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Appeal launched after Wrexham Council fails to make decision on HMO plans

An appeal has been launched after a local authority failed to decide on plans for a house in multiple occupation (HMO) on one of the main gateways into Wrexham.

The property on Mold Road, which is close to Wrexham Glyndwr University, had already existed as a HMO previously, but permission lapsed after it was put up for sale.

The house’s new owner Jennis Konadan applied to Wrexham Council in order to renew its licence, as well as extending the building to have an additional bedroom, taking the total up to four.

However, despite the proposals being with the authority’s planning department since February 2018, it has yet to make a decision.

Mr Konadan has now appealed to the Planning Inspectorate in order to try and resolve the situation.

In his appeal documents, Mr Konadan said it the house was in a highly sought after area and would provide a good standard of living space.

He said: “This property was an HMO for very long period and used as a permitted HMO until recently.

“The old management didn’t renew the HMO licence on time with Wrexham Council as the property was up for sale. When I took over the property, I applied for the HMO licence renewal and paid fully.

“The council planning officer told me several times over the phone that the permission would be granted shortly, but I never got a decision in writing.

“Considering the location, which is in high demand and sustainable for a HMO, its long standing history as an HMO with no anti-social or behavioural complaints ever made, and I have complied with all upgrades and needs, I hereby request to grant the permission.”

Comments are currently being invited from both parties by the Planning Inspectorate up until early August. A date will then be set for the appeal to be heard.

By Liam Randall

Source: Wrexham

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Views sought on new rules to limit spread of student houses in Brighton and Hove

A public consultation on plans to limit the number of shared houses across Brighton and Hove starts on Monday (3 June).

Brighton and Hove City Council is looking at whether to require owners of even smaller shared houses to have to seek planning permission.

At the moment, they can rely on “premitted development rights” to change their use from family homes except in five council wards.

In those five wards, planning rules are used to limit the number of new houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) through what is known as an “article 4 direction”.

The policy was introduced in St Peter’s and North Laine, Hollingdean and Stanmer, Hanover and Elm Grove, Queen’s Park and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean in 2013 because of the rising number of small HMOs.

An HMO is defined as a house shared by at least three people who are not part of the same family.

In some parts of Brighton shared houses are predominantly rented by students but further from the universities they are often the first independent homes rented by young people.

Outside the five wards a small HMO – of up to six people – does not need planning permission.

The article four restrictions in Brighton and Hove also limit the number of new shared houses to 10 per cent within a 50-metre radius.

Both small and large HMOs already need a licence wherever they are in Brighton and Hove.

However, outside the five wards which are currently subject to article four directions, only bigger shared houses – of seven people or more – need planning permission.

Councillors approved the consultation process in January after a review because of growing concerns about the numbers of shared homes in East Brighton, Preston Park and Withdean wards.

Concerns were raised by people living in the Bennett Road area of East Brighton in June last year at a council meeting at Hove Town Hall.

Conservative councillor Mary Mears told the Transport, Development and Culture Committee how the issue was creeping into her Rottingdean Coastal ward.

Councillor Mears said: “It’s already happening, not going to happen, at the lower end of Rottingdean Coastal ward.

“Arundel Street and Arundel Road already have HMO problems.”

By : Sarah Booker-Lewis

Source: Brighton and Hove News

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Planning inspector overrules council on seven shared houses in Brighton

Neighbours objected and the council said no – but seven more Brighton properties can be used as shared houses after planning permission was granted on appeal.

All seven are in wards where Brighton and Hove City Council restricts the conversion of family homes into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

And all seven are in wards where thousands of students live and where there have been tensions between existing residents and younger temporary tenants.

The properties are in Ashurst Road, Brading Road, Coldean Lane, Hartington Road, Park Road, Richmond Street and Stanmer Villas.

The owners were refused planning permission by the council or served with enforcement notices and each appealed, with government-appointed planning inspectors upholding their appeals.

Neighbours sent 28 objections to the council when Co-Living Spaces, the owner of 57 Richmond Street, Brighton, proposed converting a family home into a shared house for six people.

The plans, which included changes to the roof space, prompted concerns about increased noise, strains on parking and the loss of another family home in Queen’s Park ward.

Planning inspector Janette Davis said that objections to the roof dormer were “not relevant”.

She said: “Some local residents have raised concern regarding potential noise and disturbance from both within and outside the building.

“Although the change of use to a HMO would be likely to intensify the occupancy and use of the building, with up to six occupiers this would not be of a level which would be over and above that expected within a residential area.”

More than a dozen neighbours objected to David Symons’s plans to turn a four-bedroom end-of-terrace house at 114 Stanmer Villas into a six-bedroom property.

The council said that the property, near Fiveways, did not have enough communal space but planning inspector Tim Crouch said: “I saw on my site visit that the open plan communal kitchen and living space is light and open, with internal access from the corner.

“There is sufficient space to circulate and for occupants to find some personal space.”

He said that he appreciated the concerns but there was no “substantive evidence” to cause him to come to a different conclusion.

Two other appeals in the same ward – Hollingdean and Stanmer – related to enforcement notices. One was for a house at 27 Coldean Lane where 11 neighbours had opposed an application to change it from a five-bedroom property to one with seven bedrooms.

Changes to the roof and the addition of a rear dormer prompted officials to issue an enforcement notice but it was quashed on appeal.

And a similar notice was quashed for 31 Park Road, also in Coldean, where a roof dormer had been built and a family home was turned into a shared house.

In Hanover and Elm Grove ward an enforcement notice served on the owner of a seven-bedroom shared house at 84 Brading Road was quashed by planning inspector David Hainsworth.

The council had refused to grant planning permission for changes to the property, saying that it was cramped because of the subdivisions to existing rooms.

And, the council said, the changes “failed to support a mixed and balanced community” as there were already a significant number of HMOs in the area.

Neighbours sent 13 letters of objection to the planning application.

The owner Mark Shields appealed against the council’s decision. He said that the house had not been a family home for at least 20 years and the HMO had had a licence since April 2009 without planning permission.

The planning inspector said that the increase in activity would “not have a noticeable impact” on the community.

The council said that a single-storey rear extension and a dormer and windows in the roof of 55 Hartington Road were “facilitating” an unauthorised change of use from a three-bedroom to six-bedroom HMO to more than seven bedrooms.

The owner Andrew Marchant succeeded in his appeal against an enforcement notice.

Planning inspector Sandra Prail said: “I have considered the evidence before me as to the sequence of events.

“It shows that the use of the site as a large HMO has ceased. The works are therefore not currently facilitating (HMO use) and I am not satisfied that the works were part of parcel of the previous HMO use.”

Directors of another property owner, Rivers Birtwell, run by Oliver Dorman and George Birtwell, lodged two appeals in relation to a house at 20 Ashurst Road in Moulsecoomb.

The first appeal was against an enforcement notice which alleged that a family home had been turned into a nine-bedroom shared house without planning permission.

The council said that the unauthorised changes included building work in the roof to enable a loft conversion including a rear dormer.

The second appeal was against the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawfulness for the roof extension.

Planning permission was granted for a seven-bedroom shared house in 2013, shortly after the council tightened up the rules using a policy known as an “article four direction”.

The tougher regime restricts the number of shared houses in an area and can mean fewer rights to make small-scale changes without planning permission.

But planning inspector Victor Ammoun allowed the changes and said: “The change from seven to nine bedrooms is a significant proportionate increase but I consider that it has not altered the perceived character of the use.

“The physical changes to the roof complied with … size and form requirements and thus were within the range of changes potentially normal within the nearby similar houses.”

By: Sarah Booker-Lewis

Source: Brighton and Hove News

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More action needed to tackle impact of HMOs in town centre

More action needs to be taken to tackle the impact of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), according to an opposition leader in Wrexham.

Poor living conditions and rubbish being dumped in the street are among the issues which have been raised in recent years amid an influx of applications to convert properties in the town into shared homes.

Cllr Alun Jenkins, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Wrexham Council, said some landlords were failing in their duty to look after tenants.
He said there were almost 100 in his ward of Offa, which covers part of the town centre, some of which were causing problems for the community.

Cllr Jenkins made his comments as leading councillors met to make minor tweaks to the authority’s policy on HMO licences and fees.

The report’s main aim was to reflect the outcome of recent landmark court rulings, which require licence fees to be paid in two parts.
However, he said he would have liked to see a greater overhaul of how licences are monitored.

Speaking at the Executive Board meeting at the Guildhall, Cllr Jenkins said: “For those of us that have town centre wards, HMOs are a big issue.

“I could take you round my ward, where I’ve got approaching 100 HMOs.

“The majority of those you wouldn’t know were HMOs because they’re well run, but it’s the same ones at the bottom of the pile which keep coming up and causing problems.

“There is a need to be certain that we’re doing all we can to make sure the conditions in which people are living in HMOs are satisfactory and that we’ve got enforcement ways of dealing with all of that.”

The changes outlined included revised charges for HMO licensing fees.

The report asked members to agree to proposed payments of £100 for the recovery of costs incurred by immigration inspections and £35 per hour to landlords for providing advice on a prospective HMO.

It also requested them to remove the current enforcement charge of about £415 for hazard awareness notices from 1 April 2019.

But Cllr Jenkins questioned whether the council had enough staff to enforce against landlords who do not act responsibly.

He said: “We know the constraints there are on the department. You’re under resourced and you’ve got fewer officers than are needed to do all the enforcement that’s needed.

“There are huge issues there about how we enforce and police all of this.

“You are revising the document and it would have been nice to have the opportunity to be able to comment and suggest some other tweaks.”

In response, the authority’s deputy leader said he sympathised with the difficulties mentioned by Cllr Jenkins.

Cllr Hugh Jones (Con), who is also lead member for people, told the meeting efforts were being made to improve the quality of HMOs in the area.

He said: “Can I just say that Cllr Jenkins and I have had long discussions over the problems of HMOs in Wrexham and I’m fully aware of what they are.

“I’m fully aware of the frustrations that all of us as members have faced over the years in trying to improve the standards, because it affects people’s quality of life and it affects the whole character of wards.

“It is a hugely important and significant problem for mainly town centre, but not entirely town centre wards and members.

“All I can say to you Alun is that had there been any significant change in policy other than bringing the document up-to-date, we would have gone through a different process.”

By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter

Source: Wrexham

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HMO Property Investments Booming

Many buy to let property investors are moving over to HMO property investments as they battle increasing regulation and taxation changes.

HMO property investments can offer a higher yielding option when compared to standard buy to let, and many lenders are now recognising this and offering finance products for HMO property investments.

Leeds Building Society recently announced that it is now including five-year products in its bespoke HMO mortgage range. This move came on the back of intermediary feedback that landlord clients were looking for additional five-year options for small and large HMO property investments, as growing numbers sought to diversify their portfolios and move into this sector.

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are nothing new, but with affordability issues continuing to impact first-time buyers and rents sitting at high levels, it’s evident that more people are staying in accommodation such as house shares for longer, well beyond their student years.

A study into HMO property investments by broadband and utilities provider Glide looked further into house shares, highlighting that London remained the best location in terms of the variety of house share opportunities, with over 19,000 rooms available. However, with the average monthly rent six times higher than the most affordable city to live in (average rent in London was suggested to be £3,278 pcm, compared to £499 in Bradford), the capital ranked 17th overall as the best city for house sharers.

Ranking the biggest UK cities on a range of measures – including the number of house shares in the city, number of job opportunities advertised, the cost of rent, university rankings and broadband speed – Bristol came out on top. The rest of the top 10 consisted of: Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Derby, Southampton, Brighton and Hove, Leicester, and Portsmouth.

Landlords looking to venture into HMO property investments need to be fully aware of wider legislation changes as well as local licencing requirements when operating within this space. But, with increasing numbers of lending options becoming available, this is certainly an area worth considering.

Source: Residential Landlord

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FOI shows how little councils know about unlicensed HMOs

Government plans to protect tenants from poor living conditions through the expansion of mandatory HMO licensing look set to fall way short of their ambition.

Figures obtained by Simple Landlords Insurance reveal the majority of local authorities don’t know how many unlicensed HMOs are in their area – let alone where they are – leaving them ill-equipped to seek those who break the rules or take advantage of new enforcement powers.

The findings reveal that the rules are “practically unenforceable”, according to one HMO licensing expert, with the government’s recent commitment of £2m of additional funding to help implement the scheme unlikely to have any real impact.

The freedom of information requests returned by 90 local authorities reveal:

  • Two thirds (65/90) of local authorities have no idea how many landlords are breaking HMO licensing rules
  • Nearly one third (29/90) have no idea how many properties should come in under the new regulatory scheme
  • Over a third (31/90) did not prosecute any landlords for infractions of existing rules in the last two years
  • There were only 103 HMO licences rejected at application over the last 12 months, versus a total of 18,881 licenses granted.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) containing five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet must be licensed.

To gain a license, landlords must now pass a ‘fit and proper’ test as well as providing proof of compliance with fire safety regulations and provide tenants with a written statement of the terms of their occupancy.  The rules were widened on 1 October, removing a minimum three storeys high requirement whilst new conditions on minimum room size and waste collection were imposed.

The known unknowns

The government’s Housing Minister Heather Wheeler MP claimed the new rules would increase the number of mandatory HMO licenced properties in England from 60,000 to an estimated 220,000 properties.

However, this new research shows local authorities are hamstrung in their efforts to apply the new legislation – due to a combination of poor intelligence about housing stock and stretched resources.

Carl Agar, founder of The Home Safe Scheme and managing director of property management company Big Red House, says: “It’s a big worry that local authorities don’t seem to have the resources available to manage this new workload. And the new rules are going to be practically impossible to enforce. The government is essentially relying on honest landlords coming forward to apply for a licence – leaving the so-called rogue or down-right criminal landlords that really need to be identified – out of scope. The £2m promised support is literally a drop in the ocean.”

Cities overwhelmed

Amongst the local authorities that have the intelligence and data to make a prediction about how many more HMOs would need a license, cities unsurprisingly show a major hike.

Liverpool City Council had 1,195 HMOs with a mandatory license before 1 October, and expects that 5,000 will require licensing. Birmingham expects numbers to swell from 1,853 to 4,000 and Southampton expects the numbers will increase from 551 to 2500.

Many London boroughs had no idea at all how many additional HMOs would come under scope, whilst those that did are expecting a huge jump – in Greenwich from 147 to 3,250 HMOs under scope.

66% of the local authorities who responded were able to estimate how many HMOs were likely to require a mandatory license from 1 October, and the average increase recorded was 227%.

Carl Agar adds: “Many local authorities are now faced with at least twice as many licences to process and check with the same amount of human resource – leaving even less time for enforcement. The major conurbations will be swamped.”

Mystery housing stock

Environmental Health Officer and Chair of the National HMO Network Paul Fitzgerald, explains: “Most local authorities simply do not fully understand the housing stock in their area, and they are kidding themselves if they claim that they do.

“Trying to identify an HMO from scratch is an incredibly challenging job, made harder by the failure to join up systems like council tax and benefits registers, and immigration databases. Those who are determined to break the law do not apply for a licence in the first place.

“Once they have been identified, dealing with criminal HMO landlords will be yet another problem. Pursuing a prosecution – or applying for a banning order – takes time, stretches resources and is not guaranteed. Many local authorities will opt for issuing fines, but there’s no guarantee that these will be paid without going to court, and that’s another resource and cost-heavy process.”

“The bottom line” sums up Carl Agar “is that the Housing Act, in its current form, is no longer fit for purpose and the government need to prioritise helping local authorities know who is renting property in their areas and what type of properties are being let. A central government funded national register would be a major step forward.”

Richard Truman, Head of Operations at Simple Landlords Insurance commented: “Earlier this year, we found that 85% of landlords we spoke to weren’t aware of the looming HMO regulations. A month on from their implementation, we wanted to find out exactly what those landlords are facing on the ground.

“The changes may be well-meaning, but a failure to support local authorities to communicate about them and enforce them is bad news – for good landlords and for tenants.

“We want to see the emerging class of professional landlords supported by central government and local authorities, and that can clearly only be achieved with more effective regulation and resource.”

Source: Property118

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Tighter regulation makes HMO investment an area for specialists

The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation Order 2018 came into effect on 1 October, changing which residential properties will be categorised as houses in multiple occupation (HMO) for mandatory licensing purposes. From now on, properties occupied by five or more people, forming two or more separate households, will be classified as HMOs. The Residential Landlords Association estimates that this will affect 160,000 properties that didn’t require a licence before.

Many houses and some flats will now be required to have mains-powered fire alarms, fire check doors and fire escape areas that could result in considerable expenditure. Also, the penalty for not obtaining a licence can be a criminal conviction, a £30,000 fine as well as being required to refund rent received.

This long-awaited extension will offer greater clarity of minimum standards, including specified minimum room sizes deemed suitable in HMOs for occupation. Prior to this, many councils interpreted the definition for licencing differently.

The new rules allow a valuer, investor or lender to accurately establish if accommodation meets minimum standards. It should enhance the stock in this sector, which until now has included HMOs with substandard living accommodation.

Many in this sector have welcomed the minimum standards, including valuers and lenders, with the legislation further professionalising the market. With many councils unable to police HMOs due to limited resources, the roll of chartered surveyors and lenders inspecting and deeming properties fit for purpose and suitable security can’t be underestimated.

However, the cost burden for investors and property owners may increase, and where rooms are excluded from letting when minimum room requirements are not met, landlords’ rental income will fall. This could affect capital values and loan-to-value covenants of properties held as security for bank lending.

Some investors may withdraw from the market. This new order is likely to result in a reduction in the supply of HMO accommodation, creating upward pressure on rents at a time when there is a need to increase affordable accommodation.

The legislation is likely to further increase the specialist nature of HMO ownership, requiring a much more professional approach from landlords. The times of amateur investors buying HMO properties for possible high returns has passed. The need to understand and comply with the licensing requirements, as well planning legislation, means HMO ownership is now best suited to those with specialist knowledge of this sector.

Source: Property Week