Guest blog: Councillor Simon Wheale's article in the MEN 'Licence landlords to protect communities'

Recently, a concerned Withington couple showed me pieces of crumbling masonry, from chimney stacks on the house next door, that had fallen dangerously onto their driveway damaging a car.

The house that they were showing me is a privately rented House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and the couple told me that 'we just can't get hold of the landlord to get something done about the problem'.

As a councillor representing Withington, Ladybarn and South East Fallowfield, this is a complaint that I hear regularly from residents.

Far too often, landlords of HMOs are nowhere to be seen when problems arise at properties they own and that they are making good money from renting out.

That is why Manchester now needs to follow the example of Oxford council, which has set up a landlord licencing scheme for all HMO landlords.

The need for such a scheme is highlighted by a recent problem in Fallowfield where the driveway of a HMO was strewn with waste, including food from split bin bags and overflowing bins.

When the landlords were tracked down, they would not come out that day to deal with what was clearly a real and immediate health hazard, despite being based only a mile away in south Manchester. Instead they cheekily thanked residents for being their 'eyes and ears' in the community even though it was they, the landlords, who are being paid to manage the property.

Unfortunately, whether related to this problem or not, a local resident ended up in hospital having been bitten by a rat in their garden.

This is the sort of situation with absentee, inactive and irresponsible landlords of HMO, experienced on a daily basis, that makes local residents' blood boil.

It is also too often the case that tenants of HMOs are left in the lurch by landlords and find it too difficult to get vital repairs done.

That is why the latest edition of the Withington Civic Society's newsletter has an article entitled 'Some very angry residents' and why hardworking residents' groups like the South East Fallowfield Residents' Group and Community Guardians want the council to use its powers to set up a landlord licencing scheme for all HMOs.

The HMO landlord licencing scheme set up by Oxford council has many positive messages for Manchester about encouraging active and responsible landlords who are improving standards in the private rented sector.

Oxford has processed 3000 landlord licencing applications in just over a year. It has established a register of HMO licences that is available to members of the public.

The licence fee income has allowed Oxford council to employ enforcement officers who ensure all HMO properties are inspected and that conditions are applied where necessary, for proper waste management and other arrangements, before a landlord licence is issued.

The evidence is that the Oxford scheme is working.

Complaints from neighbours in Oxford about litter, dumping, waste and noise problems at HMOs have halved since the landlord licencing scheme was introduced.

Manchester now needs a landlord licencing scheme for all HMO landlords to ensure they contribute to, rather than neglect, the communities where they let properties.

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