OXFORD City Council is to become the first in the country to adopt new licensing powers to control houses of multiple occupation (HMOs).

The scheme, which could cost £591,931 a year to run, will apply across the city with every HMO, apart from certain self-contained flats, needing a licence.

Oxford has one of the highest number of HMOs in the country – about 5,000 – and for years east Oxford residents have complained about the conversion of family homes into flats.

Since 2006, the council has licensed large three-storey HMOs that contain five or more tenants. More than 600 licences have been issued.

In January, then housing minister John Healey announced the new powers on a visit to Oxford, and today John Denham, shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, is visiting the city to discuss the initiative with councillors.

Joe McManners, the council’s executive member for housing, said: “Residents told us that the council needed to do more to control the impact of HMOs and we’ve listened to what they’ve had to say.

“We’ve tried using all our existing powers but they haven’t been enough to make the difference that’s needed.

“We believe that additional licensing will provide us with those extra powers and that it will have a positive impact.”

Council spokesman Louisa Dean said properties where three or more unrelated people shared facilities would require licences.

Jan Bartlett, owner of Cowley Road firm Premier Letting, said the cost of running the scheme could be prohibitive if some landlords failed to pay licence fees. She urged the council to save money by using a team of letting agents to police it, instead of hiring new staff.

She added: “The scheme will be difficult to police and bad landlords just won’t sign up.”

In 2005, the House Condition Survey reported that HMOs provided the poorest homes in the city and that 70 per cent were “unsafe”.

Mr McManners said the aim was to improve the living conditions for tenants of HMOs, as they were the worst accommodation in the city.

He said: “We also want all landlords to take greater responsibility for managing their properties, and ensure that the houses they own don’t blight our neighbourhoods with rubbish and anti-social behaviour.”

He added: “Our experience with licensing the larger three-storey properties has been very positive and the council is looking forward to forging closer working relationships with good landlords, creating a level playing field for them, and improving the reputation of the private rented sector in Oxford.

“The scheme will be funded through the licence fees, so there will be no extra cost to council taxpayers.”

An annual licensing system is being adopted, with an inspection being carried out before the first licence is issued. Landlords who try to avoid licensing their houses will face fines.

The new licensing scheme was approved by the council’s executive on Thursday and will come into force on October 25, subject to approval of financial arrangements.

The initial fee for a three-storey HMO and two-storey HMOs with five occupants, is £470, plus £20 for each extra room. Thereafter, an annual fee of £172 is payable.

fore more details, see the council's website.