Another dent to landlords’ profits

Student in a flat © Getty Images
She’s looking like an ever-riskier bet

Renting out a house as a multiple-occupancy let can be very lucrative, allowing landlords to rent out rooms on an individual basis rather than via one tenancy. However, government plans to crack down on the sector are about to make this type of investment less attractive than it once was.

The Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation paper on houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) last October, setting out its plans to “raise the standards”. The rules are expected to come into effect next spring, later than expected (probably because of June’s surprise general election). But despite the fact that thousands of properties could be affected by the government’s proposals, as many as 85% of landlords are still unfamiliar with the proposed changes, according to a survey by Simple Landlords Insurance.

One of the main aims of the legislation is to widen the definition of properties that require a licence to be legally let. At the moment, a property is classed as being a HMO if three or more people from more than one household live there, and share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. Currently, only houses that are classed as “large HMOs” – properties rented to five or more people (from more than one household) – and set over three or more storeys, need to have a licence. However, the new legislation would mean that all large HMOs – regardless of the number of storeys – would require a licence. The government also plans to extend mandatory licensing to flats above and below business premises. Currently around 60,000 HMOs across the UK require a licence, but the government reckons that a further 174,000 properties will need a licence if the rules come in.

Although the cost of a licence will vary between local authorities, a five-year licence typically costs about £500. Landlords may also be subject to new, enhanced “fit and proper” tests before they can be granted a licence, which, if introduced, would probably require them to submit a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, at a cost of £25. Note that if your HMO should be licensed, but isn’t, you can be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months’ rent.

The government also plans to impose a new minimum room size of 6.52 square metres for a single person, in line with the current standard for overcrowding. For couples, the minimum is likely to be 10.23 square metres. Importantly, this new minimum may affect the number of rooms in a home that can be legally let. For example, if a “box room” in a four-bedroom student house falls below the minimum room size, the property would be considered a three-bedroom house. Landlords letting a room smaller than the prescribed dimensions would be liable for an unlimited fine or a civil penalty of up to £30,000. Finally, owners of licensed HMOs will need to provide “adequate” waste-disposal facilities.

Once the rules are confirmed, landlords should be careful to budget for any added expense they bring. The changes also come at a time when many landlords are already under increasing financial pressure, with lenders now required to take a more stringent approach to buy-to-let mortgage applications from those who own four or more mortgaged properties. That’s on top of the recently introduced 3% stamp-duty surcharge on second homes, and the scaling back of mortgage interest tax relief. If you didn’t already have the message, buy-to-let looks like an increasingly risky bet as an investment.


Yours for £25m: a 30ft hole

A Grade II-listed London townhouse with a 30-foot hole in its garden has been put on the market for £25m, says Sean Morrison in the Evening Standard. The Knightsbridge house was once owned by conman Achilleas Kallakis, who ordered the excavation of the home’s “mega-basement”, which was designed to hold a swimming pool, spa and car-lift. However, workers abandoned the job in 2008 when Kallakis was convicted of 21 charges related to his property business, including conspiracy, forgery and money laundering. In December, Kensington and Chelsea council approved plans to build an “astonishing” nine floors of living space, featuring a pool, underground parking and reception areas.