View HMOs in NI and Belfast by postcode in a full screen mapBY SARAH ASHLEY-CANTELLO
MORE than 1,000 notices have been given to houses of multiple occupation in Northern Ireland for falling below official standards.
As housing chiefs consider providing more people with accommodation in the form of rooms in shared houses, figures from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), requested by The Detail, present a stark warning to people looking for such rental accommodation this autumn.
The private rented sector now accounts for one in six dwellings in Northern Ireland. ‘Houses of Multiple Occupation’ (HMOs), where tenants rent a room rather than the whole property, account for a margin of that sector. There are 6,520 houses the NIHE knows to be HMOs but it estimates that the true total is over 9,300.
HMOs are widely acknowledged to be at greater risk than single family households and it is considered necessary to monitor them for fire safety, hygiene and structural maintenance.
1,151 notices have been given to homes not up to the standards required by the 1992 Northern Ireland Housing Order and the vast majority of these (866) are within the district council of Belfast.
Housing Executive inspectors found:
• 678 HMOs were in need of work “to make good neglect of proper standards of management”.
• 466 HMOs needed work to “render premises fit for number of occupants” at the time of inspection.
• Seven houses were deemed to be “unfit for human habitation”.
The Department for Social Development (DSD) is currently undergoing a consultation into HMO housing in Northern Ireland. The Department told The Detail that the review of the regulations monitoring HMOs is “overdue”.
The consultation began July 2 2012 and the deadline for submissions is September 28 2012, it is not yet known what the outcome of the review will be.
Most students return to Belfast’s universities and colleges in October, when it is understood that the NIHE will begin a new series of inspections.THE NORTHERN IRELAND PERSPECTIVE
The NI Housing Order defines an HMO as a property occupied by “more than two persons who are not all members of the same family and for that purpose “family” includes uncle, aunt, nephew and niece.” They are typically leased to students, young people and migrant workers residing in single person households. The NIHE manages a unit dedicated to the inspection and regulation of HMOs in keeping with the NI Housing Order.
The Detail asked the HMO unit within the NIHE for the number of HMOs within each district council of Northern Ireland and for a further breakdown of numbers by postcode area within Belfast City Council. Figures are for the financial year 2011-12.
The results can be seen on the map above. It is possible to see a break down of the number of notices given for not meeting regulations by clicking on the map “pins” for each council or postcode area.
The “pins” on the map are colour coded by the number of HMOs. Explore the map further by clicking on the colour legend at the bottom of the map to show the postcode areas of Belfast with a similar number of HMOs to entire district councils within NI.
You can also search for your postcode area by using the search bar at the top.
The figures obtained by The Detail can be seen in their original format in Excel spreadsheets at the bottom of this article.
In total there are 6,520 HMOs scattered across Northern Ireland that are known to the NIHE. These are properties that have been visited by an inspector who has confirmed it to be an HMO. However, the NIHE estimates that there are potentially 2,784 more that have yet to be confirmed by them, based on information available to the NIHE such as Housing Benefit applicants.
Belfast has the largest number of HMOs of all of the council districts, accounting for 60% of the total known HMOs in Northern Ireland. Coleraine has the second largest number with 734 followed by Derry with 454.
The postcode area of BT9 includes the popular student housing areas of Stranmillis, Malone Road and Lisburn Road and has the highest concentration of HMOs with 1,837 and potentially 704 more. BT7 covers the notorious Holylands area off the Ormeau Road and has the second highest with 1,374 confirmed and potentially 643 more HMOs.
From their inspections, the NIHE estimates that potentially 28,915 people in Northern Ireland are living in HMOs.HIGHER RISK
The NIHE “aims to try and protect the health and safety of the occupants of HMOs by setting standards for space, kitchen facilities, washing and toilet facilities, fire protection and means of escape from fire”.
Tenants living in houses of multiple occupation are considered at a higher risk than single family households as there is no head of household to oversee fire, health and safety risks. It is also widely acknowledged that the bigger the house and the larger the number of occupants the greater the risk becomes.
Notices can be given if a house is found unsuitable for the number of occupants living there, if the “proper standards of management” are not being upheld and in extreme cases where a house is “unfit for human habitation” entirely. The NIHE has confirmed to The Detail that one HMO can be given more than one notice across the financial year.
Properties that are not suitable for the number of occupants may require additional water-closets, washing facilities and more satisfactory facilities for the storage, preparation and cooking of food. Properties found not to be following proper standards of management may not be maintaining good order of fire exits and fire precautions, corridors, stairways, common washing and cooking facilities or out buildings and gardens.
Properties deemed “unfit for human habitation” could be structurally unstable, have damp that poses a risk to the health of the occupants, without adequate piped water supply, lighting, ventilation, heating or effective drainage. The NIHE can serve a notice of repair, closing order or demolition order depending on the individual cases for unfitness.
Figures obtained by The Detail show that the inspection of HMO properties by the NIHE has revealed some landlords are not meeting the standards set.75% OF NOTICES ARE GIVEN IN BELFAST
The chart below shows the council share of the total number of notices given to properties not up to standard.
75% of the notices given to HMOs not following regulations are within the district council of Belfast. 866 notices were delivered within Belfast, and there could be more HMOs that aren’t up to standard as the NIHE estimates there are potentially 2,306 HMOs still unconfirmed in the council area.
Derry was the only district with more than one HMO unfit for human habitation, whilst the other districts with one unfit house each were Belfast, Coleraine, Down, Lisburn and Omagh.UNDER REVIEW
The NI Housing Executive introduced the Statutory Registration Scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation in May 2004 and houses cannot be registered until they meet all the physical, safety and management standards.
There are some properties that fall within the Housing Order’s definition of HMO but are exempt from the registration scheme because they are considered low-risk.
In a briefing, the NIHE informed The Detail that notices for HMOs that require work to “render premises fit for number of occupants” are typically given to properties previously unregistered that have just been confirmed to be an HMO by inspection and require work to meet the criteria for registration. Notices given for work “to make good neglect of proper standards of management” are typically given to HMOs that have already been registered and are found not to be complying with the conditions of registration.
Where HMOs are found to be against regulations the owner, manager or the person with control of the house is given a notice. The penalty for operating an HMO that falls within the statutory registration scheme and isn’t registered can be up to £20,000. However the NIHE told The Detail the courts often order fines that are hundreds of pounds rather than thousands.
The maximum penalty against the “responsible person” for a registered HMO that is found in breach of the registration conditions is £5000. Whilst an HMO that is exempt from registration but is not following regulations set down by the Housing Order could be liable to a £2,500 fine.
The last of the relevant HMOs in Northern Ireland to be registered for the first time must be done so by April 1 2013. Once registered initially, the registration must be renewed every five years. Landlords pay a registration fee for the full five years at the beginning of their registration.
3,795 HMOs in NI have registered so far on the scheme but the NIHE has confirmed there are nearly twice as many as that in existence.
In a briefing with the NIHE, The Detail was told that most of the HMOs yet to be registered fall within the Belfast area and the NIHE estimated that it would take them two more years to complete the registration process, eight years after registration began.
The introduction of the Registration Scheme in 2004 has been the only amendment to the regulations monitoring HMOs in Northern Ireland since the 1992 Housing Order. In June this year however the Department for Social Development called a consultation for the ‘Fundamental Review of the Regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation in Northern Ireland’. A copy of the consultation can be found below.
Over 400 organisations and individuals have been sent a copy of the consultation and submissions close on September 28 2012. The NI Housing Executive is among those invited to submit comments to the consultation.
The Review document proposes that a licencing system be put in place to replace the Registration Scheme, following the example in England, Scotland and Wales. If a licencing system is put in place in Northern Ireland, relevant HMOs will not be operating lawfully until they have a licence and the “person with responsibility” of any HMO has to meet certain criteria before being granted a licence.
Other amendments proposed by the review include a redefinition of “HMO” and a proposal that provision be made to allow the regulatory authority to close part or all of an HMO if it poses “immediate or substantial danger to health, safety and welfare of any occupants”, which is not currently the case.
The consultation was begun as a result of ongoing welfare reform, particularly Housing Benefit changes, that are expected to increase demand for HMO accommodation, the necessity to review regulatory standards that have not been updated since 1992 and to address issues highlighted in the 2005 Judicial Review of the HMO Registration Scheme.
In 2005 the Landlords Association applied for a judicial review to question whether a section of the 2004 Registration Scheme contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. The section from the Scheme under scrutiny imposed “on the owners or managers of houses responsibility for the behaviour of residents or occupants of the said house outside the said property”.
The review found in favour of the Landlords Association and required the NI Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development to “redraft” the Scheme in order to take heed of the judgement’s recommendations for the inclusion of any registration condition that places responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of residents on landlords.
The 2005 judicial review also found flaws with the Scheme’s application of the registration conditions to a “very broad definition of HMOs” and recommended that the Scheme be redrafted to restrict its application to “certain categories of HMOs” and to limit those expected to pay fees. The NI Housing Executive has addressed these issues and the Scheme now exempts certain HMOs from registration, and other types from paying fees.
The NIHE also confirmed to The Detail that its ability to register HMOs had been held up by the legislative changes they have had to make. It informed The Detail that its key performance indicator for the financial year 2012-13 was to register 250 more HMOs. The NIHE said in a statement: “This low number is due to the legislative difficulties we have experienced. However, now that we have largely resolved these difficulties our rate of registration is increasing and we will register in the region of 500 HMOs this year.”THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR
The private rented (and others) sector has been on the increase for the past decade. In 2001 there were just 49,400 properties in the private rented sector. The latest figures from last year showed an increase of more than double, placing the number of private rented sector properties higher than the number of social rented houses.
The owner occupied sector has consistently been the largest housing sector by a significant margin. The NIHE has advised The Detail that the properties falling under the label “and others” within the private sector are a small number of properties for accommodation “tied to employment”. Figures are taken from the NIHE’s House Condition Survey.
The 2011 Survey showed that the private rented sector had the highest percentage of occupied homes considered to be “unfit” than any other sector, with 2% of dwellings being “unfit”.
In a statement to The Detail, the Department for Social Development set out its plans for the review of the regulation of HMOs. “It is envisaged at the end of the consultation period responses will be analysed and from these firm proposals will be made in early 2013. At this stage it is not known what the firm proposals will be, what the outcome of the consultation will be or how long the legislation will take to be made. Once the consultation period closes the Department will analyse responses and consider the way forward. At that stage consideration will be given to publishing the responses on the Department’s website.”
In a statement to The Detail the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said: “The Housing Executive is reminding owners and managers of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Belfast of the need to register their properties in accordance with the Statutory Registration Scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation in Northern Ireland.
“As the Statutory Registration Scheme will, from the 1 April 2013, apply to all areas within Belfast, the Housing Executive will also be proactively identifying all HMO properties within Belfast to ensure compliance with the terms of the scheme.
“It is the Housing Executive’s aim to try and protect the health and safety of the occupants of HMOs by setting standards for space, kitchen facilities, washing and toilet facilities, fire protection and means of escape from fire.
“Any HMO property owner/manager who fails to register a HMO or renew the registration when due is liable, on summary conviction, of a fine of up to £20,000 in accordance with Section 11 Housing (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
“The primary aim of the registration scheme is to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of people living in HMOs. So as well as reminding owners and managers of the need to register their properties within the relevant timescale, we would also encourage anyone living in a HMO, or even a neighbour, who has concerns regarding the safety of a HMO property to contact us.
“HMO Statutory Registration Scheme Application forms are available from the Belfast HMO Office or can be downloaded from the Housing Executive’s website at www.nihe.gov.uk.”