07 Oct 2020

This story concerns two slum-like death trap HMOs which had both been granted recent HMO Licences by Lincoln City Council and condemned as unsafe for habitation by an independent expert.

One such HMO Licence was granted as recently as January 2020 and even after inspection by one of Lincoln City Council’s supposedly expert Housing Officers, the Licence contained absolutely no conditions requiring any improvements.

This was despite the property having dangerous electrics and no valid electrical safety certificate (EICR) at the time the HMO Licence was granted and also being an absolute fire-trap.

The Lie that HMO Licensing improves housing quality

Bond Housing Group bought these two properties in February 2020. Both properties had been recently inspected and licensed by Lincoln City Council housing officers (one literally a few weeks earlier). Bond Housing naturally assumed that these new licences would guarantee the HMOs to be safe and fit for habitation – and so would not need their normal exhaustive level of inspection.

After all, “making absolutely certain that properties are decent and safe” is what councils like Lincoln City Council tell people time after time “is the only reason for licensing.” (“It’s nothing to do with cynical revenue generation, honest Guv!”).

On gaining entry to the two HMOs, Bond Housing Group was so horrified at the state of the living conditions in them, it immediately commissioned a Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS) inspection (that’s the same inspection system the Councils are told to use for finding fault with buildings) from an independent expert.

Across the two HMOs, the independent HHSRS inspector found a grand total of 154 health and safety issues including:

  • 48 concerns regarding fire safety including unsafe fire doors and alarm systems not maintained and exit doors that could trap residents in a fire;
  • 29 concerns regarding respiratory health-threatening damp and mould
  • 12 concerns regarding electrical safety
  • 5 concerns regarding excess cold
  • 26 concerns regarding the general condition of the buildings
  • Plus multiple other concerns

The fact that the Council licensed these two properties (one as recently as January 2020) with absolutely zero conditions requiring the worst property to be improved, and only generic conditions on the second, can only lead to the conclusion that this is exactly the type and standard of HMO that the City’s residents (who can’t afford their own house or flat) “should be living in”.

Said Rob Hunter, CEO of Bond Housing Group (Lincoln), “I really want students and their parents to understand that the claim “This HMO is Licensed.” means absolutely nothing in terms of safety in Lincoln. We know of dozens and dozens of HMO properties across Lincoln that are riddled with lung-damaging mould and have woefully inadequate fire precautions licensed by Lincoln Council. Students are constantly highlighting to each other on social media how bad their accommodation is.

“I was talking to some of the residents who lived in the next-door property before we bought it in 2015. One said “I remember the mould on the walls. Another replied, “yeah we all got chest infections.” They were so complimentary about the studios we had turned their hell-hole into.”

“Please do not ever assume that an HMO licence in Lincoln means the property is in any way safe!”

Across the country, inspired Landlords have been meeting the demand for superior ‘HMO2.0’ accommodation based on compact self-contained studios. But Councils just like Lincoln are trying to stop them because they seem to believe it is the council’s job to force people to socialise and share kitchens and bathrooms.

Councils wake up!

Well, councils, here’s some market information for you:

Tenants do not like being told how to live and being forced to share.

Councils still seem to think that HMO’s are for the downtrodden and poor who can afford nothing else. That was 1920.

The world has moved on; but sadly under the stewardship [sic] of local authority housing and planning departments, there has been very little  new housing built over multiple decades. Instead councils fight against progress and insist on horrid, damp and unsafe HMOs with shared kitchens and bathrooms. And constant loud parties that annoy the neighbours.

Bond Housing Group in Lincoln and others property visionaries around the country have responded to market demand with the creation of HMO2.0 studios by ripping apart grotty Victorian properties and taking them right back to brick – then refurbishing to the latest standards.  Yet Lincoln City Council refuses to license some of these near hotel quality properties,  seemingly preferring the City’s residents to live in near-slum death-trap conditions.

Bond Housing (Lincoln) HM02.0 studio properties

In an independent survey of 48 people living in an HMO2.0 studio in Lincoln, 100% rated having their own kitchen and bathroom (and not having to share) as either ‘essential’ or ‘important’.

The residents were at pains to describe to the interviewer how the ability to come home to their own private space, close the door, wash, bathe and cook in private was a massive boost to their mental health and well-being.

Residents talked about no longer having to use dirty bathrooms, shared by multiple other people with dirt, mess or other people’s pubic hairs in the bath and shower. And no longer the daily stress of other people leaving dirty washing up, dirty cluttered surfaces, having to queue for a turn on the cooker or oven and forever having your food and milk stolen by other residents.

However, totally out of touch LCC insists that such studios are dangerous and damaging to tenants’ mental health

When we told the tenants what LCC claimed they wanted us to send a very strong and clear message to LCC that they need to understand that it is actually the type of dirty, damp unsafe HMOs that LCC seems to prefer, that are unhealthy, dangerous, stressful and damaging to their psychological health!

The latest irony is that, with the Covid-19 need for social distancing, HMO2.0 studios are massively safer than houses with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Despite refusing to licence many HMO2.0 studios and even insisting that some be converted back to shared kitchens, LCC’s latest guidance to tenants says “in a shared kitchen wear a mask, take food back to your room avoid sharing…”

Lincoln City Council advice to HMO tenants

Completely missing the irony, LCC insist that Bond Housing should ban some of their occupants from having food in their rooms!

Miracle makeover

Faced with having bought two licensed death-traps, which were already contractually committed to students for the 2020-21 academic year, Bond Housing (Lincoln) put their renovation ‘machine’ into overdrive to neutralize all the defects.

At a cost of some £20,000 in lost rent to move the existing tenants out into other accommodation or home to parents, and delaying the dates when new tenants could move in –  so that the houses could be closed down and worked on in the few weeks available.

The Bond team worked non-stop during the pandemic lock-down spending several £10,000s on works to fix all the problems and make the properties totally compliant giving them a full redecoration and ‘bond-style makeover.

Money grabbing cynicism

So here we have it. Lincoln City Council, one of many housing authorities, completely out of touch with what people need and want, prefer people to live in licensed death traps “in the name of improving housing standards” but actually showing their true colours that, just as with parking tickets and speed cameras, housing licensing is just another cynical revenue-generating tax!

Phil Turtle is a Casework Consultant at Landlord Licensing & Defence. He is a Certified HHSRS Practitioner – similarly qualified as many Council Enforcement Officers.

Landlord Licencing & Defence is helping landlords get out of trouble when they get into it. We are fighting against councils that have become power-crazed and which are persecuting decent landlords for immoral financial gain.

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