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Since October 2018, a new space standard with room size specifications was introduced, to provide more spacious, healthier sleeping environments.
A person (child over the age of 10 years or adult) had to have a minimum of 6.51 square metres, whereas a room big enough for 2 people over 10 years old had to have at least 10.22 square metres. A child of less than 10 years could sleep in a box room of at least 4.64 square metres.
These room size specifications would seem quite generous to some home-owners, but as they provide their own accommodation, they can allow their own space standards. The private landlord however is in a different position.
All landlords must ensure that they keep to the room size specifications laid down. This had caused concern to landlords, particularly with Houses in Multiple Occupation HMOs). Should a tenant have a baby overnight, they could become over-crowded and fail to comply with the space standard. Government have consulted with landlords and now published guidance that would indicate that the local authority would not take action against a landlord in these circumstances.
That may have set the minds of some landlords at rest, not wishing to seem hard-hearted by needing to evict a new mum and her baby because the space standard has not been met. Many mothers would be quite happy for the baby to sleep in the same room for a period of time, often up to a year and would not consider it overcrowding where this occurs.
However, as Houses in Multiple Occupation have been specifically mentioned, let us consider the situation. The mother will not have wanted to have a baby in what may amount to a bedsit with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. These are not ideal facilities in which to bring a new-born baby.
The landlord is satisfied that they will not be prosecuted for room size overcrowding and has no wish to harass the young woman. The same may not be said of the other tenants. They find their sleep disturbed by a crying baby. The mother is taking more than her share of bathroom time. Shared areas have prams and buggies taking up space. They may threaten to leave.
The landlord, whilst being patient, realises that a room for one is not adequate for mother and baby so gives her legal notice to leave. The tenant reports to Homeless Services, to be told she is not homeless until the Bailiff’s have actually evicted her. The Homeless Prevention Team then ring the landlord and ask them to withdraw the notice, as the new mother will not get any priority unless she goes into a mother and baby hostel. She may prefer to live in overcrowded but independent conditions than enter what she may perceive as a prison-like environment.
So, were the new room size guidelines to reassure landlords or a means of delaying an increase in the numbers presenting as homeless?
Houses in Multiple Occupation with shared facilities may not be the preferred housing option for some, but it is for others. Make sure tenancy agreements state the accommodation is for one person only; anything more than that must be for a limited period only. Discuss with your pregnant tenants what they see their longer-term plan as; remember, if you can accommodate this tenant in a 2-bed property, you are likely to get a very grateful tenant. That doesn’t always mean a necessarily good tenant, but it might.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon