Hellholes & Crack Dens

Hellholes & Crack Dens

When I first left home, many years ago, I spent two years living in what used to be called sharehouses. It was both affordable and convenient, allowing me to get my own space even though I was earning very little. I was able to use my time there to save up and buy my first house. Some of the other tenants became very good friends of mine and at least one of them still is to this day. I have fond memories of that first simple, affordable and comfortable room that was my first home on my own.

First time home buyers often find that to help them afford that house, they take in a lodger or two.  Sometimes, one of the family loses a job and a lodger or two are the perfect way to avoid losing the home while the job hunt proceeds.  Very often these would qualify as HMOs.

Recently, as part of their ongoing agenda, certain people have been trying to dirty the name of HMOs, which means House Of Multiple Occupancy. The suggestion is that all HMOs are dirty, or nasty, and that they represent some attempt to “rip people off” or to treat them in an unpleasant way.

This is completely misrepresenting the facts – something that is being done deliberately by a few individuals and which is then taken up by gullible folk. This is easy to demonstrate for anybody who is bothered about the truth, rather than the spin.

Your home is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) if both of the following apply:

  • at least 3 tenants live there, forming more than 1 household
  • you share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants

There are hundreds of thousands of HMOs, by the Government definition, in the United Kingdom. If a young couple in a two bedroom house let their friend and his wife live in the spare bedroom for a while, that’s a HMO. If a landlord has a four bedroom house and rents the rooms out to individuals – what used to be called a “sharehouse” – that’s a HMO. Any University town is inundated with sharehouses / HMOs.  I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine who was studying to be a Veterinary nurse, living in a HMO with other nurse trainees in her student years.  This is incredibly common.

Although I don’t know for sure, I believe that quite a few of my neighbours on Alexandra Road are living in HMOs.  They cause no trouble, keep their houses very nice, and are excellent neighbours.  Of course there are houses out there which are not so nice to live besides, but that is also true of some houses with families in them – if the family behave in an antisocial way.

There are hundreds of variations of HMO and the vast majority are perfectly nice, perfectly comfortable places to live. Running, or living in a HMO is not illegal and I very much hope the fools who say “HMOs should be illegal” never get their way. Because then we really WILL have a housing crisis in the UK. A crisis when huge numbers of people suddenly lose their homes, and when thousands of others can’t afford theirs because they can’t rent the rooms anymore.

You see, there is a very big difference between a house with three couples in three double rooms, where the premises is clean, the regulations all kept to and the landlord reliable and fair – and a monstrous den with no carpet or curtains where people are sleeping on dirty mattresses on the floor, abused, and trapped by their circumstances.  They are like chalk and cheese.

The individuals who seek to muddy the name of a HMO act as though all HMOs are like crack dens. They are not. The very very vast majority of HMOs are just places people share a house but don’t happen to all be family. It is very dangerous and ignorant to spread this cack about them as though they are a plague, when in fact they are a vital part of our housing infrastructure which has existed for hundreds of years and will continue to exist for hundreds more – perfectly legally.

A few years ago, the law was changed to require *some* HMOs to apply for planning permission when they started out. The purpose of the change was that some University towns were being overrun by large, packed HMOs full of students. The laws on when you do or do not qualify as a HMO or a Large HMO, when you do or don’t need a license and when you do or don’t need planning permission are complex. Because the purpose is to require registation, payment and regulation, rather than prevention, Councils try to work with landlords rather than against them. And different Councils do take different views, just to add to the complexity.  Unless a place really is a hellhole, like one of these aforementioned crack den types, they will usually prefer a constructive dialogue that corrects whatever minor omission they may notice.

HMOs are just homes that a few people share. Large HMOs are just bigger homes that a few people share. Not everybody can afford to buy a house or even rent a house and not everybody can get into a Council House or Housing Association Home. Sometimes, it suits people to share. Often, in fact. It takes a special sort of snobbery to automatically presume there is something wrong with that. save your outrage for the hellholes and the crack dens – the places that actually deserve it.  Unless it’s not actually snobbery at all.  Perhaps what you really dislike is the fact that foreign people live in some of these places?  If, in truth, that is your reason – there’s a word for that too.