Northern Ireland officials have refused to get tougher on HMO landlords despite pleas from Belfast councillors that parts of the city are becoming over-run and affected by anti-social behaviour.
A Department for Communities review concluded it couldn’t reduce high numbers of HMOs in areas such as the Holylands (main picture) and would not change the definition of a house of multiple occupation, reports the Belfast Telegraph.
The Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 came into effect in April 2019 following the transfer from Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s HMO registration scheme to councils under a new licensing regime.
As part of a subsequent review, the department acknowledged that the new licensing regime aimed to prevent new areas being over-provided in the future.
However, it added: “It does not have the scope to reduce over-provision in existing areas that already have a high number of HMOs and has concluded that the issue of historical overprovision is outside of the scope of the Act and therefore of the review.”
At a meeting of Belfast Council’s licensing committee, councillors expressed disappointment. Alliance councillor Micky Murray said landlords had come to the committee asking for renewal licences when they had failed to follow the legislation and renew on time.
“They have told us they’re selling the properties and it’s clear that this isn’t about providing housing, rather this is solely about profit,” he added. “These houses are worth more to them when they can essentially sell an HMO licence through a legal loophole.”
The department has agreed to work with the council to make changes to the legislation, allowing a fee to be charged against a landlord who wants a temporary exemption notice - when a landlord wants to take away HMO status from a property and give notice for tenants to leave the property.