New figures from a Greenwich Council report reveal that just 15 per cent of the estimated bedsits or rooms within Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have so far been licensed, more than two years after it became a requirement.
Greenwich Council introduced the move on 1st October 2017 – which was some years behind many other councils. The measure was limited to HMOs in Greenwich and weaker than measures seen in many other London councils which adopted licensing for private rented properties after inspections revealed large numbers of issues and mass tax avoidance.
Those landlords who fail to comply are supposed to receive fines “up to £30,000 per offence and/or prosecution, along with the possibility of paying back up to 12 months rental income. The authority also has the ability to take control of rental income.”
Yet very few fines appear to have been issued. Landlords have often applied for retrospective permission when discovered and seem to avoid any penalty – which could explain extremely low levels of compliance.
Since introduction we’ve seen a number of examples of overcrowding. In Eltham six families were found living in one house.
A doctors surgery in Eltham has been used as an HMO since 2015 and was never registered as an HMO on a database when checked in 2019. That came to light after I covered submitted plans to retrospectively seek permission for conversion into a 17-person HMO and read through planning documents.
Weakest regimes in London
Low levels of compliance seen in Greenwich are for what is already one of the weakest licensing schemes adopted in London. Some boroughs have adopted measures which license all private landlords in either 100 per cent (before 2017) or 20 per cent of a borough in areas with the worst problems, which councils can do in addition to HMOs. Greenwich have not. They’ve stuck with just HMOs.
The lethargic state of progress came despite a 2016 report stating the scale of problems in the borough:
“In summary, as at the 5 January 2016 the following had been achieved: 1,219 properties have been visited by Intelligence Officers with 460 found to be HMOs. This has resulted in nearly 1,000 enforcement investigations.
Over 1,770 hazards and breaches of legislation have been identified during the inspections.”
The scheme should be self-sufficient given fees levied to landlords and fine income from the large number of problems discovered in inspections funded by the Home Office.
At the current rate of progress it’d take many, many years to even reach half the expected total. As we’ve seen with the Parking Dept failing to meet expected income year after year despite numerous examples of parking issues, failings can continue for many years.