Today I am announcing measures to give local authorities powers to manage better the quality and supply of private rented accommodation in their areas and to promote better balanced communities in local neighbourhoods. The private rented sector has an important, and growing, role in the housing market. This Government want to support the private sector. But, as well as a bigger sector, we want a better sector with standards that meet the needs of those who depend on private rented accommodation.
Local authorities need to be able to plan for the right housing mix and deal effectively with problems as they arise. Such problems can include antisocial behaviour, poorly maintained and dangerous properties, and pressures on community services.
The Government recognise the important contribution houses in multiple occupation make to the private rented sector. They provide housing to meet the needs of specific groups and households and make a contribution to the overall provision of affordable housing stock. However, localised problems caused by high concentrations of HMOs have been highlighted as concerns in some towns and cities across the country.
Following research to look at the issues we set out a number of options to deal with this problem in a public consultation paper, “Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses”.
In the light of the responses to this consultation I have decided to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, as amended, to provide for a specific definition of an HMO. Planning permission will then be required, where a material change of use occurs, to change the use of a property from C3 dwelling house to an HMO.
At the same time as amending the Use Classes Order, I will amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended, to provide that a change from an HMO back to the C3 class dwelling house will not require planning permission.
The consultation responses and research work have indicated that good practice alone cannot solve the problems encountered in a number of communities. This measure is strongly supported by responses to the consultation and it will enable local planning authorities to identify new HMOs with more certainty and act in particular neighbourhoods where there is concern about the mix and balance of communities and concerns about standards of conversion and maintenance of properties, to improve community balance.
I intend to introduce the necessary secondary legislation in time for it to come into force on 6 April 2010.
A summary of responses to the consultation, which includes a statement of the Government’s intention, is being published today.
I can also announce the publication today of a short consultation on potential changes to the consent regime for discretionary licensing schemes under the Housing Act 2004. The licensing provisions under the Housing Act 2004 represent another local power available to local authorities in tackling problems associated with HMOs and other privately rented accommodation. I propose the introduction of a general consent, enabling local authorities to introduce discretionary licensing schemes without seeking approval from my Department. I believe it is right that these local decisions should be made by those who know their area best and who are directly accountable to local communities. The consultation will close on Friday 12 March, and any future general consent will come into effect from the common commencement date of 6 April 2010.
I am publishing today also the second part of research undertaken by the Building Research Establishment for the Department in 2008 into the implementation of HMO licensing following the 2004 Housing Act. This shows emerging evidence of improvements to the condition and management of properties as a direct result of HMO licensing, although it also indicates that local authorities have still to complete the task of licensing all HMOs subject to mandatory licensing. I am therefore reviewing the support available to local authorities in relation to regulation of the private rented sector, including publishing draft guidance on licensing provisions, and will put in place any changes before the commencement of the new powers I am announcing today. This work is part of our programme of reform and support for the private rented sector. We consulted last summer on a comprehensive package of proposals aimed at improving quality and professionalism in the sector and ensuring the best possible deal for tenants.
The proposed national register for landlords is a key element of the measures that we plan. By allowing local authorities to pinpoint private rented housing, the national register will give important support to local authorities seeking to use existing powers, including licensing, in a strategic and proportionate way.
The national register will also provide a mechanism by which landlords and tenants can be kept properly informed of their rights and responsibilities and by which tenants will, for the first time, be able perform basic checks on potential landlords. More broadly, I want to ensure that all tenants have easy access to clear advice, and know where to turn when things go wrong.
I will be making a more detailed announcement on these and other proposals for the private rented sector shortly, including a summary of responses to our summer 2009 consultation following the Rugg review.
I am placing copies of the consultation document for discretionary licensing schemes, the HMO summary of consultation responses, the BRE report and the draft guidance in the Library of the House.