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Councils given powers to enforce licensing of HMOs and guidance on bringing long-term empty dwellings back into use

Published 5 July 2006

From tomorrow landlords failing to licence their properties in multiple occupation (HMOs) can be prosecuted by councils and face fines of up to £20,000.

From tomorrow landlords failing to licence their properties in multiple occupation (HMOs) can be prosecuted by councils and face fines of up to £20,000.

The new power strengthens the Government's reforming drive to further protect tenants and raise both health and safety and management levels in the private rented sector.

In addition, the Government's campaign to bring more of the 300,000 long-term empty properties back into use and reduce the often devastating impact they have on local communities, has been bolstered with guidance being issued to councils on the procedures they must follow in seeking authorisation from residential property tribunals to make Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs).

The new measures mean that from tomorrow, if an HMO is occupied without a licence, a local housing authority has the power to seek an order for the repayment of up to 12 months' housing benefit paid out while the property was let without a licence. Tenants can also seek an order for recovery of rent they have paid while a licensable property was let to them without being licensed. 

Housing Minister Baroness Andrews said the new measures strengthened the important reforms introduced by the Housing Act 2004.

 "We have given landlords three months to apply for an HMO licence without  fear of penalty for not having done so. These new powers will strengthen the  licensing provisions and offer further protection for tenants. They also mean decent landlords will see an end to unfair competition from those avoiding  their responsibilities."

A house in multiple occupation is a property where 3 or more tenants who are not all members of the same household are sharing some or all of the living accommodation and/or amenities. Since 6 April 2006 any HMO which is on 3 or more storeys with 5 or more tenants in 2 or more households is required to be licensed. Councils also have the discretion to designate areas within their district for additional licensing, requiring other HMOs to be licensed.

Baroness Andrews said that in the case of Empty Dwelling Management Orders, residential property tribunals must consider the effect EDMOs would have on the rights of the property owner and take into account the interests of the community.

 "These are powers of last resort where owners have no long-term plans for their homes and where voluntary negotiations with owners  have failed. Among the protections for owners is the fact the tribunal must be  satisfied the dwelling has been unoccupied for at least six months, that there is  no reasonable prospect of it becoming occupied in the near future, that, if an  interim EDMO is made, there is a reasonable prospect it will become  occupied, that the council has complied with their duties under the Housing  Act."

The Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency, Jonathan Ellis, welcomed the use of EDMOs.

 "We have campaigned for many years to bring more of the 300,000 long-term  empty homes back into use to help owners get the best return from their asset,  help meet housing need and tackle other problems associated with empty  property such as crime. So we support the use of these new Empty Dwelling  Management Orders (EDMOs), but only when owners have no reason for  leaving their home empty long-term, there is local housing need and they had  turned down offers of help from the council."

There are ten exceptions in all, covering, amongst other things, temporary absence, second homes, properties on the market and inherited properties, where special rules apply and which will be exempt for a period of at least six months after grant of representation (probate) is obtained.

Notes to Editors

1. The Housing Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 8 December 2003 and received Royal Assent on 18 November 2004.

2. In June and July 2003, the ODPM Select Committee held an inquiry into the draft Bill. Its report was published on 22 July and the Government's response was published on 10 November. The response can be found at: www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1150666 .

3. Consultations were held in 2004-2005 on the proposals for regulations governing HMO licensing and selective licensing. The consultation papers and Government responses on licensing can be found at:  Licensing in the Private Rented Sector  Consultation on Empty Dwelling Management Orders were held in 2003 and 2005. The consultation papers and Government responses can be found at: /emptyhomes

4. Parts 1 to 4 and 7  of the Housing Act 2004 and the regulations and orders relating to HMO licensing, HHSRS and Empty Dwelling Management Orders came into force on 6 April 2006.

5. The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Descriptions) (England) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/371) set out the scope of mandatory licensing for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), namely that licensing must apply to those HMOs that comprise 3 or more storeys and are occupied by 5 or more occupiers in 2 or more households.

6. In addition to mandatory HMO licensing, the Housing Act allows local authorities the power to introduce additional licensing locally for other types of HMOs which are not subject to mandatory licensing.

7. From today any landlord who has not applied for a licence for a house in multiple occupation which is subject to licensing could face prosecution by the local authority. The local authority may apply to a residential property tribunal for a rent repayment order in respect of up to 12 months of housing benefit payments. If the landlord is convicted of the offence of operating an HMO without a licence the tenants may also apply to a residential property tribunal for a rent repayment order for any money they may have paid in rent while the offence was being committed.

8. The powers relating to Empty Dwelling Management Orders are contained in Part 4 of the Housing Act 2004 which received Royal Assent on 18 November 2004. The Housing (Empty Dwelling Management Orders) (Prescribed Exceptions and Requirements) (England) Order 2006 sets out the procedures local authorities must comply with in seeking approval from a Residential Property Tribunal to make an interim EDMO. The local authority must demonstrate that it has done its best to contact the owner and provide them with advice and assistance to bring the property back into use. The Order also specifies 10 exceptions from the power covering property use.

9. The relevant provisions of the Act and secondary legislation came into force on 6 April 2006, save for the power in section 134 allowing Tribunals to authorise the making of interim EDMOs, which will come into force tomorrow.

10. The Department will publish guidance tomorrow for property owners and local authorities on Empty Dwelling Management Orders which can be downloaded from /emptyhomes.

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