Shapps accused of reneging on HMO planning rule

Housing minister Grant Shapps has been accused of reneging on pledges to ditch new rules on House in Multiple Occupation.

The rules were rushed through Parliament in April, via a Statutory Instrument, and without any consultation – despite their wide-ranging effect on both home-owners and landlords.

The rules have brought in a new planning class. This means it is now mandatory for any home-owner or landlord who lets out or shares a property to between two and six unrelated people to have to apply for planning permission to turn the property into an HMO.

Planning permission is not guaranteed and costs money. If HMO status is granted, the property owner might have to pay more to have it licensed.

Local planning officers would have powers to inspect any property where they thought the rules are being broken.

The move was heavily criticised by landlords and the National Union of Students – and the Conservatives. David Cameron, then in opposition, tabled an early day motion for it to be reversed.

While in opposition, Grant Shapps said: "While councils need powers to tackle the excesses of slum landlords, this is a state sledgehammer to crack a nut. Labour have already kicked the housing market by imposing the red tape of Home Information Packs. Now they want to cripple the fragile market with even more regulation. Tenants will lose out, as these new costs will reduce the supply of housing and drive up rents. There is already public alarm at Labour plans for an intrusive council tax revaluation and inspections of family homes. Now Labour are giving even more powers for town hall snoopers to barge into people’s bedrooms and rifle through their underwear drawers."

However, in Parliament yesterday, Shapps said he was keen to have HMO controls in areas with "studentification" problems, but wanted to review the current legislation to ensure it is not too overarching and leading to problems in areas with no issues.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: "Revoking the half-baked HMO planning legislation slipped in at the death by the previous Government was a pre-election pledge of the Conservatives.

"We hope this will be pursued swiftly as it is leading to confusion, unnecessary bureaucracy and expense at local level, and ultimately restricts affordable homes for those in need.

"If the minister wants to replace it with something better targeted, then that is his prerogative, but the clear message from landlords is that the current system is a dog’s dinner and time is therefore of the essence."

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