LANDLORDS of an estimated 2,775 houses in Reading are potentially breaking the law after the council revealed just 8 per cent of houses in multiple occupation (HMO) signed up to new government legislation.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has received applications from just 225 of the estimated 3,000 properties that now require an HMO licence, despite ‘regular and targeted’ local communication.

The new government rules, introduced in October, mean that all private rented properties that house five or more people and forms two or more households require a licence.

The legislation has introduced minimum room sizes and removes the rule that only houses of three storeys or more need a licence.

Councillor John Ennis, lead member for Housing, said the number of landlords that had signed up was significantly lower than projected.

The low uptake means a significant proportion of landlords in the private rented sector are operating unlawfully and tenants are living in properties that have not been inspected.

Standards at these properties could fall and they would have no licence conditions requiring them to improve.

The council has received anecdotal information suggesting some landlords have reduced the number of tenants from five to four to avoid licensing and some have sold their properties.

Other landlords may have not signed up because their properties now fall outside the licensing definition: if they had five bedrooms but one was undersized and is now prohibited from use.

However, the report from Alison Bell, director of environment and neighbourhood services, states: “Notwithstanding this, the number of applications received falls well short of the required level.

“Discussion with colleagues from other local authorities indicates that they are also experiencing lower numbers of applications than expected.”

RBC ignored the government’s decision not to allow a grace period, giving landlords until January 31 to submit their applications.

All landlords that have failed to meet the deadline face enforcement action, with the deadline to sign up to the new statutory licence passing over a month ago.

The latest situation will be discussed at the Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure committee on March 13.

Councillor Rob White highlighted the issue at January’s Policy committee, asked Cllr Ennis for housing what kind of enforcement the council would take after January 31.

Cllr Ennis said the council would consider adding further legislation for the ‘tiny minority’ of landlords that ‘skirt around and avoid the new licensing legislation'’.