In this short article, Bill Fraser of Suscoms, which has now affiliated to the GFTRO, outlines what his organisation is active in:-
HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION (HMOs)
What is an HMO?
A House in Multiple Occupation is official-ese for rented accommodation where a number of unrelated people share the same house.
These properties are controlled by an HMO licensing system administered by the local authority; this was introduced in Glasgow in 1985 following the death of 3 students in a fire. The legislation covers health and safety but also has provision for ensuring that landlords pay towards maintenance and keep stairs and gardens tidy. There are minimum space standards for occupied rooms.
Sounds fine – what’s the problem?
Because there is a shortage of rented accommodation for single people, the number of HMOs has multiplied throughout Scotland. Originally seen as a problem in student areas, HMOs are now mushrooming in many neighbourhoods driven by demand from students as well as single immigrants.
Landlords have discovered that they can maximise income from rented accommodation by letting as an HMO – as much as three times the rent they can charge to a single family.
However, a lack of resources means that landlords often don’t apply for licences and don’t comply with safety standards. If they are caught, prosecution can take up to 18 months – if the Fiscal decides to proceed. When taken to court, sheriffs either admonish the landlord or give derisory fines. Even repeated prosecutions receive the same treatment.
How does this affect me?
HMOs form part of a community but when they become too numerous or the accommodation is of a poor standard they can disrupt the neighbourhood. Very often tenements, designed as single-family houses, are subdivided with no regard for the structure of the rest of the building. This leads to excessive noise and problems with services such as plumbing and drainage. Property prices are skewed; dwellings with an HMO licence can be worth up to £100,000 more than a similar single-family home.
In certain areas of Glasgow, unregulated property development has lead to tensions with the existing residents and difficulties in the provision of services such as schools.
You’re just a bunch of NIMBYs!
Not so – we believe in balanced communities with decent housing for all. The tenants of HMOs, very often poor and vulnerable, are caught up in a new Rachmanism where unscrupulous landlords refuse to comply with the law in pursuit of short-term gain.
The spiral of increased prices and anti-social behaviour means long-term residents leave and are replaced by more HMOs
So what can we do?
SUSCOMS (Sustainable Communities Scotland) is an informal organisation of concerned residents in Glasgow, Edinburgh & St Andrews which campaigns for specific HMO legislation at Holyrood. We have been lobbying MSPs, the Scottish Executive and giving evidence to the Communities Committee of the Scottish Parliament.
You can help by joining our campaign and asking your MSP:
Do they plan to introduce legislation in parliament to make it essential to obtain planning consent before an application for a licence for HMO use can made?
Will they so something about the 10 year rule? Illegal HMOs which escape detection for 10 years must be granted planning consent. Make proof of payment of tax the evidence required to gain planning status where 10 years of continuous use is claimed
Will they make large fines mandatory for successful prosecutions of landlords who ignore the law?
Will they undertake to look at the problems of HMOs and similar accommodation and to introduce early, specific legislation?
Will they give powers of closure to HMO officers who find that landlords persistently operate without a licence?
Will they include members of the communities most affected in any working group?
At a local level:
Lobby your community council
Complain in writing to the HMO unit of the Council, with a request to go to the Licensing Board about any HMO which is a nuisance or does not pay bills. Make sure you record all complaints and problems. Attend the licensing Board in person to speak to any objection. An objection to planning can include the difficulties of parking
Keep a record and map of all HMOs – licensed or suspected
Report any new unlicensed HMO to the Planning Department and ask for enforcement action to be taken.
SUSCOMS NEEDS YOU!
We would like to hear from anyone in Glasgow who has been affected by this problem. We need details of your experiences to help raise the profile of this issue.
Tel: 07775 832461
Fax: 0141-626 4235