Interpretation of housing act crucial

THE Observer’s recent article on the new licensing scheme for Houses in Multi-Occupation (HMO) only scratched the surface of the problems that will inevitably result from Hastings Borough Council’s questionable interpretation of the Act.

The legislation was brought in specifically to help combat the negative impact that the proliferation of bedsits and hostels has had on local communities, but it appears that - rather than using the legislation for its intended purpose - Hastings Borough Council (HBC) sees the licensing scheme primarily as an opportunity to generate as much income as possible, regardless of the adverse consequences for both local residents and the local economy.

In the next few weeks, hundreds of people who have owned properties that have previously been treated as self-contained flats will be shocked to discover that they will now have to pay an HMO ‘license fee’ (somewhere in the region of £1,000) or face the prospect of a £20,000 fine.

This is because HBC has chosen to used a ‘controversial’ definition of what constitutes a house in multi-occupation, which allows it to classify any house converted into self-contained flats before 1991 as an HMO.

Regrettably, the council has made no attempt whatsoever to warn anyone of its intentions (its website even had the wrong address for HMO enquiries until very recently) and the people affected will have no alternative to either paying this fee or evicting their existing tenants and trying to sell the individual flats - reducing the amount of affordable rented accommodation that the council insists it wants to increase.

It is alarming that Hastings is only local authority in the country that has chosen to exempt anything that it considers to be ‘social housing’ from any HMO planning constraints whatsoever.

I fear that this is a potentially toxic combination - of inadequate planning controls and an overwhelming desire to generate as much income as possible – that will have a damaging effect on the future prosperity of the town. Undermining the confidence of potential investors and making Hastings into one of the very few places in the country where property speculators will be allowed to set up any type of HMO (with almost complete disregard for the negative impact it may have on the local community or economy) provided they are prepared to pay the council the required licensing fee.

LEE ALLANE

De Cham Avenue

St Leonards