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Reading Borough Council could impose additional rules on the town’s buy-to-let landlords who run homes of multiple occupation (HMOs) in a bid to improve them for tenants.

A recent study of housing conditions by the council has demonstrated issues with HMOs including anti-social behaviour, poorer living conditions, and waste collection issues.

Currently, landlords that have HMOs of five people or more require a licence, which dictates that a gas safety certificate must be submitted to the council annually; smoke alarms must be installed and maintained; and safety certificates for all electrical appliances must be available upon request.

A policy change could see these rules being imposed on smaller HMOs of between three or four people live, which was discussed by the council’s housing neighbourhood and leisure committee.

According to council statistics, there are around 3,000 homes of multiple occupation (HMOs) in the borough.

Councillor Ellie Emberson (Labour, Coley), the lead councillor for housing said: “We all get housing casework from those that are struggling with a housing situation, and the fact of the matter is that the private sector is broken in this country, and in Reading rent is extortionate.

“We want good landlords; we want high-quality accommodation across the town and this [imposing HMO rules] will help with what we are doing.”

Cllr Emberson said licensing schemes can be difficult and costly to implement, and any such scheme would need to be implemented correctly.

“HMOs are a viable and realistic option for many people in this town, and they serve a very valuable service as part of the make-up of places that people choose to live in,” added Councillor Karen Rowland (Labour, Abbey).

“However, HMOs should never be a place where people suffer, where people are not living in a place that is safe, in a place that is not perhaps rife of anti-social behaviour on other floors or areas of the house, because that leads to a poor health outcome for every resident.”

Councillor Sarah Hacker (Independent, Battle) sympathised with residents who cannot afford rent.

She also raised fears that buy-to-let landlords are selling homes leading to fewer properties being available.

James Crosbie, the assistant director of planning, replied that while reports of buy-to-let properties are concerning, HMOs had been maintained at a ‘stable number’.

When the previous housing ‘Stock Condition Report’ was conducted in 2013, there were roughly 2,500 HMOs, which has risen to about 3,000 in the latest report.

He stated that some landlords are getting out of the buy-to-let market, more portfolio landlords who have several properties would be more likely to pick up HMOs that may have been sold.

At their meeting held on Thursday, February 22, the committee decided to launch a consultation into imposing an additional and selective licensing scheme covering smaller HMOs.

Once completed, an HMO licensing policy will be devised. This will also be subject to consultation.

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