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Housing occupancy in firing line

Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Editor, Politics Show South

HMOs are often blamed for antisocial behaviour and litter

The government recently announced plans to crack down on HMOs - Houses in Multiple Occupation.

Under the new legislation any house of more than three stories and with more than three people who are not related or partners will have to be licensed.

HMOs are often filled with students or migrant workers, and get accused of antisocial behaviour.

But will these new powers actually cause problems with affordable housing?

Hidden numbers

According to a 2008 survey of local authorities there are more than 38,000 HMOs across the UK, with 5,489 of those in the South East.

But those are figures for licensed properties, and based on the current, less stringent, criteria.

And since it is estimated that there are 23,000 properties which should be licensed even under the old system but are not, the reality is probably far higher than those figures suggest.

The government held a consultation last year over what needed to be done as regards HMOs and 95% of the respondents said they had experienced problems with them, most usually litter or antisocial behaviour.

In many areas the issue can be over student accommodation. But the worry is that tightening the rules and cutting the availability of cheap rented accommodation will hit the homeless, young people and key workers.

Concerns have also been raised as to whether this would be using the planning system to decide where certain types of people can and cannot live.

Could it become a nimby's charter and stop conversion to multiple occupancy where such cheap accommodation is sorely needed?

Raising standards

Part of the rationale for tightening the rules is to improve the quality of the accommodation.

Sandy Singleton lost everything in the recession and is living here in an HMO in Weymouth until she gets on back her feet.

"One house that I saw was absolutely disgusting. Just walking up the stairs was probably five years worth of dirt and dust in the hall and the stair way.

Sandy Singleton
Sandy Singleton: some HMOs better than others

"The room was tiny and filthy, they had not even cleaned it before I saw it. They expected me to move in and do that and I would have to pay £100 a week.

"Some landlords don't respect us as tenants but if you live in a dump you will treat it like one, you won't want to make it nice."

Clearly there is a need for better regulation of multiple occupancy housing, but has the government got it right, or will these new rules just cause problems in other ways?

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