The Northern Ireland Executive is having a consulatation on the reform of HMO legislation in Northern Ireland. The legislation in NI has been subject to small changes over the last few years but has not seen the kind of wholesale consideration that has occurred in England & Wales and Scotland. In addition a previous Judicial Review curtailed the operation of previous schemes quite substantially. The Executive now appears to wish to correct this by having a total review of the legislation. This consultation is quite interesting as it has carefully considered the good and bad points of legislation in Scotland and England and Wales and so the solutions adopted by the Executive will be worth watching elsewhere.

The proposals are significant and far reaching. Among the topics for discussion are:

  • How an HMO should be defined. Following the detailed and prescriptive English mode, or the more relaxed Scottish model. The English model has been highlighted as complicated, a frequent source of complaint.
  • Whether self-contained flats should be classed as HMOs in a similar manner as s257 HMOs in England.
  • What conditions should be used to decide whether to grant a licence. In particular the disjunction between HMO licensing and planning in England is noticed. This means that an HMO licence must still be granted even where an individual does not have the appropriate planning consent to operate their property as an HMO.
  • Whether there should be a process of HMO registration, that is a log of HMOs, or whether they should be licensed, that is they cannot be operated as an HMO without the authorisation.
  • The level of fees and whether a higher penalty fee is appropriate where an individual only applies for a licence having been caught by the local authority.
  • What sort of enforcement if unlicensed HMOs should exist and even whether there should be an external sign on a licensed HMO, rather like a vehicle excise disc.

These are only some of the questions. The decisions made and how well they work will be interesting and may inform future decisions in England, Wales, and Scotland. The consulatation is open for comment until 28 September.