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Council taking action on HMOs

Protecting the wellbeing of residents living in Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and protecting the borough housing stock from being relentlessly carved up into HMOs, are issues Waltham Forest Council is working increasingly hard to address.

An HMO is a house which is occupied by people who do not form a single household – houses let as individual bed sitting rooms or where houses are converted into self-contained flats, for example.

At the start of this year the Council confirmed that it would introduce something called an ‘Article 4 Direction’ borough wide. This will remove ‘permitted development rights’, which allow a landlord to change a property from a single dwelling to an HMO without having to get planning permission.

From 16 September landlords will have to gain planning permission each and every time they consider making such a change. “It will give the Council much greater control over what is happening to the housing stock in the borough,” explained Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment.

Already landlords of certain types of HMOs must license their property with the Council, but this will extend the powers of the local authority to stop landlords intent on simply maximising their profits breaking up single dwelling properties into many different units.

“It’s really important that we also ensure that HMOs meet certain standards,” explained Cllr Loakes. “It is essential that landlords consider things like means of escape in case of fire, amenities such as kitchens, bathrooms and toilets, and ensuring that the property is not overcrowded.”

Where landlords do not apply for a licence when they should, or their properties fall below the standards set by the Council, action will be taken, as was illustrated on 7 February when Mr Ayaz Khan was prosecuted for one offence of failing to comply with an Improvement Notice and two offences of failing to comply with management regulations. The offences related to a property located at 20 Woodbury Road, Walthamstow.

Thames Magistrates Court sentenced him to fines of £2,500 for each offence and a contribution towards costs of £1,525. He was also ordered to pay a Victim Surcharge of £120.

The following week on 12 February Mr Muhammed Ashraf and Ms Shabana Ashraf were at the same court in relation to 35 Fairlop Road, Leytonstone. Both parties were charged with failure to licence an HMO. Both Mr and Ms Ashraf were each handed a three year conditional discharge and were each ordered to contribute towards costs to the tune of £1,500.

The Council has also been successful with regard to decisions referred to the Planning Inspectorate – the national body that will look at matters when a Council decision is disputed. One recent example concerend an appeal lodged against a Planning Enforcement Notice issued by the Council insisting that a property at 61 Lincoln Street, Leytonstone that had been split into three self-contained flats be returned to a single dwelling house.

The matter was put before the Planning Inspectorate by Mr Peter and Mrs Alda Bowring, but in a report dated 25 February the Inspector rejected the appeal saying, ‘The HMO use was not a lawful use’ and that ‘planning permission should not be granted’.

In another example Ms J Huang appealed against a Planning Enforcement Notice in relation to 1 Tennyson Road in Walthamstow – a property that had been converted from a single dwelling house into a Hotel/Hostel/Guest House.

The owner of the property disputed that the property was being used as a Hotel/Hostel/Guest House, but was unable to provide any evidence or counter the fact that the property had been listed on a number of websites as ‘rooms to rent’.

The Council also pointed to reviews from people that stayed at the property, posting comments on sites including Tripadvisor. Because the appellant did not provide any evidence to the contrary the Planning Inspectorate concluded that the property was being used as a Hotel/Hostel/Guest House.

“We are simply not going to tolerate landlords creating HMOs without permission,” said Cllr Loakes. “We will enforce and where landlords do not remedy the matter we will bring them before the courts.

“It’s reassuring that not only are we seeing the courts back our enforcement decisions, but that when landlords look to wriggle out of their responsibilities by running to the Planning Inspectorate for help, they are met with confirmation that we’re making the right decisions for the right reasons.”

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