Did you know HMO licensing rules are changing?



Legally every landlord has to meet fire safety obligations but those requirements vary depending on the type of property being rented out and the nature of the tenants. For landlords with a house, or houses, in multiple occupation (HMOs), the fire safety requirements become more complex especially if the HMO requires a licence. And changes set to take place in England this autumn mean that an estimated 177,000 more HMOs are about to become subject to mandatory licensing – with their fire safety obligations increasing as a result.

What is an HMO?

The Housing Act 2004 introduced a detailed definition of what an HMO is. In essence, for a building or part of a building (like a flat) to be classified as an HMO it must meet the following criteria. It’s a building:

  • in which more than one household shares an essential amenity such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities, or;
  • it’s a converted building that isn’t entirely comprised of self-contained flats (whether or not there is also sharing, or lack, of amenities), or;
  • it’s comprised entirely of converted self-contained flats where the standard of conversion doesn’t meet the minimum required by the 1991 Building Regulations, and more than one third of the flats are occupied under short tenancies.

The building must also be occupied by two or more households as their only or main residence. A household may just be a single person or several members of the same family living together (although the HMO definition is usually applied where there are 3 or more tenants).

Which HMOs must be licensed at the moment?

Under the Act, there are two types of HMO licensing: mandatory and additional. Mandatory HMO licensing applies to HMOs of three or more storeys that are occupied by five or more people forming more than one household. Even if an HMO doesn’t meet these criteria, councils have discretionary powers to extend licensing (known as additional HMO licensing) to other categories of HMOs if deemed necessary – for instance, if they consider an HMO is being managed ineffectively and problems might arise as a result.

So what’s changing?

The Government recently confirmed it’s extending the definition for the kinds of HMOs that must obtain mandatory licences. This means many more HMOs will be required to obtain a mandatory licence – it’s estimated it will affect around an extra 177,000 HMOs. The new order is due to come into force from the 1st October 2018.

Essentially, the regulations remove the three storey rule and bring purpose-built flats where there are up to two flats in the block into the scope of mandatory licensing. HMOs currently licensed under the additional licensing scheme will be moved into the mandatory scheme. And there’s no grace period – landlords need to be complying with this by the 1st October.

Of course, whether you are the landlord of an HMO or not, fire safety is always a key responsibility. But if you are the landlord of an HMO, you have extra legal responsibilities. If you are the landlord of an HMO that falls under a mandatory licence, those fire safety responsibilities are even more stringent.

If you currently rent out an HMO that doesn’t require licensing but that will do from the 1st October, you need to apply for a licence through your local council. In order to issue the licence, authorities will be assessing whether a range of requirements has been met – including those connected with fire safety. Our advice would be to start checking what’s required as soon as you can to make sure you’re ready for the October deadline, and to get in touch with us if you need any help risk assessing your property or completing your fire safety actions.

Porter Fire Ltd have years of experience in the lettings sector for all your fire safety requirements. Please get in touch for an informal discussion and advice on your fire safety needs.

Warning to businesses after fire safety prosecution

Monday 04 November 2013

Business owners are being advised by Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service to pay greater attention to fire safety legislation, following the prosecution of a Nottingham fast food retailer at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court today (Monday 4 November).

LFF Limited faced a total financial penalty of £14,979.50, including a victim surcharge and full costs, after pleading guilty to six fire safety offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  Fines imposed on LFF Limited included £2,667 for failing to have installed a fire detection and warning system and £2,000 for failing to ensure that escape routes from upper floors were adequately protected from smoke and fire.  All of the sentences took account of the one third discount to which the company was entitled following early guilty pleas.

The magistrates emphasised that safety must always take priority over financial considerations.

Fire protection officers from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service visited the Maryland Chicken outlet, Lower Parliament Street, Nottingham in October last year and found that the fire precautions that should have been provided in the event of a fire were inadequate.  This presented a serious risk to the lives of staff at the premises. Enforcement and Prohibition Notices were issued, which limited the use of the premises and required fire safety improvements.

The offences in full, on or before 8 October 2012, were as follows . . . .

1.         Failure to create a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment – fine of £1,334

2.         Failure to install a fire detection and warning system – fine of £2,667

3.         Failure to keep emergency escape routes free from obstruction – fine of £1,667

4.         Failure to ensure that emergency escape routes led to a place of safety – fine of £1,334

5.         Failure to ensure that emergency escape routes were sufficiently protected from smoke or fire – fine of £2,000

6.         Failure to install appropriate emergency lighting on escape routes – fine of £1,667

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is reminding all owners and occupiers of buildings of their legal responsibility to protect their customers and staff against the risk of fire and warning them that, where necessary, action will be taken against anyone found to be in breach of fire safety regulations

Tragedy averted

The former owner of a care home in Cheshire was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) 2005. Chester Crown Court heard about a serious fire at the care home in 2010 during which six elderly residents had to be rescued from the first floor.

Richard Dickinson, owner of the Rangemore Nursing Home, was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay costs of GB pound 68,362. The judge praised the fire service for averting what could have been a major tragedy.

Care-home residents abandoned

Staff at a Liverpool nursing home put their own safety before that of elderly residents when a fire broke out in October 2012, a court has heard. When an electrical fault sparked fire at the St Michael’s Mount Nursing Home in October 2012 they left residents in their rooms as they made their escape.

Two residents, aged 85 and 98, were treated for smoke inhalation, one in hospital. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service prosecuted the home’s owners, Michael Hanlon and James Mutch, who pleaded guilty to seven breaches of fire regulations, including: not having an effective fire-alarm system or appropriate risk assessment or fire evacuation plan; having wedged-open, defective fire doors; and having blocked emergency exits.

The pair were fined a total of GB pound 44,000, plus GB pound 4,000 costs.

No chance of escape

The unlicensed landlord of a three-storey, six-bedroom house he rented to students was fined GB pound 10,000 plus GB pound 825 in costs for not ensuring tenants’ safety. Michael Hiett pleaded guilty to running a house in multiple occupation (HMO) without a permit and to eight other safety offences.

Liverpool magistrates heard that the front, back, and bedroom doors were fitted with key-operated locks that could have impeded escape in the event of a fire, and neither the gas boiler, nor any electrical equipment, had been safety-checked.

District Judge Wynn Jones said the potential for significant harm was extremely high, as it was unlikely, in the event of a fire, that students could escape.

No fire-risk assessment

Another landlord running an unlicensed HMO was fined GB pound 12,520 after pleading guilty to four offences under the RRO. London Fire Brigade identified several fire-safety breaches after being called to the three-storey house in Muswell Hill, North London, that had been divided into nine separate flats.

The Brigade found poorly maintained and fitted fire doors, no working fire-alarm system or emergency lighting, and no fire-risk assessment — a legal requirement under the RRO.

Covered-over smoke alarms

In a third landlord prosecution, a Peterborough letting agent had to pay more than GB pound 14,000 for running yet another unlicensed HMO, which had a faulty fire-alarm system, broken or covered-over smoke alarms so tenants could have smoked in their rooms, and a fire-escape route blocked with filthy rubbish and bed-bug-infested beds.

Shahnawaz Lal, sole director of Haris properties and responsible for managing the overcrowded and illegal property, appeared before Peterborough Magistrates. The fire service installed temporary fire protection in the property, whose many tenants — many of them drug users — slept across 11 rooms, including in cupboards and the boiler room.

Obstructing a fire inspector

In a more unusual case, a landlord was prosecuted by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority under article 27 of the RRO for repeatedly failing, without reasonable excuse, to respond to the service’s requests for information on whether he had complied with a 2011 Enforcement Notice.

Hubert Nicholls was fined GB pound 500 and ordered to pay GB pound 3,000 in costs for the offence.

David Phillips, head of business fire safety at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Failure to comply without reasonable excuse to lawful enquiries being made by the Service’s Business Fire Safety Department were a serious matter and the Service would not hesitate in bringing prosecutions against owners of businesses who did not comply with fire safety law”.