Housing multiple staff: What farmer landlords need to know

Farmers with staff accommodation housing multiple occupants or who let residential property are reminded that new rules came into force last year.

These require them to register their property with the local council and maintain certain minimum standards.

Six months on from the introduction of licensing regulating houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), awareness of the new laws within the agricultural sector remains limited.

While our clients have worked hard to obtain licences, with some needing to adapt or improve properties to ensure compliance, many from across the industry are operating without a licence, unaware that the legislation applies to them.

See also: The rules for legal storage of pesticides on farm

By definition, HMOs comprise at least five unrelated tenants, who form at least two households, and who share bathroom and/or kitchen facilities.

Who is affected?

Smaller house shares of three unrelated tenants can be subject to licensing, according to the jurisdiction of local councils. HMOs have long been a fixture of rural communities.

In the racing world, for example, grooms will often house share, forming a HMO, while farm labourers and fruit pickers across the UK will often live and work together in farm cottages and outbuildings, particularly in the lead-up to and during the harvest, again forming an HMO.

While the new legislation has almost gone under the radar, it has been effective since 1 October 2018, and sets out to regulate the safety and standards of HMOs, whether residents are permanent or temporary, short or long-term.

Obtaining licences

Licences can be obtained through the local council, and are likely to be granted if:

  • The property in question is suitable for the number of occupants.
  • The property manager – whether the owner or an agent – is considered to be “fit and proper”, for example, with no criminal record or a history of breaching landlord laws or codes of practice.

Minimum room standards must comprise:

  • Usable floor space of more than 6.51 sq m if letting a room to a single adult.
  • Usable floor space of more than 10.22 sq m if letting a room to two adults.

It is likely that an HMO licence will limit the number of individuals who can occupy a specific room as sleeping accommodation.

For a licence to be upheld, landlords or managing agents must:

  • Send the council an updated gas safety certificate every year.
  • Install and maintain smoke alarms.
  • Provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances when requested.

Adding facilities

Generally, councils have been user-friendly and will offer guidance on what measures must be implemented for a licence to be granted.

That said, councils are at liberty to add other conditions to a licence, such as improving the standard of an individual property’s facilities.

We have witnessed cases in which councils have requested that fire safety is prioritised, including installing emergency lighting, smoke alarms and fire doors.

Other conditions have involved installing more bathrooms.

If an application for an HMO licence is declined, there is scope to appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal, albeit subject to an additional fee set by the relevant council.

Unlimited fine

Legally, councils can carry out spot checks and enforce an unlimited fine for failure of compliance, so due diligence is recommended.

We are aware of two examples in which penalties were particularly acute, with one landlord in Brent, Greater London, being fined £30,000 plus costs for letting an undersized room.

Meanwhile, another landlord in the West Midlands was fined £180,000 for letting four unlicensed HMOs.

But by no means should the legislation result in panic; if you are unsure or think you might be responsible for an HMO, the best course of action is to seek professional advice at the first opportunity and tackle the issue head on.

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