Room size rules – Council want to issue closure notices!

by Readers Question

9:31 AM, 26th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Room size rules – Council want to issue closure notices!

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Room size rules – Council want to issue closure notices!

I have been an avid reader of your letters for many years and wish to put to you a quandary regarding these new rules which are coming into effect in our district and also nationwide.help

We are two owners and landlords of more than 50 mixed, fully approved multi-let, and licensed HMO properties in south Lincolnshire. We use a properly licensed management agent and have no problems with our legal or taxable status.

Our quandary is in regard to the changes in room sizes that are coming into effect and the way our local council is intending to enforce them.

They have sent us an official notice to provide them with addresses, room numbers and dimensions of ALL the rooms in ALL our properties to assess the room sizes in this regard.

We have complied and as a result the council are now intending to issue closure notices on many of our rooms as they fall under the guidance.

The closure notices are mixed between singles and doubles with the majority of the notices being double rooms that are under their required 15 sq m. ( even though it would appear that the legal requirement is in fact only 11sq m) We have only 3 rooms that are under 6.5sq m and presently let as singles. These have of course been issued with closure notices.

The problem as we see it, is thus –

Over that last 10 years we have invested over £2.5m in the refurbishment of our properties, we have worked with the council to assure the standards are fully met with regard to ALL of the regulations and have building plans for the refurbishments/conversions, complete with the correct number of bathrooms, kitchens, sound insulation and fire safety requirements etc etc. We have many building plans – signed off – and full photos, costings and listed refurbishments in our archives.

The council are now intent on issuing closure notices on the rooms that previously they had approved for double and single use due to the new requirements of the law.

The council have written to us stating it is now their legal requirement to enforce the room sizes ( due to national government insistence) even though it would appear that these room sizes were always in the regulations but had never been enforced by the council in any of our approved building works or planning applications.

If – as we can see happening – we are stopped from using the double rooms that are already in occupation by fully vetted and approved tenants – we will have to issue section 21 notices to the couples therein and refill the rooms with new single tenancies.

( with absolutely NO reissue of a single tenancy to “one” of the couples as this would lead to “over crowding” offence when they instantly let their partner “stay ” in their room “temporarily”)

The council are also intent on enforcing the regulations that each multi-let house will have to have at least one communal lounge for tenants use.

In business terms this means the loss of one letting bedroom per house and the loss of the double room rent(s) with the unnecessary eviction of more than 300 people under a VERY difficult process where such section 21 eviction may well be viewed by the courts as illegal, as it is being used only as a means to satisfy the difficult situation that would follow from a prosecution by the council against our company, for non compliance to a legal notice from themselves –

That legal notice being a change in their definition and insistence of room size regulations, which over the past decade, they had not strictly imposed on our conversions.

We have engaged the services of a barrister to take the council to task over this matter.

Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated as would any advice from your members.

We are seeking a simple solution – that being – a firm, written assurance with legal backing – that no action will be taken on retrospectively approved multi-let, HMO properties.

At present have four projects under construction which are now under threat – a new 20 bedroom ex-nightclub conversion and 3x, 6 room multi-let property refurbishments. All of which previously have had full council approval and are now at a standstill due to the council having changed their minds as to the bedroom sizes.

We think we need to stand our ground on this matter.

Further –

It will obviously effect millions of people in the future and will make it very difficult financially, to develop suitable properties for multi-let use.

With the imposition of the new mutli-let “mandatory licensing” laws in April of next year? – the councils will have the effective ability to refuse the license for properties – that fail “any” of the regulatory or management standards, with no regard as to their previous permissions, and effectively stop mutli-let use for retrospectively approved, decent, well designed and well run houses unless they are reconverted to the “new” regulations.

As you can imagine this is an impossible situation.

As a last word of humour?

The need for article 4 is now redundant!

Thank you so much for your excellent informative news and mails.

Martin

 



Comments

David Mensah

14:08 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

I thought national space limits were 8.5 m^2 and 14 m^2 if there is no separate lounge from the kitchen/dining room and 6.5m^2 and 11m^2 if there is a separate lounge.

Generally officers have some freedom to interpret this, but it looks like this freedom is being taken away?

It's also extremely worrying if rules can be changed so easily so that rooms that were once OK are no longer so. Given the low quality of government interventions in the housing sector, that adds a big element of risk to HMO landlords. Who knows what they will do next?

What is also frustrating for Martin, is that once again it is the landlords trying hard to do things by the rules all along who get caught out. I bet there are lots of compeitors in the same area where he works who will continue to fly below the radar. These kinds of licensing policies don't catch out the good guys.

Paul Shears

14:14 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Gillian Schifreen" at "28/11/2015 - 13:42":

Gilian
I could not agree more. The psychological damage of packing people togeather, as you say, is unknown only to the willfully blind There can be no excuse for this behaviour. This is one of the wealthiest countries on earth and we keep driving the quality of life down. We would not need these regulations at all if people could do unto others....

Cristian Stoian

14:28 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "David Mensah" at "28/11/2015 - 14:08":

David, I believe the sized that you show in your post are 'the law'. My understanding of Council's standards is that they are 'guidance' and not the law, which is why different Councils have different guidance.

This is why I asked in my comment before for more detail about what room sizes are being considered for closure. Until we get proper details we are just speculating.

Ian Ringrose

14:34 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Gillian Schifreen" at "28/11/2015 - 13:42":

I hope I have recalled these details correctly, it is some time since I read the ruling. There was a case over a room that was just a little smaller then 6.5sq mts, the tenant had access to storage outside of the room and it was being used by a student that went home most weekends. There was also a communal lounge if I recall correctly – student also spend a lot of time at the university not just 9 to 5. Manchester lost the case, as it was decided it was a reasonable room for someone to live in on that bases.

With smaller rooms, so much depends on the shape of the room etc.

(Stockport expects 10.22 sq mts, if there is not a communal lounge, but there is a shared kitchen. Legally they have to consider each room on a case by case bases.)

If the market worked correctly, then room sizes would be sorted out by market forces, but given how long it take to evict an tenant, few landlords are willing to operate in the LHA HMO market. At the end of the day, if rooms are not allowed to be let you, you risk more people having to live in shop doorways.

David Mensah

14:35 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Cristian Stoian" at "28/11/2015 - 14:28":

Tessa Shepperson has a piece on the latest coming our way on room sizes
http://www.landlordlawblog.co.uk/2015/11/09/government-to-outlaw-small-rooms-and-increase-mandatory-hmo-licensing/

comments are open till 18 Dec

>>> on room sizes, this is what the paper says

.The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has recently given guidance on local authority size standards in Clark V Manchester City Council (2015) UKUT 0129(LC). This tribunal, whose decisions are binding on the First Tier Tribunal, has ruled that local authorities’ standards are guidance only and not binding in all cases. The Council’s case was that the floor area fell well below the local housing authority’s minimum standard, which was set at 6.5 sq.m, below which a room would be statutorily overcrowded - see section 326 of the Housing Act 1985.

31.This decision will have some implications going forward. Local housing authorities are already under pressure to relax their standards, as this case illustrates. The Government believes that pressure will increase if smaller potentially overcrowded HMOs are brought within the scope of mandatory licensing. We would not expect a local authority to permit rooms of less than 6.5 sq.m as sleeping accommodation in a licence, not least because it is a criminal offence to occupy such a small room.
32.The Government is concerned that local authorities may, going forward, have decisions to that effect routinely challenged. In general such appeals will simply waste resources of the authority and the tribunal service. However, there may also be cases where a tribunal might permit occupation of a room that does not comply with the overcrowding standard.
33.In order to avoid these possibilities the Government could set a national minimum room size. Local housing authorities will, of course, be able to continue to set their own size standards, but these could not be less than the minimum set by Government. If a national minimum room size were introduced we would have in mind the standard for overcrowding in section 326.
34.We do not think any other changes need to be made to the national prescribed standards. These are flexible enough to allow local authorities to build upon them to set their own higher standards (if necessary) for smaller sized HMOs.

Q16. Should there be minimum national room sizes for sleeping accommodation in HMOs?

Ian Ringrose

14:45 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "David Mensah" at "28/11/2015 - 14:35":

Remember that the law on “statutorily overcrowing” looks at the complete property, not on a “room by room” bases. The Government has got it wrong in their consultation.

Yvonne Francis

16:44 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Gillian Schifreen" at "28/11/2015 - 13:42":

Could you tell me why room size should not be the choice of the individual and not governments, Councils or even Gillian Schifreen?
I wonder what the Japanese would think.

Gillian Schifreen

17:14 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Because if people are desperate they will accept anything. That doesn't mean their need should be exploited in a rich society. Some people would work for £1 an hour which is why we have the minimum wage.

MoodyMolls

17:31 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

In the older 1930 3 bed semi's the 3rd bedroom is smaller than 6.5
and households then had many more children . It was not a problem for the families then , is HMOs so much different?

Some people also like living compacted 2 famiies one house as it saves on bills.
The cost will be more for a double room.

Annie Stevens

18:23 PM, 28th November 2015
About 4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Yvonne Francis" at "28/11/2015 - 16:44":

I think "accepting" to live in a tiny room, is different from "choosing" to live in a tiny room. I expect people just accept what's available or what they can afford. I think if I was converting a building to an HMO, I'd need to create bigger rooms at the expense of a bit less rent. I'd probably make each one a self-contained studio, with no sharing necessary.

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