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National HMO Lobby



It’s good to discourage
A reduced concentration of HMOs is welcome
Dr Richard Tyler
Inside Housing 8 September 2006, p14

The articles 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 are concentrated.
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


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