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In April 2013, Brighton and Hove City Council was granted new powers (under what is known as an Article 4 direction) relevant to areas within the city where the growing density of student households is a source of concern to other residents. The areas include
The above links are to maps on the Council's website [PDF format] showing existing HMOs.
Student homes in Brighton and Hove
Permission needed for change of use to HMO
Within the above areas, planning permission is now required for a change of use to a small HMO. Under the Council's current planning policy, HMO licencing should be refused if there is already more than 10 per cent saturation in the surrounding areas.
The Council applies the new rule by drawing a 50metre radius circle around the proposed new student house (HMO) and checking to see if 10% of the houses in the circle are already registered as HMOs. If it is already 10% or more, then the current applicant will not be granted permission to operate as an HMO.
It may appear strange to some that a developer has to carry out improvements to apply for an HMO licence before the Planning department can decide if the developer can run the property as an HMO. Residents, who observe landlords in their streets adding extra bedrooms, dormer windows as well as combining flats into larger properties may fear wrongly or rightly that some intend to proceed with conversions to HMOs without permission.
£20,000 and £14,000 fines imposed recently
Record fine for unlicensed landlord of Brighton shared house [The Argus 11 Dec 2015]
However, the new rules have now been tested in the courts, so landlords ignoring them them face enforcement notices with fines if they fail to comply:Although Brighton and Hove City Council has had to prioritise due to staff cutbacks, the Article 4 Direction with regard to HMOs forms part of their Enforcement Department's current priority.
Can the Council shut down an HMO which does not have a "Certificate of Lawfulness" for a permitted use?
In a word "No" in the above circumstance, but there are other rules which allow Councils to board up buildings in circumstances where they are unsafe or unfit for human habitation (see section below). In the above circumstance where permission has not been obtained for an HMO, an enforcement notice would be issued to the owner of that property prohibiting its present use. If no action was taken by the owner, as often happens, this would then be followed through the courts and fines imposed. This is now happening [see The Argus 11 Dec 2015] as illustrated by a recent £20,000 and £14,000 fines imposed on Brighton landlords for operating HMOs without the necessary Certificate of Lawfulness.
Boarding up buildings which are unsafe
The Council can remove individuals from a building and board up in the absence of the owner when
Dedicated student blocks versus HMOs?
Council policy favours dedicated student blocks over converting family homes. Given the age of some of Brighton's housing stock and the cold & damp conditions of some converted residential properties, it is also understandable that many students prefer dedicated blocks which have recently been constructed.
However, the erection of several large blocks of student accommodation, one after another in quick succession within the same locality, has an impact on that local community and neighbourhoods adjoining it.
There is a balance to be struck. The 351-bed Abacus development in the former Co-op building at the south end of London Terrace towards Baker Street, is well managed and appears to have contributed to revitalising the area, answering (at least in part) fears relating to noise breakout and high spirited behaviour.
Large additions to the population of an area within a short period of time inevitably require existing residents to adjust to changes in character and appearance as well as putting pressure on local infrastructure and services.
The Vogue Gyratory, Lewes Road
Our universities and their responsibilities
The universities of Brighton and Sussex contribute £3 billion per annum to Brighton and Hove's economy and create a large number of jobs in our city.
At the same time, they have more than 37,000 students. Establishments such as City College, institutions dedicated to English language learning and British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) add to these numbers. This demand creates a highly lucrative student rental market, drawing in landlords and developers. Many families feel priced out of their neighbourhoods as well as watching local buildings and streets being transformed to meet student requirements.
The universities have responded to these concerns through projects and initiatives to set up a dialogue between students and other local residents.
While local residents (including some students themselves) experience disturbance from noisy houses of multiple occupation and neighbourhoods can be made less attractive by a minority of households where refuse and recyclables are not put out correctly, poor letting agents and landlords who condemn tenants to damp, cold or unsafe living conditions are a problem for students and more established local residents alike.
Letting agents and landlords
Brighton and Hove has a good accreditation system for restaurants and hotels, as befits a leading UK tourist resort, but recognisable logos for identifying good letting agents and landlords are sadly lacking. This is unfair to good agencies and landlords whose reputations may in some people's minds be tarnished by the bad examples. A known logo - a sign of quality - could be displayed to identify the good, but it is also in the interests of everyone living in our city to 'name and shame' the bad. Fines for those operating without a license need to be sufficient to bite; otherwise they will be ignored.
The universities themselves have devised their own ratings for letting agents (currently not very flattering), but while the demand of housing in our city so greatly exceeds the supply, this market makes it very difficult for tenants to 'vote with their feet' by refusing to put up with unreasonable living conditions.This page was last updated by Ted on 18-Jan-2016