A Licence to Improve Housing Standards

By Loncraine, Rebecca | The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2001 | Go to article overview
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A Licence to Improve Housing Standards


Loncraine, Rebecca, The Independent (London, England)


The Government is attempting to improve the condition of rented accommodation in shared properties, known as Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs), through new legislation that would require all HMOs to be registered and licensed. Landlords would be granted a licence only if the property complies with defined standards for safety, basic comfort and energy efficiency. Desmond Turner, MP for Brighton Kemptown, who is working on the proposed legislation, says: "We hope it will make a considerable contribution towards the quality of life for tenants as well as to energy conservation."

Some agents are sceptical. Andrew Black, from Black Katz letting agency, who deal with many HMOs for the student and twentysomething London market, does not think new legislation is required. "We rarely come across slum- standard properties. Health and safety regulations are sufficient."

But Turner's bill is designed to improve the kind of property that agents do not see: those that advertise in local newsagents and on community notice boards. There is no doubt that, in this sector, rented accommodation can be appalling. Dave Lyle lives in a shared house in Haringey. In his final year of study at a London university, he and his friends found their five-bed house through a local newsagent. "The overall standard of our accommodation is low, and while cheap, offers poor value. The house is overcrowded and unsafe and is obviously run in order to maximise rental income with little thought to our security and safety. The plumbing is poor, which means periodic flooding, the windows and doors are badly secured and the floors are unsafe."

Turner's proposed legislation, which specifies regular safety checks and fire protection, could help tenants like Lyle, who says: "Our house is on four floors and fire safety is non-existent. When we had a suspected gas leak our landlord sent round a mate who was obviously an odd-job man. He checked for the gas leak by running a lighter along the gas pipes!"

Shelter and the National Union of Students favour legislation. A recent national report found that 16 per cent of student accommodation was vermin infested, 20 per cent had no smoke alarms and nearly 50 per cent of tenants had never seen a gas safety certificate. But some letting agents and landlords are worried about the implications of this legislation for the London rental market. Steve Hills, a landlord with three HMO properties in north London, says: "It will mean more bureaucracy for landlords and I'm not keen on the idea.

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