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Landlords battle council over 'bad' new HMO licencing system

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New licensing application software introduced by Portsmouth City Council has been slammed for being badly written, hard to use and too demanding.

Portsmouth & District Private Landlords Association says although the authority announced that landlords and agents who are compliant with council requirements, manage their properties well and can meet a set of criteria, will be eligible for a cheaper, longer licence, all it’s done is to charge twice as much and generate more bureaucracy to justify employing 40+ staff.

Chairman Martin Silman tells LandlordZONE that almost no-one can meet the criteria that’s been set. “A landlord of 20 years’ standing is suddenly told they have to go through a formal accreditation, for example, or are told they can only get a two-and-a-half-year instead of five-year licence,” explains Silman.

“They’re also criminalising landlords as it’s so difficult to meet the 36 conditions in the application. For example, if I went away for three weeks in four years’ time without naming someone in advance in my absence, I would be breaking my licence condition.”

HMO landlords can now apply for all types of HMO licences – additional, mandatory and 257 licences - from a one-stop-shop council website. However, some members have spent two weeks trying to get a single application complete as the 84-page online form takes can take many hours to apply.

Tribunal action

The association now plans to take the council to tribunal in a bid to simplify the application process, as well as refer it to the local government ombudsman to restrict the information asked for and is also considering a judicial review to remove 257 HMOs from the scheme.

It believes Portsmouth has already lost up to 1,200 standard and student HMOs since the additional scheme launched in September, extending licensing to about 4,000 three- and four-bed houses.

Many more could follow, warns Silman. “I know many landlords have just applied for a one-year licence and plan to convert their HMO to a family home next year,” he adds.

Council statement

A spokeswoman at Portsmouth Council tells LandlordZONE it wants to channel resources to work with lower performing landlords to bring them up to standard.

“New criteria have been introduced which means that licences will be issued for different lengths of time based on the compliance and proficiency of the licence holder,” she explains.

“This will mean that the council can focus its resources more on those that require more intervention to improve their practices, resulting in safer and better managed HMOs in Portsmouth for tenants, and a more equal sector for landlords and agents.”

She adds that a recent consultation with existing licence holders showed that 72% were in favour of this new approach. The council is offering extra support to help landlords apply; they can contact the team on 023 9284 1659 or by emailing hmo.licensing@portsmouthcc.gov.uk.

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