Brighton & Hove City Council is considering requiring all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in areas with particularly high student populations to be licensed.

Currently, landlords owning HMOs only need apply to the council for a license if their property has three or more floors and houses five or more people, at least some of whom share bathroom facilities.

Green Councillor Liz Wakefield, who has special responsibility for housing, has proposed that all HMOs owners be required to apply for a license.

This would only be granted to those who meet certain personal and professional standards of conduct, maintain acceptable levels of health and safety.

HMO owners would also need to “exercise appropriate management and supervision of the buildings to help reduce any adverse impact of the HMO on the neighbourhood.”

This means that tenants who are a nuisance to their neighbours (such as through excessive noise) will be dealt with firmly by their landlord.

The city has one of the largest concentrations of HMOs in the UK, especially in the Elm Grove, Moulsecoomb, Stanmer and Hollingdean areas.

According to the council, feedback from local residents suggests that HMOs, particularly those occupied by students, are causing problems in local areas, including disruptive noise and littering.

Nevertheless, an initial consultation by the council in early 2011 received over 180 responses, of which three quarters were opposed to the extension of the HMO licensing scheme – although perhaps unsurprisingly, opposition was strongest amongst landlords (99 percent) and tenants (85 percent), while a narrow majority of residents living in their own property supported a more restrictive licensing regime.

At the moment, very few local authorities have introduced so-called ‘additional licensing’ for HMOs.

So far, only Croydon, Ealing, Hounslow, Slough and Wrexham have exercised their power to do so under the Housing Act 2004 – and any landlord who operates an unlicensed HMO in any of those areas could face a £20,000 fine.

Councillor Wakefield was quick to stress that her proposals would not apply only to houses occupied by students, but to HMOs of all sorts, adding, “Students bring many benefits to the city.”

The Brighton & Hove City Council consultation is available at uk/portal/bhcc/housing/hmo/ and the council is inviting responses and comments from any local residents, until the end of March.

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