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Battling Harrow’s HMO Horror – How the council are tackling overcrowding in our borough

Fans of reality TV show Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords can’t have failed to notice that the Borough of Harrow features largely in the program – particularly in cases of illegal HMOs. In this article, we’re exploring this problem – and what the council is doing to tackle it.

An HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) can be a good solution for those looking for affordable accommodation – particularly within London where rents are as high as some of the skyscraper buildings. A HMO may be a house or a flat which is rented out to three or more tenants from two or more households (i.e, this may be a couple in one room and a lone individual in another.

Landlords wishing to operate an HMO must apply for and obtain a special license and they must adhere to some strict rules regarding overcrowding and health and safety.

In November of last year, Harrow Council’s enforcement team uncovered one of many illegal HMO operations when they visited a property in Rayners Lane. Neighbours had alerted the housing team to a possible case of overcrowding and, on entering the three bedroom flat, officers were shocked to discover that there were at least 10 adults and three children living in the property which had only one very small kitchen and one bathroom.

Illegal overcrowded HMOs like the one in Rayners Lane are not just uncomfortable but are usually also dangerous and unsanitary and, often, the landlords of these properties are repeat offenders looking to exploit vulnerable people who have few options when it comes to accommodation. While this example is appalling, it’s only the tip of the iceberg – over the years Harrow Council has investigated a number of cases known as “beds in sheds” where tenants are forced to live in sheds, cupboards and tents in the garden of a property.

Unfortunately, in a number of cases, the landlord of the illegal HMO is also the employer of some or all of the tenants which, needless to say, means that tenants are reluctant to report or complain about their conditions for fear of losing both their job and a roof over their head.

Illegal HMOs are taken extremely seriously by Harrow Council who will issue warnings and strict instructions to reduce the number of tenants in a property and fix any hazards and / or health and safety issues such as faulty or unsafe wiring. Should the landlord fail to take action as instructed, he or she may be subject to a fine of up to £5000 or, in extreme cases, even a prison sentence.

Harrow Council has also recently introduced a fine of £2500 for any landlord who refuses to allow the housing team access to the property in order to inspect it. Cllr Anjana Patel says: “Overcrowding is unsafe, unsanitary and exploits people who deserve a decent place to call their home. It’s the job of our enforcement officers to ensure instances like this don’t happen and that tenants are safe.

Battling Harrow’s HMO Horror - How the council are tackling overcrowding in our borough Harrow Online
Cllr Anjana Patel with local officers in Wealdstone. Image: Harrow Council

“This is why it is so important that Houses of Multiple Occupancy are licenced and comply with the law. While the majority of our landlords and agents look after their tenants and keep properties safe, there are a few who simply don’t care. We are not afraid to take action and will take cases like this further and where necessary take them to court.”

As well as being uncomfortable, unsanitary and downright dangerous, illegal HMOs can, at times, also cause problems for neighbours who will often complain of excessive noise, foul odours, affray and hygiene issues such as overflowing bins and gardens used as toilet facilities.

While Harrow Council’s housing team routinely investigates illegal HMOs it does, to an extent, rely on information from the public to identify suspect properties so that they can eliminate these practices and help tenants to find a safe place to live.

Far from ‘snitching’, reporting a possible HMO to the council helps to curtail the activities of unscrupulous landlords, prevent antisocial behaviour and even save lives.

If you think you know of an illegal HMO in Harrow, you should contact the housing department at https://www.harrow.gov.uk/licences/additional-licensing-scheme