Figures show that HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupancy) are now the second largest rental sector in the UK with some 4.3 million households taking advantage of this low cost housing option, including many visitors from overseas. Although HMOs are a smart solution for many, they are open to abuse and, the police authority is now calling for information sharing to help keep tabs on this growing sector.
A growing population - a growing concern
In recent years, the number of people seeking accommodation in HMOs has grown significantly. Unfortunately, this has led to some unscrupulous landlords seeking to make a profit from over-crowded properties such as the beds in sheds scandal whereby landlords exploit housing benefit recipients by cramming a large number of tenants into substandard properties. As bad as this is, it’s not the biggest problem when it comes to HMOs. Although most landlords are extremely proactive when it comes to vetting and monitoring their tenants, there are those whose interest rarely ventures beyond their profit.
Insufficient vetting of prospective tenants can lead to problems within communities including the renting of rooms to those with criminal convictions and those on the sex offenders register. In many cases, turnover within HMOs is extremely high with tenants being replaced on a regular basis. This can cause unease for neighbours and communities who can never really be sure who is living next door to them.
Keeping our communities safe
In a bid to combat these issues, police are calling for more powers to identify and monitor HMOs within the private rental sector. The scheme will involve police working closely with landlords in order to understand who is living in these HMOs, including convicted criminals who may need to be monitored. PC Jo Pepper, of South Tyneside, says, ‘It’s all about information so we know exactly who is living in our area - what convictions they have got and where they’re living so I know if I need to safeguard the people around them.’
The initiative will involve HMO property owners signing up to ‘Information Sharing Agreements’ (ISAs) with the police in order to monitor residents within a community. Far from victimising these landlords and tenants, the scheme seeks to identify any issues so that they can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. PC Pepper adds, ‘This also benefits HMO owners as, opening up conversations about the suitability of tenants and current residency of an HMO means that we’re not knocking on their door looking for someone who left last week.’
Making landlords accountable
Council bosses in South Tyneside are now set to discuss making ISAs mandatory for HMO landlords to reduce the amount of red tape that police currently face when requesting to inspect an HMO property.
If set in place, new legislation on information sharing within the HMO sector will no doubt be welcomed by councils and landlords nationwide as it sets to improve safety, promote transparency and, weed out those rogue landlords who are currently turning a blind eye to activity within their HMOs.