RLA criticises ‘unnecessary’ HMO licensing plan

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

The Residential Landlords Association has called on the Government to rein in plans to transform the way Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) are licensed.

The Residential Landlords Association has called on the Government to rein in plans to transform the way Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) are licensed.

The RLA has responded to a Government consultation on plans to extend mandatory licensing for HMOs – changes which could potentially see hundreds of thousands more homes needing licences.

At present mandatory HMO licensing is restricted to properties that are three or more storeys high, containing five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities.

Under the new plans the three-storey criteria for licensing will be amended, either by changing it to two-storey or extending licensing to all HMOs containing five or more people.  The Government is also considering a new national minimum room sizes, of around 6.5sqm for a single room and 10.2sqm for a double room.

The RLA believes many of the changes are unnecessary and says they will put a huge strain on local authorities.

The RLA submission in summary:

  • No change to current HMO thresholds
  • Licences should not be extended beyond two-storey buildings
  • A simpler definition of HMOs
  • Licences granted by default when councils fail to process applications on time
  • No minimum national room size

RLA Policy Director David Smith said:  “The consultation documents assume that maintaining the status quo is not an option.  If this is the case the RLA is asking that any changes to existing legislation are kept to an absolute minimum.

“Local authorities already struggle to enforce the current mandatory licensing requirements and in the face of further budget savings their ability to police an extension that will bring hundreds of thousands of homes into the regime is questionable.”

The Government launched the consultation process on November 6 and it closes on Friday.  Under current plans any changes will be brought in next year.

The consultation document can be viewed here: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/extending-mandatory-licensing-of-houses-in-multiple-occupation-and-related-reforms

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.


  • My submission to the Government Consultation on the proposal for a minimum bedroom size is as follows:

    The proposal for a minimum bedroom size is misguided and would be enormously damaging.
    1 Is there too much housing in London? This proposal would remove hundreds of thousands of rooms from the London housing market! Rooms which provide housing for many of the least well-off. From my experience as a landlord and an agent in central London areas, 20% of bedrooms could be at risk. I am not talking about “chopped up” rooms that have been subdivided, but rooms under 6.5m as originally built as small bedrooms in these eras: Victorian, Edwardian, 1920s, 1950s. A typical 3 bed council property has a 3rd bedroom under 6.5sq m. A child may have such a bedroom, and grow up into a young adult in the same room. Would the State march into the property to evict the child from his parent’s house on his 18th birthday? If that child, now 21 years old, wanted to leave home to rent a room, exactly the same size, with friends near his work or college would the State prohibit him? How Stalinist do we want Britain to become?
    2 Are rents too low? Any landlord of a 3 bedroom property who is told he can only rent 2 of the rooms will need to minimise the State confiscation of his income by raising rents. Landlords often operate on slim margins, made even slimmer by the special discriminatory taxation recently brought in by the Government to discriminate against small landlords and give privileged treatment to large corporations. I know landlords who are in a stronger financial position who allow tenancies to carry on for many years without raising rents, preferring stability and no voids. If a tenancy has to end due to accommodation being forced out of the market by the Government the landlord will want to relet the property at the fullest market rent, for a reduced size property, raising the price per room.
    3 Do people have too much freedom in selecting a home to rent? Should the State make people’s decisions for them? Here are some reasons why many younger and less well-off tenants love the bedrooms that the State is considering banning:
    a. Some people come to London with few possessions. They do not need much storage space.
    b. Not everyone needs a big double bed, many are content to sleep alone
    c. For some people a bedroom is where they get their head down, but their waking hours are spend out at work, college, with friends, out on the town.
    d. Some people, even when in their shared home, prefer to spend time in a shared kitchen or reception room or in their flatmate’s room in the same house. The bedroom size might not be that important to them.
    e. For some people it is important to be in a central or popular location, despite their limited budget.
    4 How much social cleansing do we want in sought-after areas to keep out the poor? Should the State be effectively telling people of modest budget that they cannot live within London Zones 1 and 2 but must move out to Zones 4 – 5?
    I recently let a shared 4 bedroom Zone 2 London property to 4 separate individuals and the smallest room was under the proposed minimum size. When I showed the property there were more tenants wanting to take the smallest room, at a rent 25% lower than that of a standard double, than the larger bedrooms.
    If the State were to ban rooms of a certain size, why not ban bedrooms in the “wrong location”. Why not ban rooms more than 1 mile from a station? Why not ban people from taking rooms in a house will house mates they will not get on with? Why not ban people from renting a room with untasteful décor? Why not ban people from renting in postcodes SW11, SW6, TW etc where they will suffer Heathrow flight noise? All these factors are more important for many tenants than whether they have over 6.5sq metres to dance in without leaving their bedroom.

    • Thank you very much for writing this. You have mentioned exactly the same points that I wanted to say.
      The government seem to ignore the principle of demand and supply. Those who rent the existing single rooms are choosing those rooms for their lower prices and the fact that they mainly want a secure accommodation in which they can sleep, socialise and be close to their college or work or friends or transport.
      Indeed in my experience, for every advertisement I had put in the gumtree for both a double room and a single room (with much lower rent), there had been at least 3 times more enquiries and requests for a single room. Besides, the applicants for a single room are usually young graduates or students or newly appointed people who have their first job and more keen on saving their money than paying a higher rent for a larger room. They usually tend to either spend most of their time out of the house or when in the house either sleep or use the communal area of the house.
      The 6.5 sqm rule would rule out the accommodation for all those who happily rent these rooms.

  • A simpler HMO definition should aim to take out totally self contained flats, that are defined as HMOs because they were converted prior to a certain date. They should have been properly & legally converted with full planning permission from the local authority of course. I have flats, all large, totally self contained in a Victorian house, if they had been individually sold (and they could have been) it would not have been an HMO but because I have rented them out my local council consider them an HM0 – it is ridiculous.

  • A key issue here is that property is a long-term investment, and renovating formerly compliant homes every five to ten years to meet new regulatory requirements adds a significant cost burden.

    This isn’t to say that the rules shouldn’t ever be updated, but any changes should be implemented with enough deliberation and forethought to ensure that they are lasting fixes for tangible problems.

    • I think both Government’s proposals are unjust and unfair.

      Renters should be given choice if they want to pay less rent for a smaller purpose-built room, they should be allowed. Otherwise, there will be a burden on availability of rooms and contribute more to shortage of accommodation for rental.

      The proposed amendments to HMOs are also impractical as again it will add to property shortages for rent. Landlords will then decide not to rent out to more groups and limit to let to lesser number of people.

      I have decided already as a landlord to sell a few properties I have which have high mortgages if new changes are enacted as I find many new proposals/bills made by George Osborne especially abolishing tax credit on mortgage interests unbelievably unjust and disproportionate i.e. not excluding mortgage interest payments from profits and paying tax on even your expenses unrealistic! If these proposals pass I know I will be one of money who will go bankrupt! I voted Tories as I believed they were on the side of hard working people and they would encourage hard work to a prosperous goal but, I am proven wrong. I know Government needs money but, they should really focus on and target big corporations who through off shore companies do not pay any tax, not try to get more money by taxing those who are trying to survive.

    • 6.5 square metres is an enormous cupboard unless you are Imelda Marcos! I actually know someone who will have to be evicted because of this rule (should it pass). He is a Ph.D. student from a third world country who is happy to live in a room of 5.5 square metres because it is very cheap and close to his university. For him this rule will mean he has to pay at least another 30% in rent (to get a larger room). Is that really progress?

  • we have run hmos for 30 years checking before buying the legs each time we have run them as family homes with 5 or 6 tennants each tennant carefully matched most tennants stay 6yearsor morein one case 19 years we have been commended by the derbyshire rents officer and others on our landlording skills we have had several tennants marry one another.when we bought the houses we were told by the chesterfield council do not put locks on bedroom doors and in no way put sinks in bedrooms. later told if tennant asked could put lock on no sinks as tennant could get microwave and use as bedsit in 2006 we got our licences we have had tempory since because council busy now they want sinks in every room and doors that were fitted and passed alterd they took a himo that was very badly run off the landlord and with an housing association tried to carry it on thay lasted about 10 months we donot fancy running dirty disgusting bed sits so if theyinsist on sinks they can find our tennantsnew homes

  • I can assure you, Marianne, that I rent out a perfectly decent “box room” in a flat in London SW18 which always rents very quickly and the current tenant has been there nearly 2 years. The room is only 6 square meters, so if the proposal becomes law, the tenant will have to be evicted. I provide very good communal space in the flat – nice kitchen diner and living room, but the proposals would take no account of communal space. All I say is give local authorities’ discretion (as now). That would allow them to deal with the cupboard situation which is almost certainly illegal in other respects already. There will be thousands of box rooms in London and most will be just under 6.5 square meters.

  • The definition of and handling of HMO legislation by Camden is far more demanding, complicated and costly than the Government’s recent and essentially sensible ‘HMO legislation’, whose aim is to be applauded. But is Camden proposing a sensible way forward?
    An animated discussion last month among a group of friends – both property owners and tenants – described:
    – highly inadequate consultation (most landlords did not read the local paper, did not know about it, and were made liable to prosecution;
    – Council officers gave conflicting technical advice to those who tried to understand the requirements; and
    – Camden’s inordinate bureaucratic and very costly procedures would trap most landlords.
    – The Government’s simpler definition is much better for the stated purposes of HMO’s.
    Some discussants claimed it was essentially a covert way for Camden to increase taxation.
    Can Camden be made to re-think the way forward? Who is the best authority to deal with improved procedures? it ?

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