News of the campaign to end discrimination against renters in receipt of housing benefit. There’s information from Hackney, where all renters in three Wards will be covered by a licensing scheme from 1st October. Wherever you live in Greater London, if you share with four others who are not members of your family, licensing may well apply at your address, too.
If you’re thinking of sub-letting, or if you’re thinking of taking up the offer of a sub-let, please read on.
Lots of London renters are currently seeking to sub-let, to go travelling, or because there’s the opportunity to work elsewhere in the World for a while. If this looks like you, before you sub-let your room or flat, be aware that, in so doing, you would create a subtenancy.
There is no enforceable contract in place between your landlord and the person to whom you sub-let. The subtenant still has rights, though, and you, as ‘mesne tenant’, become landlord to the subtenant. All the normal security of tenure rules will apply.
If you sub-let your room in breach of an explicit prohibition in your tenancy agreement, and your landlord— ‘the head landlord’— wants to take action against you for breach of your tenancy agreement, they must still use the usual route. The head landlord would still be required to serve a valid notice. If you don’t vacate on the date mentioned, the landlord would still have to obtain a possession order from the court. If the court granted possession back to the head landlord, any sub-tenancy would end there.
One very significant point is this; if the head landlord were to recover possession from you, the mesne tenant, you would be in breach of the agreement you have created with the sub-tenant. This means that, if the sub-tenant had to move out at short notice, the sub-tenant could issue a claim against you, as their landlord, for damages.
New Rules on Licensing Houseshares and HMOs
Is your home is occupied by five or more people who are not all related, but who are sharing a kitchen, a toilet or a bathroom? If the answer is ‘yes’, mandatory licensing may well apply to your address from 1 October. The extension of licensing applies to house-shares, as well as to individual rooms and bedsits.
Most properties rented as HMOS will require a licence, by law. An HMO is which house 5 people or more, forming 2 or more separate households. From 1 October 2018, Landlords who don’t apply for licences will be committing a criminal offence.
New conditions of licensing have also been introduced. These include national minimum sizes for rooms used as sleeping accommodation. Every room in an HMO which is used as sleeping accommodation
- by one person aged over 10 years, must be at least 6.51 square metres in size.
- by two people aged over 10 years, must be at least 10.22 square metres
- by one person aged under 10 years, must be at least 4.64 square metres
From 1 October, any room in an HMO (including house shares) with a floor area of less than 4.64 square metres cannot be used as sleeping accommodation.
The new licensing rules also include the requirement for landlords obey local council refuse arrangements.
Flats in purpose-built blocks with more than three flats are exempt from the new licensing regime. Still, these rules around room sizes offer a good indication of the standard of accommodation you should expect, if you are living in a flat or house with no sitting room.
Selective Licensing Scheme for Hackney
Hackney Council is introducing a licensing scheme, which will cover ALL privately rented homes in three Wards, from 1 October. If you live in Brownswood, Cazenove or Stoke Newington Ward, your landlord should apply to licence for your address.
From 1 October, if you live in the designated area and your home remains unlicensed, you cannot be served a S21 Notice (to start eviction proceedings under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988) for as long as the address remains unlicensed. Further, your landlord could be prosecuted and, on conviction, be fined an unlimited amount. The Council doesn’t even have to take the landlord to Court to issue a fine of up to up to £30000 for a breach of licensing conditions.
Under certain circumstances, failure to licence will also give rise to a rent repayment order. If a rent repayment order were granted and you pay your own rent, you would get your money back. You can only receive money that you have paid, though. If you receive housing benefit to pay all or part of your rent, that money would not be given to you.
Last month, Renters’ Rights London had a stall at Lewisham People’s Day. One of the people who came to speak to us was a landlord. He said that he is, and has always been, very willing to rent to people in receipt of housing benefit.
As a member of Residential Landlord’s Association (RLA), he uses the property insurance they offer. This landlord’s experience strongly suggests to him that people in receipt of housing benefit cannot pass the insurer’s credit check, required to validate the policy with each new tenancy. Without the go-ahead from the insurer, the landlord cannot enter into a contract with a prospective tenant.
The landlord, born and bred in South London, father of a young family, knows the struggle is real. Some time later, he’s still feeling bad that he had to withdraw offers of accommodation to two tenants, because modest income caused them to fail checks provided by the RLA insurers.
You have probably read about recent research about the disadvantage renters in receipt of housing benefit face, as Shelter has launched their campaign to #EndDSSdiscrimination. It’s an issue that Hackney Digs previously highlighted, in their “YES DSS” campaign. Now, Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter has told The Guardian
“Rejecting all housing benefit tenants is morally bankrupt, and because these practices overwhelmingly impact women and disabled people, they could be unlawful. That’s why we’re urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of housing benefit bans, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”
However, while Legal for Landlords, the RLA insurers in question, fail to understand access to housing benefit positively, if at all, accommodation offered by RLA members will remain inaccessible to 208,000+ households in Greater London. Whether these decisions are made wholesale or on a case-by-case basis may well be irrelevant.