The Service Manager for the Private Housing Sector, the Service Manager for Development Management and the Team Leader for Neighbourhood Enforcement attended for the item on Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) and Licensing.
The Service Manager for the Private Housing Sector provided an overview of how teams within Bristol City Council worked to manage Houses of Multiple Occupancy. The provided report contained information on property licensing, enforcement on both licensed and unlicensed HMOs, planning controls, and related issues such as waste and noise. The number of HMOs in Bristol had risen since 2011, with an impact on the private rented sector and local communities. As a result the Council had introduced measures to improve standards in property licensing and new planning controls through Article 4 and the recent SPD. These were not interdependent, which could give the impression that work was not joined up. Officers noted that the impact of these measures may take time to demonstrate. Both Planning and Housing teams were willing to work together in sharing data and improving standards.
Members were invited to ask questions.
Members asked whether core cities and the LGA had been engaged on this as a national issue. Officers confirmed this had been brought to the Core Cities Private Housing Group which recognised this as a common problem but noted some concern over whether there would be unintended consequences in linking Planning and Licensing.
Members queried why enforcement in property appeared to be treated more leniently than other types of fine incurring behaviours. Officers stated that enforcement action within housing resources had to be focused on the worst offenders. However, landlords were frequently taken to court where necessary and a recent example was provided. There was a delay in the court process at the time. Tenants also had their own recourse, and Bristol City Council would support and encourage tenants with rent repayment orders. Unlicensed landlords could not evict tenants.
Members noted the points raised in the Public Forum statements around enforcement and whether the team was sufficiently resourced. Officers provided a breakdown of the resources available and focus; prioritisation was given to statutory obligations. One of the benefits of increasing the number of licensed properties was ensuring that landlords were identifiable and therefore faster action could be taken.
The property licencing scheme was cost neutral and was accounted and paid for through licensing enforcement, but could not be used for other funded activities.
Members asked for clarification of enforcement powers, particularly around identifying responsibility for, for example, waste issues in rented properties. Officers stated that responsibility lies with the actions of the individual; the person who deposited waste is responsible, but once a tenant moves out the landlord is obliged to address the waste where it is necessary to do so.
Members asked for Officers thoughts on what would be welcomed to help empower the teams addressing the issues. Officers suggested that a simplification of the existing legislative framework in order to enable action to be taken at speed would be beneficial.
Members asked how much of the funds generated through fines would be returned to Bristol City Council. These funds would not be returned to Bristol City Council once the case had proceeded through Courts. However, a new power under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 allowed for civil penalties that applied to property licensing and income was ringfenced for enforcement activities.
Members asked how many times the enforcement power listed under paragraphs 22.4-22.7 (enforcement) and 23.10 (EPA) had been utilised. Officers agreed to provide this information.
Members noted the valid points raised through the Public Forum statements. Officers agreed to review these and provide comments.
The Chair suggested that the topic be reconsidered for Scrutiny in a future municipal year. This was noted. It is not confined to a student issue.
The Officers were particularly thanked for a thorough report and comprehensive responses to Public Forum.
RESOLVED; That Officers provide information on how many times the recommendations and powers listed under paragraphs 22.4-22.7 (and 23.10 (EPA) have been utilised; and
That Officers comment on the Public Forum Statements related to the HMO item.