Some key changes in the way HMOs are operated are forthcoming in Northern Ireland.
Currently the legislation governing HMOs is part IV of the The Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1992. This is being amended by some new and proposed legislation.
The first change is being made by the Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 which was passed on 13 April 2010, although it has yet to come into force. The new Act makes a small amendment to the 1992 Order in order to clarify the definition of HMO. Currently the definition of an HMO in article 75(1) states that:
house in multiple occupation” means a house occupied by more than 2 qualifying persons, being persons who are not all members of the same family.
The change amends article 75(1) to make clear that the definition of family is to include “uncle, aunt, nephew and niece”. Apparently this is to recognise that members of an extended family increasingly live under the same roof while still forming one household.
The second change is proposed as part of the consultation on the Draft Regeneration and Housing Bill. Much of the bill is of little interest to the PRS. However, the key alteration is to who deals with the setting of HMO standards and creation of schemes. Currently the Housing Executive is required to prepare and submit a scheme to the DSDNI for its approval. This power is now to be devolved to individual councils. This will allow for HMO schemes to be tailored by each council to their individual needs but has the downside, which has been evident in England & Wales of massive differences between individual local authorities. This may be reduced by the fact that the DSDNI has to approve each scheme but there is the danger that disputes over the contents of different Council schemes will lead to a raft of wasteful litigation. These issues do not appear to have been addressed at all in the consultation document.
This consultation is available for responses until 26 April 2010.