'Charlatan' landlords and banning zones - call to tackle problem HMOs in South Tyneside after increase in complaints

A shake-up of licensing rules in South Tyneside could help tackle issues around Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), a councillor has claimed.

By Chris Binding
Thursday, 25 July, 2019, 11:45
Councillor Ernest Gibson

In recent months, South Tyneside Council’s Place Select Committee launched a commission into issues around HMOs in the borough.

Concerns included growing numbers living in shared flats and houses and possible links to antisocial behaviour.

While the project is still gathering evidence, it has found poor support is available for some vulnerable people in the private rented sector.

South Shields Town Hall

Committee chairman, Coun Ernest Gibson, said HMO licence powers should be beefed up to keep landlords in check.

This includes more regular reviews for HMO licences – which currently last for five years – and extra inspections.

“What if there are stop gaps with the council coming every six weeks or six months and so many checks in that period – as once landlords get in, they can do anything they want,” he said.

“Do you not think five years for a licence is too long? We could bring in a policy in or recommend it to cabinet where you have to renew it every year, or 18 months.

“We do have some excellent landlords but on the other hand, we have ones who are charlatans.”

Operation manager for housing strategy on the council, Anna Milner, admitted the council be more proactive in checking HMOs – but was limited by resource.

She added council housing inspections were often the result of complaints from residents or neighbours.

Banning zones mooted

During the meeting, the committee also discussed the work of other local authorities in the UK and their attempts to tackle HMO issues.

This included buying and converting rundown bedsits into family homes and banning one-bed properties in “intervention areas.”

In the views of many councillors, issues around HMOs in South Tyneside needed to be tackled from multiple angles.

Coun David Francis said that the council should avoid “displacement” in any future HMO policy with a focus on “social housing, rather than social cleansing”.

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“I’m keen to see what has been done elsewhere in terms of moving those people into accommodation that is more appropriate,” he said.

While Gladys Hobson said solutions to HMO issues boil down to “support and supervision”.

Coun Wilf Flynn also asked if councillors could play a more active role in inspecting properties

However officers said any such change, if approved, would be subject to extra training and risk assessments.

Increase in complaints

South Tyneside Council has already agreed to write a ‘hostel and HMO strategy’ to create a fuller picture of housing need in the borough.

Housing bosses have also admitted they have seen an increase in complaints about HMOS.

However, further investigation is needed to find out if is linked to an improved complaints system or a increasing problem.

Coun Anne Hetherington added the council had to “look outside the box” to tackle issues going forward.

“We do have to look at whether we are at saturation point with HMOs in South Tyneside and particularly areas like Beacon and Bents ward,” she said.

“In the past, we have provided policies for exclusion zones for hot food takeaways and betting shops which are all part of infrastructure, as is housing.

“We need to be looking outside the box and just because it complies with licensing and planning, we as a local authority need to ask if it is good for that area.

“We do have a flagship seafront and the 365 (regeneration) project coming through with millions of pounds spent in the town centre.

“Because it complied with planning regulations we recently agreed a new HMO for Fowler Street, it seems like we’re contradicting as we go.”

The HMO commission will hold several sessions this year before delivering its final recommendations.

This includes a meeting with landlords and residents to gather evidence and producing a ‘map’ of private HMOs in the borough.