On Thursday the 27th of October 2011 I observed councillors at Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee give planning permission for 1 Hemingford Road in Romsey to be a House of Multiple Occupancy housing seven tenants. The property, just off Mill Road, is a tiny end of terrace which a reputable estate agent would probably describe as 2-3 bed house.
There was a vote on giving permission for the property to be used as a seven tenant HMO. The vote was passed 7:3. Councillors George Owers, Gail Marchant-Daisley and Zoe Moghadas (all Labour) voted against, but the other members of the committee present Labour Cllrs Kevin Blencowe, Lewis Herbert and Jeremy Benstead, Liberal Democrats Sarah Brown, Paul Saunders and Catherine Smart along with Green Adam Pogonowski voted in favour.
The application was retrospective; the committee were told the property is currently being used as a HMO [illegally].
While approving the permission councillors allowed an exemption from the usual requirement for the establishment of a HMO like this to incur a S.106 development tax liability on the grounds the property was currently in use as a HMO. I thought by doing this councillors were giving a clear financial incentive for landlords not to play by the rules, to run illegal HMOs and to submit retrospective applications only if caught by council officers.
The resident from the adjoining house, Mr Adam Garstone of 3 Hemingford Road, and another neighbour attended the meeting in person to speak against the application citing noise, rubbish nuisance, pressure on parking and insufficient cycle parking arrangements as reasons for their objection. It appears that Mr Garstone organised a small petition of local residents who either signed his objection letter or sent in their own copy of it. It is unclear from the rather broken online planning system if any additional comments were submitted online, if they were they are not visible and I don’t think councillors have any greater access to such comments than the public so they might not have seen them either.
Cllr Pogonowski was the only councillor voting in favour to explain his reason for doing so. He said he thought that giving permission for the property to be a HMO with seven tennants would give the council greater powers to carry out enforcement action in relation to the nuisance being caused to neighbours by the way the property was being used. I think Cllr Pogonowski did the right thing to explain his vote, but the meeting’s chair Cllr Blencowe chastised him for doing so. It is the convention that councillors voting in line with an officer recommendation do not explain their reasons; I think this is wrong as I think councillors should let the public know why they agree with the officer, why they’ve rejected arguments being put forward by those who disagree, or be given the opportunity to explain if they’re voting in line with the officer recommendation but for different, or more limited reasons.
Cllr Owers explained his objection was on the grounds of the nuisance being caused by the use of the property to neighbours. he said he thought the proposed use was too intensive, Cllrs Marchant-Daisley and Moghadas agreed with his reasons. Cllr Owers was careful to say that HMOs were an important part of the housing market in the city and to make clear he had no general objection to them.
The property has two downstairs rooms in use as bedrooms, two bedrooms on the first floor and a loft bedroom. There are kitchens at the back of the property on both the ground and first floor. The first floor kitchen has a shower room off it, and there is a bathroom off the ground floor kitchen.
Councillors were told that if the planning permission they had given, and its conditions, as not adhered to then officers would come to them in the future to seek permission to take planning enforcement action. I was surprised by the potential need for additional, future, involvement of councillors.
Councillors were told that the landlord would have to be given a reasonable period to comply.
Cambridge City Council have redacted the applicant’s name and address from the published application form, but it was given in the published meeting papers as Ms Nalisha Patel of 35 Collier Road Cambridge CB1 2AH.
In relation to vehicle (including cycle) parking the application stated: “no onsite parking on this road N/A”.
The application was for six social rented bedrooms rooms. (There are currently five bedrooms in the property, the application was apparently intended to cover an additional proposed extension including an additional bedroom too).
The objectors’ letter referred to students, but the applicant’s application form said that currently there were five socially rented bedrooms, and requested permission for six. While referring to students in their letter the objectors when speaking in person at the meeting talked about coming and going at odd hours due to shift working.
The report to the committee of councillors considering the application stated: “There are 5 bedrooms in the property, with 2 of the rooms accommodating 2 sharers each.”
Councillors set a planning condition requiring cycle parking to be made available. The details of this are to be agreed by planning officers within a month of the approval formally being given.
The objectors expressed concern that if a cycle shed was placed in the back garden access might have to be through the house and through a bedroom. While clearly impractical councillors did not modify the cycle parking condition to ensure this was not the case. The condition they did set was not as clear as it could have been made in my view, I don’t think they gave their officers clear enough direction.
The committee was told that a right of way runs to the side of the property and it would be possible to re-instate the garden fence, and put a gate in it, to give cycle access to the back garden.
Cllr Brown asked if councillors were able to impose a condition restricting the number of on street parking permits which residents of the property could hold; she was advised this was not possible.
The County Council, who the City Council have let take over control of parking permits, don’t appear to take any notice of such conditions anyway but I can’t see why one could not have been imposed in this case had the majority of councillors considered that was appropriate.
My Views and Concerns
- I think there was a lack of a joined up approach here. Councillors did not have detailed reports (comments on the application) available to them from their environmental health officers and HMO licensing officers. I would have liked to had the views of those officers on the suitability of this property for its intended use presented to the committee.
- I understand, and agree, the planning issues is a separate matter from enforcement and licensing; however given the comments from the neighbours I’d have liked to see the committee (acting as the area committee, not in their planning role) give assurances that officers are investigating, and enforcement if required will take place. I would have liked to see the matter placed on the agenda for the next area committee for an update, the advantage of a councillor doing this rather than a member of the public raising it in the open forum would that the relevant officers would probably write to the committee, if not attend in person.
- My view is the council ought be able to deal with the problems of nuisance due to noise and rubbish (in the garden and at the front) irrespective of if the property is given planning permission as a HMO. The council can take action on such matters even if a house is privately owned and owner occupied.
- Councillors were also not given sufficient details of the property, for example how many toilets it has, or if the rooms have individual locks (they were not told if the property was rented as a whole or by the room). Councillors dealing with planning applications typically wash their hands of responsibility for this kind of thing, saying building regulations or housing standards will sort it out. If I’d have been on the committee I’d have asked for clarifications and assurances in any case.
- I note this was an application for a HMO for social housing purposes and am concerned that those living in the property may not be given much choice as to what type of accommodation they live in. I think having cheap accommodation available for those who chose to live in it to keep their costs down is a positive thing if that’s something there’s a market for, but am concerned about the standards those requiring social housing for whatever reason. I don’t know what the definition of social housing being used is in this case. I also don’t understand how some people requiring social housing end up in rooms in houses like 1 Hemingford Road and others get £2m pound houses on the taxpayer but our system is clearly broken.
- Often at the East Area committee, as surfaced in this case, there are tensions between residents living in their own homes and those living in HMOs and shared houses. I am concerned at the prejudice present against those living in shared houses in Cambridge. I am disappointed that councillors never tackle this; they fail to urge those raising problems to focus on the individuals causing a nuisance rather than disparaging a whole sector of the city’s residents. On a couple of occasions I’ve left the East Area Committee a little shaken and perturbed at the amount of venom thrown by richer residents, with more pleasant and stable homes, at those who are not so fortunate. (eg. see my Tweet from February 2011)
- Older, wealthy residents appear to have little idea of the extent of housing problems facing, particularly younger people in the city. Those living in shared houses are typically described as “transient” and “students” however in my experience there are many who are professionals and permanent residents living in such properties in the city. The age at which people are, on average, able to buy their own homes is rising. The vast majority of shared houses (and even many college owned student houses) are on residential streets and I suspect many people on the street don’t even know they are there and that the properties are not owner occupied or rented by families.
- I am uncomfortable with the regulation of the number of tenants, rather then the number of rooms to be rented. My concern is the city council, to enforce this, will need to investigate how many people are sleeping in which rooms of the property. I don’t like the council snooping on who is sleeping where in a property. I don’t think its the council’s or the state’s business how many people are sleeping in a rented room; or where people in a property rented as a whole choose to sleep within it.
- I think its important that those who are looking to share a house are not discriminated against in the housing market. I don’t think it is right that groups of individuals should have a more restricted market of potential homes to choose from than families. I think this is unfair and risks increasing an already present divide in our city. I think it is right to regulate properties where more than a handful of rooms are let out on an individual basis; but don’t think we should be otherwise interfering in the market.
- I object to the increase in planning restrictions on houses in multiple occupancy introduced via the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2010, and would like to see this repealed. The introduction via this legislation of a new “C4″ class of HMOs makes it possible for councils to decide which properties can be occupied by three or more individuals who do not form a single household. The relevant definition of a household being that in Section 258 of the Housing Act 2004.
The effect of this law was in-fact almost repealed shortly after it was made, via the The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No.2) (England) Order 2010 which made change of use of a dwelling house to a small 3-6 person HMO generally not require planning permission. However it is possible, under S4 of the The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 councils can apply to ministers to require planning permission for change in use from a dwelling house to the new class of small HMO. Oxford City Council are in the process of introducing such local provisions and planning permission will be required there for new 3-6 person HMOs from February 2012. Oxford City Council has a Labour majority, I would hope that Cambridge Liberal Democrats’s liberal principles would prevent them seeking to bring such discriminatory measures to Cambridge; I’m happy they’ve not, to my knowledge sought to do so yet, and hope this article doesn’t give anyone any ideas (though the debate needs to be had, and in my view, as I’ve said, the national law ought go). I suspect this question may arise when Cambridge considers its local planning policies as it reviews its local plan.
- I note Cambridge City Council’s register of HMOs is not made available online. This renders it less useful than it might otherwise be in my opinion – tenants, prospective tennants and neighbours can’t view licence conditions and contact details for owners and managers of properties. This is a database which ought in my view be exposed to the public.
- The council tax, licencing and planning definitions of a HMO are all different. This creates confusion, even among councillors, council officers as well as among tenants and landlords. The law in this area needs simplifying.
- Cambridge City Council has a policy of requiring licensing of any property “declared to be a HMO” as a HMO (p14 of the Cambridge City Council’s HMO licensing policy. This is bonkers. Perhaps I should declare the Guildhall, or the Executive Councillor for Housing, Cllr Smart’s house, as a HMO to highlight the lunacy of the policy.
- Following the increase in the proportion of the population sharing houses, and people sharing houses for longer periods of their lives, I think there are a number of changes required to the law. Perhaps for example it would be a good idea for the majority of those sharing a house to be able to serve notice on one of their co-sharers, enabling a nuisance causing individual to be made to leave a house, rather than everyone else having to move out, or the tenancy at as whole being surrendered. There should also be provisions allowing those sharing a house, and renting it together with others, to recover unpaid rent if one of their co-sharers doesn’t pay up – at the moment others just have to pay their share until either the debt is settled or they all give up the tenancy. The law on shorthold tenancies which “roll over” ought be clarified too, ie. is it the original names on the tenancy contact or the current tenants who are subject to it? Notice periods and deposits also need considering in shared houses, rented as a whole. What I am suggesting are laws which cover situations where there is no other overriding contract.
The change in society which has not been reflected in legislation is that rather than shared houses being rented, for example by a group of students, for a year or so increasingly properties are being rented for longer periods and with the group inhabiting them changing during the period of the tenancy. Hard statistics on this are difficult to come by as the state doesn’t collect any directly related information, however there are indications such as the number of different surnames on the electoral roll for an address which indicate (but don’t show for sure) how a property is being used.
- There are many people living in unsuitable accommodation in the city. The city council (supported by national law which I think is wrong) doesn’t impose its housing standards and HMO licensing regime on university accommodation. I think it should where it is inhabited all year round, eg. by staff and graduate students. As well as very poor accommodation in colleges I’ve also during my time in the city seen many people living in sheds, including a school teacher and a couple with a new born child. I’ve also seen many very poor quality rooms on offer, including for example rooms with no access to a sink and residents cooking in their rooms and washing up in the shower. In my experience of Cambridge language students appear to end up in such poor, often overcrowded and unsafe, accommodation disproportionately.
- Clearly the problems are with the economy and housing policy nationally and locally; and housing standards and HMO regulation and planning permission are only a tiny part of a much bigger picture.
- Committee Report
- Application on the council’s online planning system – includes the application, plans, and objections
- http://wehatemrmalik.blogspot.com/ – Something I found when Googling
The application for a HMO was followed a retrospective application for planning permission for the existing extension at the rear of the property, which was approved.
An application for an additional two bedroom annex, was also before the committee, that was submitted by different applicant, a Mr T Malik also of 35 Collier Road Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB1 2AH. This latter application was unanimously rejected despite a representation by a Mr Carpenter of Modece Architects. A key point of contention was the flat roof, which councillors didn’t like but Mr Carpenter said would hide the bulk of the building.
I have had sight of correspondence relating the planning application which I can’t quote or use directly due to the manner in which I have come to have sight of it; but I think it would suffice to say that based on it I wouldn’t want to rent a property from these people. I’m surprised an apparently reputable architect like Mr Carpenter has become involved with them.
I have made an FOI request to the council to get all related correspondence out into the public domain, on both this and any other rented residential properties owned or managed by the same individual and their family.
While of course planning applications need to be considered irrespective of the identity of the person making them, Googling, combined with information I’ve seen, suggests to me it would be worth council officers keeping a close eye on this property. I’m not sure if Terry and Tariq Malik are one and the same, or Kolin, Kollin and Khalid and Mal and Malik for that matter. In my experience often dodgy people use variants of their names.
Some Cambridge News articles:
- Danger house landlord hit by £3,500 fine – 2009 – Relates to a property on Hemingford Road.
- Trouble builds – 2008
- House collapse man loses £30,000 battle – 2008
- Building blunder site stays eyesore
A Tribunal Decision:
- February 2010 Decision of the Residential Property Tribrunal relating to 1 Hemingford Road – this document confirms Khalid Malik was the manager / landlord of 1 Hemingford Road at that time. It states Mr Malik was found guilty of running an unlicensed HMO at 1 Hemingford Road (para 21 confirms the property in question).