Landlords warned to prepare for new HMO rules
FROM April 1, the licensing laws for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in Northern Ireland have changed.
Mandatory HMO licensing is being extended because of concerns about the number of HMOs operated by landlords who rent out sub-standard, overcrowded and dangerous accommodation, exploit vulnerable tenants and in some cases defraud the public purse.
A house in multiple occupation is a single property in which multiple households live and share basic amenities. A typical HMO may have a kitchen and/or bathroom shared between two or more rented households. These laws do not apply to rented flats or apartments with separate facilities.
According to figures obtained by the BBC, there are over 6,000 HMOs in Northern Ireland, with more than 4,000 based in Belfast.
Under the new scheme, all HMOs in Northern Ireland must hold a valid licence and landlords without licences or found to be in breach of the conditions of their licence, risk significant fines of up to £20,000 and/or prosecution.
HMOs previously been registered with the NI Housing Executive, which still benefit from valid unexpired licences, will automatically transfer to the new local council scheme. HMO licenses are valid for a period of five years and must be renewed periodically.
The licensing of all HMOs in Northern Ireland is now managed by the relevant local council. The ultimate purpose of the new legislation is to ensure that the accommodation is safe for the tenants and surrounding neighbours.
Under the legislation, landlords must have an anti-social behaviour plan in place and keep a record of instances of anti-social behaviour and what actions have been taken by the landlord to deal with the situation. Landlords will be provided with a guide from the Council, advising them on how to tackle these issues.
The legislation also requires HMOs to adhere to certain health and safety standards. The property must benefit from valid up to date safety and maintenance certificates for all relevant appliances.
From April 15, tenants of HMOs will be able to contact their local council to check if the property they reside in is registered as a HMO. Under the legislation, the tenant can report their landlord to their local council if the tenant suspects that there is not a valid licence in place or if the conditions of the licence are being breached.
The local council has the power to impose certain conditions on licenses and revoke HMO licenses if conditions are not being met.
The rules could have a major impact on city landlords who rent out premises to students and the growing number of professionals who share houses and flats.
:: Oonagh Murdock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a solicitor at O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors (www.oreillystewart.com)