February 27, 2024 12:01 pm

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Nikka Sulton

A council in Belfast is urging individuals looking for rental properties to be mindful of the necessity for a proper license when considering shared accommodations designated as houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs).

In adherence to existing regulations, the Belfast council emphasizes that all HMOs within the city boundaries must undergo the licensing process to guarantee safety, high-quality standards, and efficient management. This regulatory measure has been in effect since 2019, requiring landlords overseeing HMOs to obtain a license from the local council for renting to multiple tenants. The only exception to this requirement is if a temporary exemption notice is currently in effect. This initiative aims to enhance the overall safety and living standards for tenants in shared rental spaces across the city.

Landlords are obligated to obtain an individual and valid license for each House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) they own, marking a crucial aspect of property management.

Councillor Gary McKeown, serving as the chair of Belfast council’s licensing committee, underscores the necessity for prospective renters, be they students or others considering shared living arrangements, to diligently verify the licensing status of potential rental options.

The possession of a valid HMO license signifies that the property has undergone a comprehensive assessment by the council. This evaluation ensures that the facilities within the property are well-suited for the number of individuals residing in it. The overarching goal is to provide tenants with safe, secure, and comfortable accommodation.

The HMO licensing process serves as a mechanism to uphold certain standards and criteria, ensuring that properties falling under this category meet specified requirements. Additionally, it places an onus on landlords to fulfill their obligations towards their tenants. In instances where landlords deviate from these standards, the licensing framework provides a structured avenue for reporting such deviations. This reporting mechanism contributes to maintaining accountability within the rental property sector, fostering a safer and more secure living environment for tenants.

Ensuring a property’s licensing status is a hassle-free and no-cost procedure. You can easily check this by visiting the council’s website at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/nihmo and entering the property address in the HMO license register.

The landscape of HMO licensing underwent a significant shift in 2019 with the implementation of the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (NI) 2016. This legislation transferred the authority for overseeing HMO licensing to local councils. In the context of Belfast, the council now serves as the regulatory body responsible for HMOs on behalf of all 11 councils encompassing the city area.

This centralized approach streamlines the process, making it more accessible and efficient for individuals seeking information about the licensing status of properties. By utilizing the online HMO license register, tenants and property seekers can ascertain whether a given property meets the necessary criteria set by the council. This initiative aligns with the broader goal of enhancing transparency and ensuring that properties adhere to established regulations, contributing to a safer and more accountable housing environment.

According to the regulations, landlords with an existing HMO licence must submit a re-application before the expiry of their current licence. Failure to do so will result in the application being treated as new and subject to consideration by elected members at the council’s licensing committee.

Councils also retain the authority to impose additional conditions when granting an HMO licence. They are responsible for ensuring compliance with these conditions throughout the duration of the licence and possess the power to enforce action in specific circumstances.

Councillor McKeown emphasizes that the council has clearly outlined the licensing process, which involves assessing proposed management arrangements for properties, evaluating existing HMOs in the area to prevent over-provision, and ensuring compliance with relevant building control and planning approvals. Additionally, council officers have developed guidance to assist landlords in managing instances of anti-social behavior.

In Belfast, the council’s local development plan outlines that within specified Housing Management Areas (HMAs), planning permission for HMOs and/or flats/apartments will only be approved if the total number of combined HMOs and flats/apartments does not exceed 20 per cent of all dwelling units in the HMA.

In areas not designated as HMAs, planning permission for HMOs will only be granted if the resulting number of HMOs does not exceed 10 per cent of all dwelling units on the respective road or street.


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