The assumption that I can answer all the questions about events in Bexley is entirely wrong. I know
something about quite a lot but it is frequently superficial knowledge. There is simply not enough time
to delve into everything and complex issues tend to fall by the wayside and go unreported as a result.
The recent interest in Homes in Multi-Occupation (HMO) caught me unprepared. It’s obvious enough what they are but how any licensing system might work both nationally and in Bexley was a total mystery; but I had a bright idea.
My MP Teresa Pearce refers to herself as a Member of Labour’s Housing Team, she should know about HMOs, so I asked if she had a simple explanation. This is the gist of what Teresa had to say…
An HMO is a property rented out by at least three people who are not from one ‘household’ but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. Large HMOs must be licensed.
A property is defined as a large HMO if all of the following apply:
• It’s rented to five or more people
• It’s formed of more than one household
• It’s at least three storeys high
• Tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities
A large HMO must meet certain standards but many properties of only two storeys are HMOs with no licensing requirement.
To combat this the Government introduced legislation in April 2010 that changed planning law and created a new Use Class of ‘C4’ or House in Multiple Occupation. Previously small HMOs fell within the ‘C3’ or Dwelling House Class.
This change required all landlords to gain planning permission before they could let what was a formerly used as a family house (C3) as a small HMO (C4) housing between three and six unrelated sharers. This is known as a ‘Change in Use’.
Where an Article 4 Direction is in effect, a local authority may not demand a fee for associated planning applications.
In October 2010 the Coalition Government amended the legislation. They included a ‘Change in Use’ from C3 to C4 within the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). This allowed landlords to change their properties from a C3 Dwelling House to a C4 HMO without the need for planning permission.
They also gave local authorities the power to remove permission for the C3 – C4 ‘Change in Use’ by means of an ‘Article 4 Direction’. Councils have used this to designate whole areas and limit the number of HMOs in a geographical area.
It seems that Bexley Council has opted out of the Article 4 Direction and therefore landlords are completely free to establish HMOs in ordinary houses so long as the dwelling is no more than two storeys. You could wake up tomorrow and find one next door to you.
If I had to guess why Bexley Council is not interested in Article 4 I would say it was because licensing implies an inspection and that would prove costly but unlike Part II of the London Local Authorities Act 1991, there is no provision for the rip off charge which has tempted Bexley Council into a belated attack on small businesses. The Nail Bar Tax.
It’s not hard to see why some people are upset with the effect of Bexley’s ‘know the cost of everything but value of nothing’ approach to economics and without regulation, and with Bexley’s reputation for relatively inexpensive housing, HMOs could spread rapidly. But be careful what you wish for.
As a housing authority Bexley Council benefits from HMOs - less pressure on them. If they become a problem it would be perfectly feasible to ban HMOs in certain areas, like Sidcup and Old Bexley, and anything North of the Bexleyheath railway line could end up taking the brunt of it.
Multi-Occupancy has become the norm in some areas, I think my aunt’s garden in Newham may be the only one in her road which does not include a barely habitable Sky TV equipped shack erected to house the overflow of people. It’s not just garden sheds you can see in the Google Earth image below.
There are simply too many people and not enough affordable houses.