Licence to rent urged

February 10, 1995

Nearly half a million students living in the private-rented sector stand to benefit from proposals to be submitted next week by the National Union of Students to the Department of the Environment.

Last November the department issued a consultation paper which examined the case for licensing bedsits, hostels and other types of houses in multiple occupation. In its response the NUS is calling for a national and mandatory system of licensing such households, with landlords applying annually to their local authority for licenses.

According to the Campaign for Bedsit Rights, 2.6 million people live in houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), where they are 25 times more likely to be killed or injured in a fire than other people. Sophie Talbot, campaign worker, said: "Three people die every week in fires in HMOs, and just under 60 a week are injured."

The Government estimates that carbon monoxide from faulty gas appliances kills between 30 and 40 people every year, but the campaign puts this figure at nearer to one a week. "Carbon monoxide is known as the 'great imitator' because it can easily look as if someone has died from something else, such as a heart attack," says Ms Talbot.

The NUS argues that licensing, which would require the landlord and the property to meet strict criteria, would prevent such deaths. The Campaign for Bedsit Rights goes further in its submission, calling for the licensing of the entire private-rented sector.

Concern was inflated with the death last month of two students in the West Midlands from carbon monoxide poisoning. Also a private landlord in Nottingham was fined Pounds 32,000 and ordered to pay costs of nearly Pounds 25,000 after two recent graduates died from carbon monoxide poisoning in one of his properties in 1993.

Under regulations that came into force on October 31 last year, landlords now have to have gas appliances serviced annually and provide proof of this to the tenant. After January next year any gas appliances put in or replaced in rooms where people sleep must be fitted with a device that automatically shuts off the appliance once it leaks.

The Health and Safety Executive now runs a gas safety action line - 0800 300363 - for anyone concerned about a gas appliance.

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