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It’s good to discourage
A reduced concentration of HMOs is welcome
Dr Richard Tyler
Inside Housing 8 September 2006, p14
in last week’s Inside Housing on the licensing of
houses in multiple occupation were an invaluable source of information
on the present state of play in HMO licensing. It is easy to see
why fees vary, when the overhead cost is spread over only 43 properties
in Dartford compared with an estimated 8,000 in Leeds.
However, many of the criticisms of the licensing regime by landlords
and others were disingenuous at best.
HMOs certainly do provide low-rent accommodation for some vulnerable
groups – there are many "whose only option is to rent".
But, as the feature implies, the fact is that the great majority
are let at high rents to middle-class students. In the field of
housing, this is a double liability and the last thing we want is
for this particular segment of the private rented sector to be any
more 'buoyant'. What’s ‘healthy’ for the private
rented sector is distinctly unhealthy for local communities and
society at large.
First of all, it is ruinous to the communities affected. Whole areas
in many university towns are now overwhelmed by student HMOs. It
is now recognised nationally that social problems rise and sustainability
declines. The Department for Communities and Local Government, for
instance, in its recent report Dealing with problem private
rented housing, included student concentrations among the problems.
And higher education lobby group Universities UK earlier this year
published the report Studentification
and a 47 point checklist for tackling it.
Secondly, this segment of the private rented sector siphons off
family housing into the second-home market, at the expense of home-seekers.
In Leeds, for instance, thousands of houses have been converted
to student HMOs, while 500 families remain homeless, and another
5,000 are over-crowded. A recent report by Direct Line forecast
that 100,000 second homes would be bought by students’ parents
by 2010. But this doesn’t include all the hundreds of thousands
of students HMOs already owned by landlords, which are also de facto
second homes. Proliferation of second homes is the last thing the
country needs in a situation of housing shortage.
The National HMO Lobby, which comprises 40 community groups in 30
towns around the UK, was set up in response to such issues. It has
campaigned against concentrations of HMOs for many years, for just
these reasons. Licensing is invaluable to protect vulnerable tenants,
students and others. But if it also reduces concentrations of HMOs,
by encouraging landlords to leave the market (and discouraging parents
from joining it), then it is doubly welcome. In fact, members of
the Lobby will be pressing their local authorities to extend the
licensing regime, as is provided for by the Housing Act 2004.
We shall advocate that councils follow Southampton's declared policy,
and introduce additional HMO licensing, covering all HMOs (not only
those with five occupants and three storeys) in areas where they
Dr Richard Tyler is Co-ordinator of the National HMO Lobby
The article is a 'Comment' on Keith Cooper, 'Multiple
Concerns' Inside Housing 1 September 2006, pp16-18
National HMO Lobby