What Do Minimum Room Sizes Mean For Low Income Tenants?

Tenants on a low income have it hard enough but how does minimum room sizes impact them?

Two houses in front of several stacks of coins

In 2015, it was reported that the government were looking to introduce national UK minimum room sizes which details the minimum bedroom size in private rented properties. The reasons for this would have been the rise in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and to prevent landlords splitting rooms within a property into smaller rooms to maximise rental income whilst providing affordable housing to the masses. It was proposed that HMO bedrooms would have to be at least 6.5m2. Any landlords found letting rooms smaller than these as bedrooms will be guilty of a criminal offence.

Minimum room sizes is now in force, this means that rooms used for sleeping by one adult will have to be no smaller than 6.51m2, and those slept in by two adults will have to be no smaller than 10.22m2 whilst rooms slept in by children 10 years old or younger will have to be no smaller than 4.64m2.

The Department for Government and Local Communities said;

The increased demand for HMOs has been exploited by opportunist rogue landlords, who feel the business risks for poorly managing their accommodation are outweighed by the financial rewards.

And as we can see from this, this has resulted from the actions of rogue landlords so, we should ask ourselves (and Sajid Javid), why is the entire sector being punished over the actions of a few landlords?

What does this mean for low-income tenants?

As the headline suggests, we’re addressing what this means for low-income earners living in rented accommodation. Disregarding rogue landlords who may charge upwards of £1000 per month in rent for a cupboard disguised as a bedroom; the rental value (and property value) has a direct correlation with the size of the property itself, in HMO properties, the size of the individual rooms to rent play a huge factor in the cost of rent. Many tenants, especially single females on a low income or single, non-resident parents, will opt for a much smaller room to keep costs down meaning they have more money to invest in other things, including saving up to buy their own property. By forcing landlords to have a minimum bedroom size, rather than allowing consumers (tenants) the right to choose, the government are forcing tenants into properties they do not want at rental values they cannot afford.
House on coinsCoupled with the tenant fee ban, extended HMO licensing and selective licensing, all of which push the costs of compliance higher and higher for landlords, we are set to see rents soar further as the government implement new measures to force landlords to spend more money.

We will also see the lowest income earners evicted from properties as their rents rise and as they fail to secure affordable accommodation as a result of the minimum room sizes, increased compliance cost, tenant fee bans, changes in landlord tax and lending criterias, etc, it is expected that these individuals will require social housing for which there is a massive shortage.

This means one of two things;

  • Low-income tenants will be signposted to homelessness hostels which are already struggling due to cuts in funding and often simply do not have the room available to house every homeless individually meaning hostels and shelters will prioritise those who are disabled, high risk or with high needs or have children.
  • Able-bodied, low risk, low needs, single individuals with no children will be turned away by homelessness services to live on the streets.

Brick through windowAs the lowest income earners struggle to find affordable accommodation and rents continue to rise, those on low (or no) income and benefit claimants may be forced to move out of the area, away from their jobs, families and friends. This forced isolation may lead to mental health issues, especially when we take the increased amount of street into consideration. This may result in increased anti-social behaviour.

As tenants are forced to pay more, they’ll expect more (rightfully so) which may increase the burden landlords face already when letting properties to tenants; our argument to this is that, if the landlord doesn’t want to be burdened, perhaps they should consider whether being a landlord is right for them? We recommend in this instance to either discontinue being a landlord or to employ a reputable, independent letting agent like Harry Albert Lettings & Estates to manage the property for you.

The Department for Government and Local Communities also say;

[Rogue landlords and letting agents] cause much reputational harm to the HMO market and it is often pot luck whether a vulnerable tenant ends up renting from a rogue or a good landlord.

But we disagree; whilst rogue landlords (and letting agents) can singlehandedly destroy the integrity of the industry and put tenants off the private rental sector for life, the number of rogue landlords is few compared to the majority of landlords who want to offer affordable accommodation to tenants without having to be considered a charity by discounting room rates just because a lower-income earner is unable to afford the increased rent of their new, larger room after being forced out of the room they were happy to rent previously and are still happy to rent though it is the government forcing them out. Should a larger room not be available, the landlord will be legally obliged to evict the tenant; the other option is to spend £30’000 on an extension which is subject to planning permission and may require the landlord covering the cost of temporary accommodation for the tenant whilst the work is being carried out, the cost of this extension will be reflected in all rents paid by tenants within the property because again, most landlords are not charities.

How to combat rogue landlords/letting agents?

The government has announced plans to introduce a private register of bad landlords and letting agents but this list won’t be available to the public meaning consumers will not be protected and have no way to ensure they’re not being ripped off by one of these unscrupulous individuals and organisations. We support this entirely but we strongly believe the public should have full, free and open access to the register to enable them to report rogue landlords and letting agents who continue to take part in bad practices.

We also welcome the introduction of banning orders, orders which prevent criminals from becoming letting agents or landlords and are handed out when letting agents or landlords commit the most serious of offences.

We entirely disagree, however, with increased legislation blanketing the Private Rental Sector especially when the majority of new legislation does not apply to social housing and is a result of the actions of a few bad landlords or letting agents; why are social tenants any less entitled to the same benefits as tenants who rent privately?

There is little point introducing new legislation without providing more resources to local authorities to enforce the legislation and take action against those who break the rules; especially when the rules are destined to impact the lowest income earners the most.

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