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A crackdown on the condition and safety of shared flats, bedsits and student residences promises greater protection...
A crackdown on the condition and safety of shared flats, bedsits and student residences promises greater protection for tenants.

Proposals for a compulsory licensing scheme aim to prevent bad landlords letting unfit shared accommodation.

Under the scheme for houses in multiple occupation:

- councils would be able to withhold licences where there were concerns over fire safety, disrepair and sanitation;

- council officers would be given powers to search premises suspected of not having a licence;

- all shared accommodation would eventually come under the scheme, with those with the most tenants licensed first;

- womens refuges could be exempted from the scheme to safeguard their anonymity.

Announcing the proposals in a Parliamentary Answer to Dr Norman Godman, Scottish secretary Donald Dewar said:

Some 86 bodies and individuals responded to the consultation paper on the Mandatory Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation which was issued last year. The overwhelming majority of those responding supported the case for making it mandatory for all local authorities in Scotland to introduce licensing of houses in multiple occupation.

The consultation paper also sought views on the best way of implementing mandatory licensing and the scope of any licensing scheme. In the light of the responses to the consultation paper, we believe that mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation should be introduced initially by means of an Order under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 although it may be desirable to introduce new primary legislation on the longer term.

We envisage that any licensing scheme should be based on a definition of a house in multiple occupation as a house which is the only or principal residence of a specified number of persons who are not all members of one family or one or other of two families. We also envisage that there would be a staged implementation of the licensing by progressively reducing the number of specified persons so that the largest houses in multiple occupation would be licensed first but, over time, all houses in multiple occupation would be included in the scheme.

The activity to be licensed would be the letting of premises as a house in multiple occupation but we believe that the definition should be extended to include other situations where occupancy rights in houses in multiple occupation are granted, outside of conventional lets.

We have also given careful consideration to the views of consultees on the need for exemptions from the proposed licensing scheme and we believe that the only categories of houses in multiple occupation that should be exempted are those owned by local authorities (since local authorities will be bodies responsible for enforcement) and residential and nursing homes which are already subject to registration and enforcement by the local authority or health board.

The consultation paper sought views on a number of possible modifications of licensing procedures linked to theuse of the powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. There was strong support for the proposal to extend the period during which an application for a new licence might be considered by the local authority to ensure that applicants have sufficient time to undertake remedial works specified as licensing conditions before a licence is granted. There was also support for granting an authorised officer of a local authority, with the approval of the Court, the power to enter and search premises where there are reasonable grounds for believing that it is being let as a house in multiple occupation but without a licence.

We believe that both of these changes should be incorporated into the proposed Order and that account should also be taken of the suggestion, made by some consultees, to exempt womens refuges from the public notification procedures in the 1982 Act to help safeguard the anonymity of this particular type of house in multiple occupation.

We consider that a licensing system along these lines would give increased protection to tenants without penalising those responsible landlords who are already providing satisfactory housing. We hope that the Scottish Parliament will give early priority to these proposals and their detailed implementation would be taken forward in consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other relevant interests.


1.Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are essentially shared accommodation, including flats, bedsits, lodgings, bed and breakfast accommodation, hostels and other communal accommodation such as student residences. While local authorities have a variety of powers to deal with various aspects of HMOs, such as escape from fire, state of repair, cleanliness and sanitary facilities, there are none that deal with a HMO as a whole and controls over HMO management are weak. Licensing will allow local authorities to take into account all relevant aspects of an HMO, including its management.

2.Councils were given discretionary powers to introduce HMO licensing in 1991 by means of an Order under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Midlothian and South Ayrshire have made use of these powers.

3.A consultation exercise on how to introduce a full system of licensing by local authorities, in order to take forward the manifesto commitment to provide protection for HMO tenants, was undertaken last year. Its results were taken into account when drawing up the governments detailed proposals.

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