Fury as 'draconian' licensing of all HMOs in Oxford is introduced

A city council has started licensing every House in Multiple Occupation as from this week – with the decision proving highly divisive.



One agent called the selective licensing scheme ‘draconian’, while the local press reported claims that landlords would evict ‘hundreds’ of tenants who share properties.



Oxford Council now requires every landlord in the city who owns a property where there are three or more unrelated tenants to get an HMO licence.



Failure to do so could result in prosecution and a £20,000 fine. A licence for a typical three-bedroom shared house will cost £362.



The council, the first local authority in the country to introduce a HMO scheme beyond the mandatory one covering the whole of its area, says the new policy will involve licensing approximately 5,000 properties in total.



The council wants to restrict HMOs to one in five properties on any 100-metre stretch of road, which critics say will badly hit supply of student properties and also groups of other sharers such as nurses.



They claim that landlords will not want to go to the expense and trouble of obtaining a licence, and they will simply choose tenants who form single households.



But Joe McManners, member for housing at Oxford Council, said: “HMOs have long been recognised as being a particular problem in the city, with many examples of poor-quality homes and in some cases being poorly managed. These damage the reputation of good landlords and we are determined to put this right, and stop those doing the right thing being undercut by cowboys.



“The private rented sector is hugely important to the residents of Oxford, not just in terms of providing much-needed accommodation, but also with the impact that it can have on local communities, and licensing every HMO will help drive up standards for everyone.”



Frank Webster, director of Oxford agents Finders Keepers, said the selective licensing scheme was totally unnecessary. He said: “We believe the council already has sufficient powers to tackle any isolated problems caused by the very small minority of irresponsible landlords or mismanaged properties.



“We don’t see the need for a whole lot of extra draconian licensing. Will it affect those landlords who are already dodging the system? No it won’t. And it will lead to more shortage in affordable housing for professionals.”



However, Jan Bartlett of Premier Lettings, Oxford, took a different view. She said: “The local newspaper today says that hundreds of people may be evicted, which is a bit over the top to say the least.



“I do wonder why having a licensed property causes some people such fear? I have worked closely with the city council and I can tell you for sure that many of the properties which should have been licensed last year have not been, and the council are actively trying to chase up those owners where they have identified their property as requiring licensing.

 

“Some tenants have been saying their landlords will not pay for any necessary improvements to properties, much less the licensing fee. That worries me, as surely licensing will drive up the standards of at the very least safety, in the private rented sector in Oxford.

 

“I do think negative publicity may mean some landlords simply refuse to let to anyone other than families, but can families afford the rent a group of sharers can – so will that reduce the number of properties available for letting? Will those landlords sell up?

 

“For my own clients, more are opting to go for licensing if there is any likelihood of letting to sharers in the future, even if they have a family tenant right now. That is a much more realistic and financially sound decision for a serious investor. Safer houses for tenants can surely not be negative.”



From February 24, the city council will be implementing another change in its quest to control the number of shared HMO rental properties.



It will become one of the growing number of local authorities using Article 4 Directions, requiring landlords with properties currently let to a single household to seek planning permission for change of use if they plan to let the property out to a small group of sharers in future.



A number of other authorities are lined up to introduce similarly large selective licensing schemes. The most ambitious of all is Newham in London, which wants to license every single private landlord and their properties in the borough – not just HMOs.

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