Report on the Houses in Multiple Occupation Bill - NIA Bill 60/11-16
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 04 February 2016
Reference: NIA 270/11-16
Mandate Number: 2011-16
hmo-bill-report.pdf (676.02 kb)
1. The bill aims to introduce better regulation of houses in multiple occupation by introducing a licensing regime.
2. Associated with this are provisions that will require a HMO to meet certain standards. For example, the size of room, numbers of people and the range of facilities are considered as part of the licensing regime.
3. The approach to regulation is risk-based therefore the bill provides for exemptions where there is comparable regulation that meets or exceeds the requirements of the bill.
4. This approach is welcomed by the Committee which acknowledges that it avoids duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy but importantly still ensures appropriate regulation.
5. The Committee was largely satisfied with the content of the bill though it raised specific issues on some clauses following consideration of written and oral briefings from stakeholders.
6. The Committee noted the positive response from the Department on these matters, the detail of which can be found here.
7. Of particular relevance are the amendments to clauses 3, 10, 28, 62, 83, 88, and schedules 1 and 2.
8. Clause 3 is amended to afford protection to include seasonal workers.
9. Clause 10 clarifies the definition of “locality” to mean the living accommodation and its associated surroundings. This ensures that a landlord cannot be held responsible for the behaviour of their tenants outside the curtilage of the property. The committee accepts this causes significant concern to local residents and needs addressed.
10. In relation to clause 28, a number of stakeholders raised concern about the provisions in respect of change of ownership and the possibility that tenants could be put at risk of homelessness. As a result the Department amended this clause to ensure greater flexibility on the transfer of a HMO licence to a new owner while the new HMO application is being considered. This is applicable as long as the new licence application is submitted before the date of transfer.
11. The issue in respect of clause 62 relates to concern over the detail that should be provided by landlords to the HMO Register i.e. that this presents security and safety issues to landlords and their families.
12. The Committee accepted this but also recognised that access to such information was a matter of public interest and that sufficient information should be made available to ensure that residents can address their concerns regarding the HMO e.g. anti-social behaviour of tenants, to the landlord and/or managing agent.
13. The amendments, accepted by the Committee, ensure that only an extract of the HMO register will be provided to an individual rather than the entire register as originally proposed, although statutory bodies will have access to the full register. In addition, only a person with a genuine interest in the property (as defined in the bill) can apply for access to that extract.
14. The Committee was concerned that clause 83 could lead to the diminution of tenants’ rights in seeking redress for a landlord’s failure to address sub-standard accommodation. In considering the Committee’s position and that of the Attorney-General, who noted this provision wasn’t required since it would be covered under common law, the Department agreed to remove this clause.
15. Some stakeholders felt that the inclusion of the term “cousin” broadened out the definition of family too much. Following discussions with the Committee the Department decided to remove this term from the clause.
16. The amendment to schedule 1 addresses concerns that the residents of properties owned by housing associations or the NIHE but managed on their behalf by other organisations may be subject to greater risk than those properties owned and managed by housing associations or the NIHE directly. The type of property may be hostels or women’s refuges.
17. As a result, in order to bring refuges and hostels which are not both managed and controlled by HAs or the NIHE under the definition, the Department amended schedule 1 to ensure that only those managed directly by HA/NIHE are excluded from the HMO definition.
18. Schedule 2 was amended to reflect the changes to clause 62.
19. In addition, more detail is given on these and other clauses in subsequent sections of this report.
20. The Committee also made a number of recommendations that are outlined below.
21. The Committee believes that the principles of the HMO subject plan which currently apply to PBMSA should continue to underpin planning decisions in respect of planning applications relating to these buildings.
22. The Committee accepted the limitations of the bill to address anti-social behaviour. However, it supports the inclusion of robust arrangements in tenancy agreements to help address anti-social behaviour of tenants and seeks the Department’s agreement that this should be included in the guidance to accompany the bill.
23. The Committee recommends that Belfast City Council, the PSNI, and educational establishments such as Queen’s University, Ulster University and the two teacher training colleges review their approach to anti-social behaviour by students and recommit to robustly addressing this problem.
24. The Committee believes that the inclusion of behavioural standards in tenancy agreements must be mandatory to ensure consistency and that a breach of these would be grounds for eviction. The Committee recommends that this proposal should be considered in the wider review of the private rented sector.
25. The Committee supports the RICS proposal that a landlord and managing agent must attend training in respect of the Code of Practice to be developed under clause 63 in order to raise professional standards in the sector.
26. Indeed, the Committee feels strongly that, in parallel with a Code of Practice, councils should collectively develop an accreditation scheme for landlords and managing agents.
27. The Committee believes that once such a scheme is established landlords and managing agents must be accredited under this scheme before they can apply for or be named as the managing agent on a licence.
28. The Committee acknowledges that this will take time to develop but believes this issue should be considered as part of the wider review of the private rented sector.
29. The Committee noted that the HMO subject plan applies only to the Belfast area and does not apply to the rest of Northern Ireland.
30. The Committee recommends that other councils consider developing such plans in order to prevent overprovision of HMOs such as that evident within the Holylands area of Belfast.
31. The Committee supports a formal MOU between the NIFRS and councils to provide clarity on where the responsibility for fire safety in HMOs lies and agrees with the Department that this should be taken forward in the Stakeholder Group.
32. The Committee believes that risks to health and safety are likely to be higher where overcrowding occurs even when the occupants are members of the same family.
33. The Committee therefore recommends that this issue is discussed in the Stakeholder Group and guidance is produced for landlords and managing agents when faced with this situation.
34. While outside its remit the Committee voiced support for fines to be no less than the original fixed penalty notice.
35. The Committee recommends that a common system is adopted by councils to ensure consistency of enforcement across all council areas and that the Department clarifies this position with councils as soon as possible.
36. The Committee noted that CEHOG suggested that the PSNI, NIFRS, and the Health and Social Care Trusts should be included under clause 73 as “relevant person”.
37. The Department noted that that it was expected that these organisations would be contacted on a more informal basis and that a more appropriate vehicle for this would be a non-statutory information sharing protocol.
38. The Committee recommends that this protocol is taken forward under the auspices of the Stakeholder Group.
39. The Committee strongly recommends that a system is established to ensure that the administration and enforcement of the licensing scheme is cost-neutral to councils.
40. In addition to the above recommendations the Committee also seeks assurances from the Minister that councils will be sufficiently resourced to robustly enforce the legislation.
41. The Committee noted that occupants of an unlicensed HMO would be put at risk of homelessness where a temporary exemption notice was revoked. It therefore seeks assurances that, under these circumstances, occupants would be supported by the NIHE to find suitable alternative accommodation.
42. The Committee seeks assurance from the Minister that relevant documentation will be provided in a range of languages and other necessary formats to ensure that ethnic minorities and people with special requirements are fully informed of their responsibilities