Risks and responsibilities of managing student HMOs in Cambridge

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Housing Audit Services Ltd

This guidance note has been produced by Housing Audit Services Ltd, a Cambridge based housing and health consultancy. Richard Lord, the director is a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner and member of the Fire Protection Association.

Risks and responsibilities of managing student HMOs in Cambridge

Renting a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) to a group of University students, for example in Cambridge should be a reasonably straightforward process that can generate you some extra income. The vast majority of rented student properties are reasonably well managed, unfortunately a few are less well managed.

Landlords who only have one or two rental HMO’s may not be fully aware of the responsibilities and risks they run of not following the rules. It may only take an innocent mistake due to a lack of knowledge by a generally responsible landlord or manager to end up with the Council investigating a complaint or incident and enforcing the regulations in Court.

If you rent out a house as a HMO, issue the tenancies and collect rent you will need to make sure that you comply with the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006. It is very important to make sure that whoever manages the property is aware of the management regulations as ignorance is no defence. The manager may be a different person to the owner.

There have been some notable prosecutions of HMO managers who have failed to comply with the management regulations and have been given substantial fines by Cambridge Magistrates

One particular case happened in March 2013. An inexperienced Cambridge HMO manager was fined £6,000.00 following a serious near fatal fire where six university students were living. The two storey house had insufficient shared facilities, there was inadequate coverage of smoke alarms, no fire doors a partially blocked fire esacpe route and the house was badly arranged with a bedroom off the off the kitchen.

The cause of the fire was due to clothes drying on an electric convector heater in a bedroom. All the students escaped, but one had to jump through first floor window and was badly injured.

This could have been avoided if the manager had taken some advice or been properly trained, and thought about fire safety. The manager did not regularly inspect the property because he didn’t realise he had to and did not display his details in a prominent position in the property. He had not assessed the fire risks properly as he didn’t know that he had to,  nor how to. There was very nearly a fire death, and the house was badly damaged.

The manager had no defence to give and pleaded guilty at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court in September 2013. The Magistrates‘ gave the manger 12 months to pay the fine at £500.00 per month.

This is an extreme case of how things can go badly wrong due to lack of knowledge and understanding of the management regulations. The manager was simply unaware of his responsibilities.

How to get it right and demonstrate good management.

It is reasonably straightforward to comply with the regulations and if you keep proper written records of the checks then it will be easier to defend yourself against a tenants complaint or Council investigation.

If you can demonstrate satisfactory management the local council may inspect the property less frequently if they are confident in the standard. You could join the Cambridge City Council property accreditation scheme. Regular management checks and thorough record keeping can help demonstrate good management for example.

  • Clearly displaying the managers name address and phone number in the hallway
  • Monthly test of the fire alarm system to make sure it rings and is loud enough
  • Checking that the fire doors are not propped open, closers removed or have been damaged by the tenants.
  • Monthly checks of the shared areas for cleanliness e,g. kitchen and bathroom
  • Clearing away any build-up of flammable materials in the hallway or shared cupboards e.g junk mail, cardboard and tins of paint etc.
  • Checking to see if the tenants are overloading plug sockets outlets with extension socket board adaptors
  • Every time you undertake a routine inspection of the property it is good practise to make a written record, and retain emails sent to the tenants reminding them of problems you found. .

Housing Audit Services Ltd has produced a housebook that managers can use to keep all the records to show to the Council officer if they call to inspect the house. We can also provide regular HMO management audits to advise managers on best practise and also undertake health and safety and fire safety risk assessments.

If you need some advice or to discuss your individual needs please contact Richard@housingauditservices.co.uk or tel 07963-862-097