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Warning that latest HMO reforms will not stop sub-letting scams

The specialist eviction company Landlord Action says it is in full support of the government’s latest proposal to crack down on rogue landlords through re-defining HMOs and setting minimum bedroom sizes.

Landlord Action founder Paul Shamplina says the moves will help reduce the number of over-crowded, unsafe properties - but he warns that they will not prevent sub-letting scams, which are often the lead cause of ‘rabbit-hutch rooms’. 

The government’s consultation paper on HMO reform issued at the end of last week explores the options for extending the scope of mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation, to smaller and medium sized properties.  

Widening the net of properties to which the rules apply and setting a minimum room size of 6.5 square metre (about 70 square feet), aims to make it easier for local authorities to raise standards in properties used as shared homes.

“There is in fact only a small proportion of landlords who abuse the system in this way.  Nevertheless, they are guilty of exploiting the vulnerable” says Shamplina.

But he adds: “One of the biggest problems with implementing any new legislation is enforcement. Local councils do not have enough resources as it is, with Environmental Health Officers already responsible for monitoring overcrowding, sub-letting, poor conditions, and most recently retaliatory eviction. There is no room in our sector for rogue landlords, but to tackle the problem properly, legislation needs to be backed up by more boots on the ground”.

In addition, Landlord Action reports that the leading culprits of setting up uninhabitable rooms are not just rogue landlords, but in fact tenants posing as landlords and sub-letting properties to unaware tenants. 

“Landlord Action has never seen so many sub-letting cases as it has over the last two years, with an 18 per cent increase. This has been fuelled by sky high rents preventing some tenants from being able to afford even single-unit accommodation, forcing many to resort to bedsits or shared accommodation” says Shamplina.

In a recent North London sub-letting case handled by Landlord Action, partition walls were erected to create more bedrooms, most were barely large enough to fit a single mattress in, and the rogue tenant was sub-letting each “room” for £750 per month.

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