Most of us who went to university or college have done it – lived in a hovel. We probably shared it with at least three others and laughed amongst ourselves at the peeling wallpaper, overgrown garden and dated 70s furniture.
But living in an awful flat when you’re a student doesn’t have to be a rite of passage. After all, owners of HMOs are under the same legal obligations as other landlords (more actually) in ensuring their property is habitable and safe to live in.
However, many HMO landlords still seem to be getting away with providing shoddy accommodation if a report issued by the Local Government Association (LGA) in June this year is anything to go by.
Their survey highlighted the fact that 500 HMO landlords in England and Wales are taken to court and prosecuted every year for letting out sub-standard accommodation (the majority of which is rented out to students). Some of those cases listed in the report included a missing fire escape on a three-storey high building and another property with no front door lock (as a result strangers would wander in to the house).
Meanwhile, in another document, issued a month earlier and this time by the National Union of Students, it was claimed that 75 per cent of students reported living in substandard accommodation. This was either down to dampness or condensation in the property, or even a mouse or cockroach infestation. It prompted the NUS president Colum McGuire to issue a strongly worded statement saying that it was “disgusting and unacceptable that students should live in vermin infested housing in this day and age.”
Are tougher court sentences needed for rogue landlords?
So why are rogue landlords getting away with providing sub-standard accommodation for students? The LGA claim it’s all down to the paltry penalties imposed by the UK courts. The maximum fine for a landlord who rents out poor accommodation for instance, is around £5000 in England and Wales. Considering the time scale for bringing such a case to court is around 16 months, this is hardly a deterrent (after all, that’s an additional 16 months of rent before the landlord even appears in the dock).
Another reason bad landlords persist in renting out ‘unlivable’ property could be down to the costs of bring a court prosecution in the first place. With local authorities currently cash-strapped and having to reduce services, it hardly seems a good use of their resources to spend time and money on court prosecutions – especially if the landlord receives nothing more than a financial slap on the wrist from the judge at the end of the day.
How to improve student accommodation
Landlord fines for breaking the law should be at least four times higher than they are at present, insists the LGA. In addition, custodial sentences for rogue landlords should also be an option. And indeed, the Housing minister Kris Hopkins has said he would increase the fines courts could impose on landlords who refused to carry out their legal obligations – although he did go on to qualify this by saying that it really only applied to “a minority of landlords.”
Another deterrent to those renting out property providing poor accommodation could be the establishing of a National Register of Landlords. Such a scheme has already been in operation in Scotland for several years. It involves potential landlords registering with their local authority. The latter will then check the accommodation is suitable for rental purposes. A similar scheme exists here in Oxford where complaints about HMO property have fallen by 25 per cent since its introduction in January 2011.
Meanwhile, the Electrical Safety Council’s Phil Buckle agrees with the need for a National Register but also wants landlords to be obliged to provide an electrical safety certificate. This is because he claims that more than 50 per cent of fires in the home are down to faulty electrics. That would be one more piece of legislation for landlords to comply with but when it comes down to the fact that doing so could save a student – or some other tenant’s – life, there’s no real decision to be made, is there?
You can find out more information about what it involves to become a landlord of an HMO property by taking a look at the Property Go-To Girl website today. Alternatively contact us at the office where we’ll be happy to offer advice.
I'm Jacquie the Property Go-To Girl. I am passionate about property. I love to help people make the most out of their property investments!