A new bill threatening higher penalties for house in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing breaches is progressing through Parliament under the smokescreen of MPs rowing about Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tory MP for Blyth Spartan Ian Levy has steered the Houses in Multiple Occupation Bill 2019-21 through to a second reading almost without anyone outside Westminster noticing.

The little-reported Private Member’s Bill passed a first reading in The Commons on September 9 and is due for the second reading and printing on February 5.

Levy explained to MPs that the bill aims to increases penalties for HMO licensing offences in England but does not suggest what they might rise to.

“It is vital that a stricter regime of checks and measures is imposed on landlords to ensure that safeguarding of clients is kept at the forefront. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed,” Levy said in his speech introducing the Bill.

Substandard accommodation

“I find it concerning that, as things stand, the police are not consulted on planning applications for large HMOs. However, they are often called upon to deal with the issues that can arise from such dwellings. These houses cause concern in local communities that the inhabitants are likely to cause problems due to antisocial behaviour and other social problems.

“It is vital that the public living in and around the vicinity feel that they can live and integrate with the residents of houses in multiple occupancy safely and that community values are respected.”

Levy also called for HMOs to have a nominated manager on call 24/7 to deal with any problems arising with tenants.

“I understand that not all HMOs exploit their tenants, and I also understand that there are other reasons why, for people wanting to live in small, cheap units close to facilities, they may be attractive,” said Levy.

“But I wish to ensure that they are not used as a method of housing vulnerable people in substandard accommodation with no regard for their mental or physical wellbeing or the needs of the local community. I want to ensure that someone being able to buy a house in a sub-prime area and divide it into multiple bedrooms, while showing absolutely no care for the individual or the local residents, becomes a thing of the past.

Cross party support

“I would like to see a balance given to the community, so that clients feel safe and part of that community, and the public living in and around the vicinities of houses of multiple occupancy feel that they can live and integrate with the clients, with respect and safeguarding for all.”

The Bill was supported by Tory MPs Duncan Baker, Dehenna Davison, Katherine Fletcher, Peter Gibson, James Grundy, Paul Howell, Marco Longhi, Rob Roberts and Matt Vickers, with Labour’s Paula Barker.

Under the current law, councils can either take landlords renting out unsafe or unlicensed HMOs to court, where judges can impose unlimited fines, or issue fixed penalties of up to £30,000.

Other sanctions include rent repayment orders and banning orders for convicted landlords.