Partial victory on HMOs, but the campaign goes on

Southampton’s Labour MPs, Alan Whitehead and John Denham, have welcomed the City Council’s decision to finally implement tougher regulations on HMOs, after the Tory Government delayed the implementation of any new regulation by almost 18 months.

However they also warn that the powers will not be as effective as they could be unless the Government strengthens the financial power of Councils when faced with contentious HMO conversions.

Alan Whitehead and John Denham have been campaigning for tougher regulations on HMO landlords for over a decade.  Alan Whitehead MP brought forward legislation to bring HMO conversions under planning law before Parliament in 2007.  Powers to regulate the process of landlords converting family homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation were brought forward by John Denham as Local Government Secretary just before the last election, but were arbitrarily scrapped by the new Tory-Lib Dem Government in 2010.

The replacement powers put in place by the new Government do still allow Councils do require planning permission if a landlord wants to convert a family home into an HMO.  However planning permission will not have to be sought before the conversion takes place; instead it can be withdrawn retrospectively up to a year later if enough local people object.  And if the Council does choose to retrospectively withdraw planning permission, the landlord would be entitled to seek compensation from the Council due to lost income.

The cost of managing the planning process would also be borne entirely by the Council- rather than at present where the landlord and the Council both share the cost.

All these factors mean the position of the Council in taking on rogue landlords remains substantially weaker than it would have been if the Conservatives had not scrapped Labour’s HMO regulations.

John Denham MP said:

“This is very much a second-best solution compared with the planning law changes I introduced when in Government with the support of Alan Whitehead and other Labour MPs.  It is essential that the council does not back down the first time the new policy is challenged.”

Alan Whitehead MP said:

 “The Government has substantially weakened the financial position of Councils like Southampton in tackling uncontrolled HMO conversions.  Our city would now been in a much better place if the Government had kept the new powers brought in by Labour in 2010, rather than making us all wait 18 months to be able to implement what are effectively watered-down equivalents of what was already on the statute book.

“However, this is still a partial victory, and a credit to everyone in Southampton who has campaigned to raise this to a national issue.  I’ll continue to press for the Government to give Councils stronger powers to tackle HMOs.  I’ll also be pushing for our Council in Southampton to establish a proper register of HMO landlords and to make sure all landlords on that register meet real standards of responsibility to both their tenants and the wider community.”

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