Portsmouth set to extend HMO licensing scheme to thousands more homes in bid to improve standards and counter 'rogue landlords'

HMO licensing in Portsmouth could be extended to thousands more homes in a bid to improve standards under new plans being considered by the city council.

By Josh Wright
Friday, 25th March 2022, 11:44 am
Updated Friday, 25th March 2022, 11:48 am

Members of its cabinet approved a consultation on the introduction of a new 'additional licensing' scheme which will extend the current system to cover three- and four-bed houses in multiple occupation.

Cabinet member for housing Darren Sanders, who brought in the first additional licensing scheme in the city in 2013 before it was dropped in 2018 due to 'inconclusive' evidence of its effectiveness, said the new scheme would show ‘tenants and good landlords...that the council is on their side’.

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Picture: Chris Moorhouse

HMOs are nearly three times more likely to have the worst hazards than other privately rented properties,’ he said. ‘That scandal must be tackled.

‘Renting privately has to be easier and safer if people are to feel confident it's for them. That means carrots and sticks. The mediation service is already an amazing carrot. This will show this council will provide the sticks too.’

There are an estimated 6,000 HMOs in the city, the equivalent of about a quarter of all private rental accommodation. Under current rules, 1,226 are mandatorily licensed, while its HMO register lists a total of 4,200.

Research carried out by the council showed almost a third of those inspected, including many housing students, had ‘category 1’ hazards - the most serious kind.

Dom Owen, University of Portsmouth Students' Union democracy and campaigns officer, said widening licensing would force landlords to maintain higher standards.

‘There are significant instances of subpar living standards in Portsmouth due to the prevalence of rogue landlords and this is the first step we should take to fix this,' he said. 'Rogue landlords in Portsmouth are clearly presenting a dire threat to the collective living conditions in Portsmouth.’

On Tuesday, the council's cabinet approved the May 23 launch of the consultation aimed at informing the content of the new licensing arrangement.

Suzy Horton, the deputy leader of the council and the licensed landlord of a home outside of the city, said the new scheme 'will go some way to protecting and increasing standards'.

Councillor Cal Corkery said he supported the move but added that licensing arrangements should be extended even further to increase housing standards across the board.

‘Everything we can do to ensure that everyone who is managing a property, or owning a property, is a fit and proper person should be done,' the Labour opposition spokesman for housing said. 'One way of doing that is by rolling out landlord licensing.

‘An example of a recent bit of casework, which has been very high profile, is Windsor House and the appalling, unacceptable housing conditions there.

‘It’s not an HMO, so it won't be covered by additional licensing or the other landlord licensing schemes.

‘If there was a selective licensing scheme in place for that area, it would mean that all the landlords that leasehold landlords in that property would have to meet a fit and proper person test. We know for a fact that a significant minority and perhaps a majority of the landlords would not have met that.’

However, Martin Silman, the chairman of the Portsmouth and District Private Landlord Association, said HMOs are ‘a big problem’ but that additional licensing would not help resolve it.

'Additional licensing only affects three or four bed HMOs,' he said. ‘You already have mandatory licensing city-wide for any HMO bigger than four beds. If you think you're going to solve all these problems that people complain to you about by going ahead with this consultation in this form, you're wrong.’

Should additional licensing be introduced, the council has estimated it will need to employ the equivalent of 18 extra full-time employees to help manage it.

They would be funded through new fees of between £829 and £883 for a five-year licence.