'The owners are laughing all the way to the bank'

The takeover by students of a Liverpool community is to be halted under a plan going before the Mayor Joe Anderson’s council cabinet on Friday.

A proposed new order will prevent houses in the Dales area off Smithdown Road being converted into houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), mostly used by groups of students.

Property owners can rake in around £80 a week from each student, generating around £2,000 a month in six are sharing, and with some HMOs housing 10 students the rewards are even higher.

they are charging each student around £80 a week... but in some properties there are 10 or more occupants

There are 1,800 houses within the Dales, between the main West Coast Line, Wellington Road and Gainsborough Road, with four out of every 10 houses in multiple occupation, most of them student homes.

The move follows a growing number of complaints from residents who have seen hundreds of terraced houses converted for shared use. Under the new plan owners of properties would have to seek planning permission to switch family homes into HMOs. 

Currently if a HMO property is earmarked for six or fewer occupants, planning consent is not needed.

Borrowdale Road in the student bedsit heartland. Pic: Google

A report to the cabinet spells out the impact of life in the Dales for families sharing their community with hundreds of students.

The report says the area has been identified as having an above average numbers of HMOs and which was experiencing a number of adverse impacts.

Between April 2015 and October 2017 there were 275 complaints to the council’s Noise team from residents of the Dales, and 360 incidents of anti-social behaviour reported to the police.

The report says: “Analysis of this evidence confirms that the number of these incidences as a proportion of the number of dwellings in the Dales, is considerably higher than the city average.”

It adds that making what is known as an Article 4 Direction will begin the process of extending planning control over changes of use from dwelling houses to HMO.

“It will allow the Local Planning Authority to limit the further spread of HMO and mitigate any further adverse impact,” adds the report.

The city council has estimated that the 50,000 students studying at the city’s universities contribute around £300m a year every year to Liverpool’s economy.

High rise student flats dominate the city skyline, but away from city-centre living, many students migrate to cheaper and more affordable properties in areas like the Dales.

It might be good for the corner shops, but overwhelming for established communities.
Cllr Laura Robertson-Collins, chair of the council’s Neighbourhood Select Committee, said: “It’s great that so many students come to study in our area, but the Dales has reached saturation point and we need to do something. The area is vibrant and diverse, but it can also be messy and noisy. We have an area where half of the population are 20-somethings. This action will enable us to have more control on the number of HMOs in the area.

“Students do not have to pay council tax, which means the council has to cover the cost of facilities, such as emptying the bins. As a council we have tried to get the government to take action. I see the conversion of houses into HMOs as a business, and the owners should pay a business tax. At the moment they are charging each student around £80 a week. That covers gas and electricity, etc, but in some properties there are 10 or more occupants. The owners are laughing all the way to the bank. Often they live in quieter areas so they don’t have to put up with the impact HMOs have on a community.

“People in the Dales are most tolerant and accept that students will have the occasional party, but if you have a street of 20 houses and 12 of them are HMOs it can go a little crazy.

“As Labour councillors we regularly speak to students and student reps. But in this area it is the volume of students that can cause problems. We want the government to change the law so that owners of HMOs can be charged.”