Stop family homes being turned into HMOs

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We are calling on Harrow Council to accept this petition as our collective testimony that the conversion of single-family terraced houses into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) is having a bad impact on Central Harrow residents, in contradiction to Harrow’s stated planning guidelines.

HMO conversions in terraced houses mean big profits for private landlords and big savings for councils who want to accommodate individuals as cheaply as possible. But without the proper implementation of planning policy, such conversions cause huge suffering to everyone else, including:

  • HMO tenants, up to 14 of whom can be placed into a single terraced house with no sound insulation, no communal living areas and a combined living and sleeping area of just 7.5m2 per person; 
  • Renting families, are who are being told to vacate houses in order to make room for HMOs, because the rent they pay cannot compete with HMO profits;
  • Neighbours, who suffer from inevitable increases in noise and the extra comings and goings associated with such large and often transient populations (plus their guests) living next door;
  • Whole neighbourhoods, which are losing their character, neighbourliness and amenity due to the disproportionate burden that terraced HMO conversions place on parking, waste and litter collection and other services.

HMO licensing is not a solution to the above problems, which can only be solved by good planning policy and enforcement. Therefore, we are petitioning Harrow Council to do five things as a matter of urgency:

  1. Properly apply Development Management Policies DM1 and DM30 as grounds for rejecting any application for change of use from a single family house (Class C3) into a large HMO (sui generis) on a terraced road, especially if there are already other HMOs nearby. Large HMOs belong in big properties on big plots that have their own parking provision, space for bins and bicycles, and limited noise transfer to neighbouring properties; they do not work in tightly-packed terraced roads. 
  2. Make it clear (for example in the Residential Design Guide SPD) that, in the context of large HMOs that have no communal living rooms, each tenanted room is effectively a “home” for that tenant, or the closest thing they have to a “home,” such that their needs (as well as neighbours’ needs) must be fully protected by Development Management Policy DM26. It is wrong and unethical to pretend that rooms inside such HMOs are anything other than “homes,” thus allowing landlords to dodge all the planning rules that ensure well-designed conversions.
  3. Revoke all HMO licenses permitting more than six occupants in houses that do not have planning permission for such a change of use. During the Planning Committee meeting of June 13th 2018, Harrow Council acknowledged that any such houses are in breach of planning rules and should never have been licensed in the first place. 
  4. Implement Article 4 Directions in wards with the highest concentrations of HMOs (including Greenhill, West Harrow and Headstone South) to ensure that DM1, DM26 and DM30 can also be applied to small HMO conversions (up to six occupants) in these central areas. It is unacceptable that residents in “nice” conservation areas like Harrow on the Hill are protected by Article 4 Directions, while Central Harrow residents are not, when our communities have a demonstrably more urgent need for this protection.
  5. Allocate sufficient resources to ensure that planning officers are able to enforce these rules correctly and that they have the necessary support to defend decisions that go to appeal. Where the Planning Inspectorate becomes involved, we expect Harrow Council to vigorously defend its residents and planning policies to the fullest extent of the law.

We are petitioning for these things in the firm knowledge that they are feasible and in keeping with what other London boroughs have already implemented. For example, Hounslow, Barnet, Enfield, Waltham Forest and many others enforce much stricter guidelines on HMO conversions, including making use of Article 4 Directions. There is no excuse for Harrow failing to do the same.

Every month of continued inaction will encourage more HMO landlords to come to Central Harrow from other areas in order to profit unfairly from the housing crisis and make this a worse place to live.