EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local launches a series of articles investigating the devastation caused by the mushrooming number of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) in Erdington and Kingstanding.

Chief reporter Adam Smith spent the last year living in HMOs and has seen first-hand how housing associations and rogue landlords are ripping off taxpayers – whilst exploiting the most vulnerable people in society.

Do you pay tax?

If so, then your hard-earned money is lining the pockets of ruthless housing associations and rogue landlords – whose greed is wrecking the lives of Erdington residents, tenants, and the most vulnerable people in society.

Nationally the taxpayer shells out billions of pounds for eye-wateringly inflated rents for benefits claimants’ rooms in HMOs – which get planning permission, despite Erdington residents and politicians bitterly complaining they are destroying the very fabric of the local community.

Hundreds of Erdington houses, including historic and beautiful Victorian properties, have been turned into HMOs – creating a living hell for both tenants and local residents who watch helplessly as the area they love becomes blighted.

Stockland Green is one of the worst examples in the country for the negative effect of HMOs and supported accommodation.

Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ and living in HMOs and/or supported accommodation are locked in a vicious circle; landlords charge the taxpayer £900 a month for a single room, leaving the tenant no motivation to get a job as the rent will be too high on a low wage. This investigation will explore examples of housing association staff actively discouraging tenants to work.

Tenants in ‘supported accommodation’ should get an hour of professional support a week, which qualifies their extortionate rent from benefits – but instead of proper psychiatric help, staff often only see tenants to demand a weekly ‘maintenance charge’, usually between £12 and £20, out of their benefits.

Instead of tenancy agreements which offer some protection to renters, those living in HMOs are forced to sign ‘licenses’ containing pages of draconian rules and potential infringements – which if broken can see the tenants made homeless with just a week’s notice.

Staff can enter rooms when they like and there have even been examples of male staff bursting unannounced into women’s rooms after 11pm.

HMOs radically changed the rental market in Erdington, with landlords now preferring benefits claimants and even advertising rooms for the price of the maintenance charge. Meanwhile, working people are trying to find somewhere to live from a dwindling amount of properties – which are increasing in price due to their scarcity.

This scandal crosses political lines too.

Legislation from the Conservative government has allowed ruthless companies, landlords, and housing associations to exploit the benefit system – whilst Birmingham’s Labour administration has allowed thousands of HMOs to be created in the city, without the ability to scrutinise the conduct of those organisations running them.

This investigation will unveil the close links between Birmingham City Council  and to the companies profiting from the system.

During the Government’s ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, housing associations in Birmingham have been quietly evicting people during the deadly pandemic.

Recently, Edgbaston MP Preet Gill called on the Government to extend the evictions ban. However, Gill is on the board of Spring Housing Association, which works extremely closely with Birmingham City Council – but which also evicted vulnerable tenants during COVID-19 lockdown.

One evicted Spring Housing tenant, Shamir Hussain, told Erdington Local: “I was evicted during lockdown by Spring Housing, just when I thought I was as low as I could they made it worse. They made me homeless during a pandemic where people were dying all around us, I will never forget that.

They (Spring Housing) were getting £900 a month for me to live in a room; I could have paid a mortgage on a nice house for that obscene amount of money for one room. And when I did put a claim in for a much cheaper rent amount, for a whole flat, I was refused. It seemed like they were happy to pay £900 to Spring Housing but not a fraction of that to sort my life out.”

The area’s two most powerful politicians, Labour’s Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Erdington Councillor and leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives Robert Alden, both recognise the damage being done to the area by the scourge of bad landlords.

Dromey said: “I know how angry residents are about this issue, I went to a meeting on Frances Road two years ago expecting six people to be there and 70 residents turned up. And the problem has worsened in that time not got better.

Stockland Green is where the problem is at its most acute, where the most prosecutions of landlords in Birmingham have been due to work with the police, and with the disproportionate dumping of vulnerable tenants into the area by landlords who do not give a damn about them and not give them any help.

Some of these landlords let their tenants live in squalor in Erdington whilst they live in the lap of luxury in Sutton Coldfield. However, there are some very good landlords out there, which is all the more the shame when the bad ones undercut them to cram an extra person in.”

In the 1980’s Dromey helped residents in London fight a bitter dispute with slum landlords and even created a ‘Hit Parade of Bad Landlords’ with help from Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman – who would regularly do a run down on television of the worst offenders.

The MP said: “We have use imaginative ways to fight these type of people but in Erdington we also need proper joined up action with the police, council, probation and mental health services working together to solve the problems created in the last five years in the housing sector which coincides with the Tories being in power.”

Councillor Robert Alden laments the changing face of the area’s housing stock, which used to be the envy of the rest of the city in years gone by.

He said: “Erdington has been blighted by HMO’s run by bad landlords.

Erdington’s large stock of larger Victorian family homes have sadly often been taken over and turned into swathes of HMO’s – in many places seeing whole rows of housing turned from the purpose they were built for, to provide housing for families, into a collection of substandard and often below even minimum standard room size bedsits.”

He added: “Often quiet residential streets have suddenly found themselves besieged by bedsits acting under exempt housing placing drug addicts, alcoholics, and ex-offenders into our local community.

Sadly, those rogue landlords have used loopholes in the system to convert houses far and beyond the scope they were designed for, often seeing three bedroom homes turned into six or seven room bedsits.

Sometimes they also claim for alleged support provided to people while failing to provide anything like that – in the process taking huge amounts of tax payers money for services barely provided, failing their tenants, while also leaving communities like Erdington to suffer from the fallout.”

As well as the co-operation of all relevant agencies in Erdington, there also needs to be strong political leadership to stop the situation getting worse – but to also undo the systemic problems caused by five years of loopholes being exploited by those who had the most money to gain from flooding Erdington with high profit dangerous housing.

Throughout this series of stories, a light will be shone on some very murky corners and shocking practices – and this investigation will follow the money.

This investigation will explore how neighbouring HMOs crammed full of men have created ‘no-go roads’ for women and teenagers fed up of cat calling, sexual harassment, and threatening acts of misogyny.

There will also be stories from the female perspective, from suddenly having men moved into your safe space, as well as the unique HMO experiences of trans refugees.

This investigation will challenge those responsible on their behaviour – reporting them to the appropriate authorities if any laws were broken. Expect explosive revelations and, as readers, you have the right to demand resignations.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on [email protected]

6 Replies to “EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit”

  1. I have lived in York Road to 27 years, all properties were family homes when I moved in. However we now have a number of HMOs that have blighted the road. Police called out numerous times , s our road is now classed as high risk. Language and is horrendous at times. Surf gives gang out in street ready for car to pull up and do drug exchange. Don’t understand how we bought our house and now we now have to pay more car insurance, house insurance, lose money on value than of our house that we struggled to buy. Because we have these in the street, the landlords are loading their pockets and the people don’t care because the properties aren’t theres. Residents should be able to use the landlords for lose in house price, increase in insurances and be liable for the disruption in the road. My dad always said buy your own hose and you can pick your neighbours , was correct 20 years ago not now, the council can’t house them so let’s send them out into the community. We are going back to Victorian slums, with multiple occupation houses. Time government addresses this, but powers that be, don’t live here or really care, out of sight out o f mind. I

  2. I live & own my house on a residential road …Stockwell Road in Handsworth…. we are being blighted by HMOs and small terraced 2/3. bed properties that are being let out to people of up to 20 at times
    Out of 7 properties in close proximity to my own home 5 are Buy to Let
    We are plagued with constant 24/7 Noise ..Drug Use/Selling …Cars. being repaired outside of premises and Fly tipping/Rubbish …. we regularly have air pollution from fires & there are constantly cars visiting these premises at all hours of the night
    Also some of the Landlords are using their Tenants for Slave Labour on a daily/regular basis
    This is destroying communities
    And causing lots of stress to hard working Tax Paying Residents
    Birmingham City Council are not doing Enough to ensure HMOs & Rogue Landlords are kept Under Control

  3. Sadly my area (North Solihull) is seeing these HMO’s pop up. No, we’re not near a trendy high street, university or in the middle of a busy commuter city. The properties are basic terrace houses on cramped roads with one allocated parking space. Where are these cars going to park? The only selling point for these tenancies is “it’s close to the M6, junction 5”. It’s disgraceful these vultures are allowed to do this. This should be stopped planning permission rules need to change. They’ll be no affordable housing for families.

  4. I live in a road of small terraced houses in Stockland Green, two up and two down, and yet a house two doors away from me has been turned into a six room exempted HMO housing ex-offenders. That’s nearly £6000 a month to the landlord. There is no ‘support’ from anyone as far as I can see, and I have to put up with the constant smell of cannabis and loud late night drinking parties. I am a lecturer and trying to work at home but the noise makes this almost impossible. This used to be a lovely road, but sadly it is now as bad as the worst districts in Birmingham. I used to feel privileged to live here. No more.

  5. Erdington is awash with hmos with lots of people in houses meant for 4 people who now have 6 . You think to yourself that’s not too bad but its what people they put in and the their general ways of treating the area. They are people who normally would be at a distance in the street but now are crammed into small rooms . Often they don’t even speak to each other and don’t even know first names. The depression rates must be enormous as of the feeling of being alone.
    Neighbours in Mere road are now beginning to feel the effects of Spring housing and poor landlords/letting agencies. The Letting agencies will allow any one to fill the rooms for their client/landlord. This leaves a mis match of people. Now because of the law no one will be evicted till at least the 20 Sept. 2020. There are excellent landlords who have houses in Erdington who check every thing and will not allow her houses to be abused by the tenants. One of her houses is next to me 46 Mere road and is looking to join the Police check of tenants. She and her husband run an excellent house and are a lot cheaper by at least £400 a month. The council should come and talk to her and see how it should be run.

  6. I have lived in erdington for 22 years… watched its demise. I have given up with the council and lying cheating people in the area. Selling up and moving completely out of Birmingham… going to rent a property in an area that people appreciate. For 18 months my house was up for sale… every potential buyer was looking for the same opportunity…to rent out.. to extend and turn into an HMO . Not a single enquiry from a first time buyer.
    Sick of racing cars, drugs, fighting, rubbish, mattreses, stolen cars, high street destroyed… no speed cameras, no police etc . Taking my money and running !

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