014. The main point of this is that, in order to encourage mixed communities, extensions to existing HMOs and conversions to class C4 (HMO as per the 2004 definition) will not be permitted if more than 10% of the properties within 100m of the site are already in use as HMOs or student accommodation exempt from council tax charges. (But not PBSAs!!)

The Article 4 Direction took this further. It came in in September 2016 and removed some permitted development rights. In other words, since that date if you want to change a family house to a student house you need to apply for planning permission which will probably not be granted if more than 10% of the houses within 100m contain students. More than 70% in any area will probably result in planning permission being granted however as the Interim Policy feels that in such an area another C4 will not cause further detrimental harm. A map of the Article 4 direction area can be found on the DCC website but I am trying to get this area extended to take in Mount Oswald. There is also a map of student housing by postcode but this is very difficult to read. Your local councillor has a list which is updated every November.

This brings me on to residents' responsibilities. You are the people who know where the student houses are in your area. Many landlords try and slip under the radar by paying council tax on their properties, others don't bother applying for planning permission. The Neighbourhood Planning Forum did try to carry out a survey of student houses a couple of years ago, but this is of course already out of date. If a family house near you suddenly contains students, report it, either to planning enforcement or to your councillors. The new register of licensed HMOs will take about a year to come online as the backlog gets cleared. When it does, check that the house next to you that you know contains five students, is on the register. The latest register was compiled on the 31st July 2018.

Cllr Liz Brown
November 2018

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