The latest research from the National Landlords Association indicates Britains landlords are struggling to get their heads around the new Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
The HHSRS covers 29 different areas of risk, considerably extending the nine point housing fitness standard currently in use. However, just over one in 10 of landlords say they have a thorough understanding of the new system. 45% of landlords were aware of the governments new rules, while 38% have no knowledge of them at all.
The NLA says given the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has already published many hundreds of pages on this subject, it comes as no great surprise that landlords and local authorities are struggling to understand the new regime. Yvette Cooper, minister for housing and planning, recently announced a delay to its implementation from this autumn to next spring.
As indicated, the HHSRS replaces the current fitness standard, which has existed in some form since the 19th century. It was incorporated into the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 in the form of a new section 605 to the Housing Act 1985.
David Salusbury, chairman of the NLA, says: “The government decided to include new health and safety criteria for residential properties in the Housing Act 2004, despite the fact that the existing fitness standard has served us well for many years.
“Many of the requirements of the new system do make sense. Nobody would query the need for suitable heating and ventilation, a supply of piped water, drainage, safe electrical installations and lighting. But these matters are mostly already adequately covered by the current fitness tests.
“With these 29 new risk categories, the legislation does seem unduly complex. The government is using a hammer to crack a nut. What people havent realised is that these same rules apply equally to the homes we own and live in but can you imagine the reaction if the law forced people to attend to these 29 categories of risk in their own homes. Landlords, who are already fiercely regulated, are an easy target.”
The new hazard profiles are divided into four groupings, entitled physiological requirements, psychological requirements, protection against infection, and protection against accidents.
Salusbury says: “One can only applaud initiatives to improve the quality of the UK housing stock, both rental and owner occupied, but the sheer weight and complexity of the rules will undoubtedly scare the living daylights out of many landlords. And what about owner-occupiers? Surely whats good for the goose is good for the gander would you know if your home is at risk from biocides or volatile organic compounds?”
Landlords are similarly unfamiliar with other aspects of the Housing Act. 27% of them said they had no knowledge of the new definition of houses in multiple occupation or of licensing of HMOs. Only 13% reported that they have a sound understanding of the new definition and 10% have a sound understanding of licensing of HMOs.
Under the changes, an HMO will be defined as a rented property with one or more units of accommodation (but which are not self contained), occupied by people who do not form a single household and share the facilities. A new definition of a household will provide that tenants who are unrelated and who share a home as their main or sole residence under a joint tenancy will henceforward be considered separate households (up to now, tenants sharing a property under a joint tenancy have formed a single household). Thus, a flat let to three or more unrelated sharers would be an HMO.
Licences from the local authority will be required for HMOs with three or more storeys and if there are five or more tenants in two or more households, while complicated selective and additional licensing requirements will mean that other properties will be caught by the new licensing regime.
The NLAs research reveals 73% of respondents find government regulation a major cause for concern. Indeed this was highest response, ahead of unreliable tenants at 63% and voids at 41%.
Salusbury says: “It is essential that landlords receive good information on these vital subjects, which are due to be implemented fairly soon. More information is sought particularly on HHSRS (62%), HMO definitions (44%) and HMO licensing (41%). Leaflets and booklets are the preferred means of communication, mentioned by 74% of landlords, before websites at 39%.
“The private rental sector provides homes for millions of people who need rented accommodation in this country, including many of the most vulnerable. Initiatives to ensure that their homes are safe and decent are laudable, but I believe the existing procedures mostly work pretty well. I just hope that the rating system and licensing procedures are applied by local authorities with a positive, reasonable approach so that landlords are not discouraged from providing rental accommodation that would be a disaster all around.”
“We at the NLA remain committed to helping both landlords and local authorities understand the implications of the new regime.”