An investigation into houses in multiple occupation (HMO) will launch in South Tyneside as part of a drive to improve housing standards and tenant safety.
HMOs refer to a house split into seperate bedsits, a shared house/flat or a hostel and under new rules, any HMO with five or more people needs a licence from the council.
South Tyneside Council’s place select committee has now met at South Shields Town Hall to discuss a report on private rented sector housing.
Despite the low number of private HMOs in the borough, the meeting heard they had a large impact due to quality and difficulties around management.
“There are responsible charities in this town who run HMOs very successfully, a big problem we have is when we have large Victorian houses which are sold off in rooms often to people with complex problems,” Coun Gladys Hobson told the committee.
“Crime rates have risen in the borough because of this and we need to find some kind of solution.“
Coun Doreen Purvis also raised concerns about vulnerable people living in HMOs who may not be receiving the right support.
“A lot of owners of these properties are not in it because they’re philanthropists, they’re in it to make money and cram as many people in as possible,” she said.
“People are warehoused in these places and left there and there isn’t any effort to move them on or move them into independent living.”
Privately rented properties are on the increase in the borough with existing issues ranging from lack of choice to landlords refusing Universal Credit claimants, the meeting heard.
The private rented sector was also listed as a huge cause of homelessness in South Tyneside with council facing challenges in supporting tenants in HMOs.
“As a local authority we don’t have a lot of powers to able to make private landlords deal with some of these issues,” operations manager for housing strategy, Anna Milner, told councillors.
“We have to go out and do more licensing but from a resource point of view, environmental health have to put additional resources into doing this.
“Although government might say we want fewer and fewer HMOs sometimes it’s all that people can afford.”
Committee chairman, Coun Audrey Mcmillan, also called for the council to monitor the HMOs through commissioned services noting issues in her ward, Beacon and Bents.
While nine providers currently deliver the services for people with vulnerable and complex needs in the borough, a small number of contracts are “not fit for purpose”, commissioning lead for health and social care, Sarah Dean explained.
One of the main challenges around HMOs included people who present with mental health issues who are not recieving support services, she added.
Going forward, the council aim to explore a new model of working which will include contracts being reviewed and enhanced partnership work to reach these vulnerable people.
While council planners can’t enforce a “blanket ban”on HMOs, permitted development rights can be withdrawn in certain areas to limit numbers.
The planned HMO commission will take place over several sessions and could start later this year.
It aims to map HMO locations in the borough and provide more information on tenants/the private sector companies linked to them.
Councillors requested that information should be provided by Northumbria Police, the council’s environmental health team and the Probation Service.
Feedback could help shape a new “integrated” council policy which is currently being developed to tackle both housing issues and homelessness in the borough.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service