These measures are among a package of proposals to provide greater protection for tenants from fire and other health and safety risks in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
The package includes:
- A new duty of care on HMO landlords. Landlords who are in breach of this will face prosecution and a fine of up to £5,000. A Code of Practice issued by the DOE will set out the standards required
- New simplified registration schemes which may be brought in by any local authority with powers to refuse registration to any substandard property
Mr Curry told parliament:
'I am proposing a package of measures which will be able to deal with the problems in this sector of the housing market in a more cost effective and flexible way than a national mandatory licensing scheme. I intend, therefore, to bring forward legislation as soon as possible.
'There are four principal elements to this legislative package. First, there will be a general duty of care placed on HMO landlords with respect to amenity and fire safety standards. Breach of this duty will be a criminal offence punishable by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (£5,000). Guidance on the duty will be set out in a national Code of Practice which will be issued before the new duty is brought into force.
'Secondly, local authorities will be able to introduce a modified form of HMO registration scheme. This will exclude smaller HMOs (those with only two households or with one household and no more than four other occupants) and houses converted entirely into self-contained flats. The registration schemes will contain powers enabling local authorities to refuse to register all properties where conditions are substandard or where management is inadequate.
'Re-registration will be required after five years and there will be higher fees chargeable to landlords for registration and new re-registration fees at a lower rate. These fees will help local authorities to resource an enhanced programme of enforcement activity.
'Thirdly, I also propose to extend local authorities' existing mandatory duty to ensure there are adequate fire safety precautions in larger HMOs. This duty will be introduced by Statutory Instrument and there will be further consultation on its scope, but I am minded to apply it to all HMOs which could come within the scope of the new form of registration scheme providing these properties have three storeys or more. I also propose exemptions for specific public sector landlords, but these HMO landlords will of course still be subject to the new duty of care.
'Finally, I will be introducing some important deregulatory measures by making an Order under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 to modify some of the local authority HMO enforcement procedures. For the principal HMO enforcement notices, local authorities will be required first to serve a notice informing landlords that they are minded to take action, but this procedure can be dispensed with in emergencies. Where a formal enforcement notice is still required, I propose that local authorities will have power to recover the costs of their enforcement action from the landlord, subject to a maximum amount.
'Local authorities will be required to consult the fire authorities mainly about the exercise of their statutory duty to check fire safety in HMOs, but will no longer have to consult them about HMO enforcement notices served in other circumstances.
'In addition to this substantial package of new provisions, and as stated in the consultation paper, the new planning controls on the switch from hotel to hostel use will remain in force.
'I share the widespread concern that the rapid expansion of hostels in a number of popular resort areas is causing very serious problems. As these new HMO controls begin to take effect, however, we should see a great improvement in these areas- providing that the local authorities concerned pursue a vigorous programme of enforcement action using their new powers.'