An analysis revealed that approximately 160,000 individuals are residing in concealed, frequently cramped, and potentially hazardous bedsit-style housing throughout England.
According to data gathered by local authorities, there are approximately 32,000 unlicensed HMOs in existence. These properties are estimated to house around 159,340 tenants, who are typically attracted by lower rental prices during times of financial strain.
The situation may be severe, with instances of over 10 individuals using one bathroom, unsanitary surroundings, and inadequate safety measures in case of a fire.
Landlords have increased their loans in order to put money into HMOs since 2018. A landlord who rents to one family can anticipate receiving 5% of the property’s worth in rent each year, while a licensed HMO usually brings in around 7.5%, and sometimes even 10%. Profits from unlicensed bedsits are expected to be even greater, as landlords can fit more tenants and are not required to follow licensing regulations.
The examination of the increase in “bedsit Britain” is a component of The Guardian’s Living Hell series, which centers on the private rental sector.
According to data from local authorities reported to the government from 2011 to 2022, the projected amount of larger hidden sleeping quarters – ones that can house over five individuals who are not related and share communal bathrooms and kitchens – has risen by 46% in the last decade in England.
Unlicensed shared properties lack monitoring of occupancy rates, fire safety protocols, and overall living conditions.
Rephrased: In England, a license is needed for large HMOs, while smaller ones only need a license in select regions. Based on recent estimates, there are over 367,000 smaller bedsits in England, with a population of at least 1 million.
According to the Guardian’s investigation, Southend in Essex has over 670 unregistered bedsits that have gone unnoticed by the council’s housing enforcement team. This year, two landlords were charged for running unlicensed HMOs, revealing the lucrative gains from overcrowding individuals in poorly kept properties.
A single landlord collected a monthly sum of over £5,800 from 18 tenants for 11 rooms in an unsanitary, rodent-ridden ex-hotel that lacked a functional kitchen, had unusable toilets, a defective gas supply, clogged drains, and partially obstructed fire exits.
A different property owner received £5,480 each month for a property that was infested with mold, had too many people living in it, lacked proper heating, and had cooking appliances placed near sofas. The property had 11 rooms and was occupied by 16 adults and five children, with some families having to share a single room.
The local government of Southend reported an observed rise in the quantity of HMOs within the coastal town. Enforcement officers are diligently checking for proper planning approval and compliance with housing regulations.
Haringey, in north London, which has issued 43 fines to landlords running unlicensed HMOs since May 2021, said officers were uncovering accommodation where three or four people, or sometimes whole families, shared a single room.
According to Sarah Williams, Haringey’s housing cabinet member, it is not uncommon for couples with babies to be living in single rooms within HMOs. This is a source of frustration and anger, and she believes that the government needs to step in to regulate and control the rental market.
The area, with a population of approximately 22,000 and 5,000 HMOs, has experienced a rise in HMO conversions. In the past year, there was an almost 20% surge in planning applications to convert single-family homes into HMOs, exceeding the average of the previous five years.
Williams stated that landlords who typically made agreements with the council to offer temporary housing for the homeless are now transitioning to the private HMO sector to capitalize on increased rental rates. She expressed concern that this trend is making it difficult for them to compete in the market.
Despite implementing planning restrictions to prevent the spread of HMOs, many areas in the country are still experiencing the loss of family homes.
According to Nigel Wicks, a professional who conducts inquiries and attends planning meetings for various councils in the country, certain developers proceed with their projects even without authorization and continue to do so regardless of obtaining approval. He stated, “In situations where the potential gains are significant compared to the initial investment, developers have the upper hand and local planning authorities find it difficult to keep pace.”
He often witnessed individuals, including young ones, residing in inadequate living conditions. “Just last week, I visited a building that was supposed to be a three-bedroom house for a family, but instead was divided into nine separate units, three of which were in the basement with no natural light… One unit, which was smaller than 30 square meters and had a ceiling height of less than 2 meters, was occupied by a couple with a child,” he stated.
The market for HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) has grown significantly in recent years. According to UK Finance, an industry organization for banks, the amount of loans for purchasing HMOs has more than doubled from £310m in 2018 to £683m in 2022.
The department responsible for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities has expressed its commitment to addressing the issue of unscrupulous landlords. They have implemented measures to assist local authorities in effectively dealing with unlicensed HMOs, including the introduction of civil penalties of up to £30,000 and the ability to order rent repayments for a variety of violations.