There has been a flurry of recent announcements by Grant Shapps the Housing Minister.

I thought it worth while to compile everything together and have a quick summary of the latest announcements.

No further red tape

Of the three million private tenants in this country, the vast majority report they are satisfied with the service they receive from their landlords.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Shapps confirmed that with the private rented sector already governed by a well established legal framework, the Government has no plans to introduce any further regulations.

Instead, he urged councils to use the wide range of powers they already have at their disposal to tackle the minority of rogue landlords that blight some communities, provide a poor service to tenants and damage the reputation of the private rented sector.

Council powers include:

  • Powers to require landlords to take action to rectify hazards in their property;
  • Where landlords resist, the ability to make and charge for improvements and to prohibit use of the affected parts of the property; and
  • Discretionary licensing powers to tackle areas blighted by poorly managed privately rented stock.

National Register of Landlords, regulation of letting agents and written agreements

New regulations were proposed by the previous administration in response to the Rugg Review of the Private Rented Sector, but have been judged by the new coalition to introduce too much additional red tape. These included a National Register of Landlords, regulation of letting and managing agents, and compulsory written tenancy agreements.

Grant Shapps said:

“With the vast majority of England’s three million private tenants happy with the service they receive, I am satisfied that the current system strikes the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.

So today I make a promise to good landlords across the country: the Government has no plans to create any burdensome red tape and bureaucracy, so you are able to continue providing a service to your tenants.

“But for the bad landlords, I am putting councils on alert to use the range of powers already at their disposal to make sure tenants are properly protected.”

HMO Planning requirements

Currently planning permission is required in England when changing use from a family home (class C3) to an HMO (class C4). See this article for full information

However, Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced that councils will have greater flexibility to manage concentrations of shared housing in their area, without tying landlords in red tape.

A high concentration of shared homes can sometimes cause problems, especially if too many properties in one area are let to short term tenants with little stake in the local community.

So changes to legislation will give councils the freedom to choose areas where landlords must submit a planning application to rent their properties to unrelated tenants – known as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).

It is estimated that as many as 8,500 planning applications could be submitted each year if every landlord looking to turn their property into a HMO is first required to seek permission – instead, councils will be able to focus their efforts in particular neighbourhoods where HMOs present a problem, while landlords of HMOs in other areas will not be tied up in red tape.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:

“Councils know about local issues with shared homes, and don’t need top-down rules from Whitehall to deal with problems that don’t exist. Where too many shared homes are causing problems for other residents or changing the character of a neighbourhood, councils should be able to control their spread. But I’m not going to create unnecessary costs for landlords, which puts the supply of rented homes at risk.

“That’s why I’m giving councils the power to decide whether to use the planning system to control the spread of shared housing where it is a problem.  This will give them the flexibility to make decisions that are right for their communities, rather than stifling the rental market with unnecessary costs and red tape.

“Shared homes ensure people who want to live and work in towns and cities can do so, and are vital to the economy. These changes will safeguard the supply of shared housing where it is needed without burdening landlords with cumbersome red tape – but will also hand councils the flexibility they need to tackle problems where they occur.”

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said:

“Grant Shapps has taken quick and decisive action after this law was rushed through in April without sufficient clarification. At a time when council resource is scarce and housing is needed it makes no sense to be forcing thousands of local landlords and planning officers to be engaged in unnecessary bureaucracy. The Minister said last week that deregulation would characterise his approach to the private rented sector and as with other moves to cut red tape, these are further welcome steps.”

Removing this one blanket requirement follows the Government’s commitment to scrap one size fits-all solutions in the planning system that create unnecessary bureaucracy and costs for councils and businesses.

Note: At the time this article is written, planning permission is still required, so a landlord must still obtain planning permission currently. Above are only proposals at the moment.

When will HMO planning change?

It has been reported that the changes discussed above will take place on 1 October 2010, however, it is unclear where this date comes from. The Communities website says “Consultation with interested partners on this issue will ensure that the new rules work effectively for local people without placing an unnecessary burden on landlords and local planning authorities.” It seems 1 October is rather optimistic (but perfectly possible) if there is to be a consultation process before the changes.

AST Threshold change

There are no plans to change the threshold from £25,000 to £100,000 for when a tenancy is an assured [shorthold] tenancy so this will still take effect from 1 October 2010. See this article for details on this change.