Student Housing in Oxford under HMO laws

Background

Oxford has decided to use the Additional Licensing provision in the 2004 Act to make all its HMOs licensable. This is in order to control the spread of HMO’s and to regulate their use and standards.
According to the Oxford City Council Website:

Many three storey HMOs are already licensed under the existing licensing rules. However, Councillor Joe McManners, Executive Member for Housing said:

Local residents in Oxford have told us that the Council needs to do more to control the impact of HMOs and we’ve listened to what they’ve had to say. We’ve tried using all our existing powers but they haven’t been enough to make the difference that is needed. We believe that additional licensing will provide us with those extra powers that we need and that it will have a really positive impact. Our aim is to improve the living conditions for tenants within HMOs as they provide the worst accommodation in the City.

In 2005, Oxford City Council undertook a housing condition survey that claimed that 70 per cent of HMOs were ‘unsafe’, 61.3 per cent had below standard fire detection and 16.9 per cent had no fire detection at all.

It is hope that the HMO licensing will help to regulate unsafe housing and end the exploitation of students by landlords who provide it. It is hope that this new legislations will encourage universities to provide more purpose-built accommodation, as it is a more efficient use of land and leads to reduced tension between different types of housing and different types of residents.

The consultation ended in March 2011 and it will now take until 2012 to be implemented as the council is giving a year’s notice of the change. Until then there is no evidence of the schemes success or failure.

The cost of HMO licensing

At about £591,931 per year, the scheme will be quite expensive, although the Council state that it will be covered by the licensing fees. However others are not so sure. Jan Bartlett, owner of Cowley Road firm Premier Letting, speaking in the Oxford Mail said that the cost could be prohibitive if landlords don’t pay the license fees:

“The scheme will be difficult to police and bad landlords just won’t sign up”

She suggested that the Local Authority save money by using local letting agents to police the scheme instead of hiring new staff. Although presumably she is not suggesting that agents perform this public service for nothing.

Legal Action

PainSmith Solicitors along with Jonathan Manning and Justin Bates of Arden Chambers were been instructed by a group of Oxford landlords, lettings agents, and other interested parties to pursue an action for judicial review of Oxford City Council’s decision to make an additional licensing designation for the whole of Oxford.

PainSmith asserted that the scheme, if carried forward as currently planned, would leave many landlords with their properties designated as HMOs but because Oxford intends to “phase” licence applications over the next 3-4 years these landlords would not be able to apply for a licence. This would, as a consequence, place these landlords in breach of the law and further make them unable to serve a valid notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 on their tenants. This situation cannot be what the Council intends and is simply irrational.

Further Information

Houses in Multiple Occupation
Will students be driven out of house shares? Oxford leads clampdown with fee rise for landlords<
Oxford leads the way with HMO licensing