Belfast City Council has refused HMO licence applications from landlords who had failed to renew their licences stating that there is an overprovision of student HMO’s. This follows a decision earlier in the year when a landlord was refused an HMO licence renewal on the grounds of student anti-social behaviour.

All the properties in question were student type housing and had previously been HMO’s but the landlords had failed to renew the licences. Elected representatives were bound by regulation not to allow the fresh applications due to an overprovision of student housing in the location.

In certain areas of Belfast, student HMOs have become increasingly controversial, with some arguing they have negatively affected the community and are a cause of anti-social behaviour. While the council policy is that HMO’s should not account for more than 30 percent of any area, in reality many streets well exceed this, reaching over 90 percent in some cases.

HMO licence renewal cannot be refused based on overprovision of such properties in an area, but a new licence application can be refused on these grounds. HMO licences are valid for five years, and where it is deemed necessary, the committee can also impose special conditions.

The letting agents for one of the applicants argued that high demand showed there was a need for more HMO’s, but a council officer said: “Officers would be of the opinion that there continues to be a high demand for them, but at this stage it is too early to determine whether this is an ongoing trend.”

The officer added “I would caveat that with the traditional purpose-built accommodation being built in the city now to house students, and proposals for additional bed spaces. So, officers would believe it is too early to say whether there is a need for additional HMO’s in the locality, and as such we would not be in the position to recommend the granting of a licence as we could not be satisfied it wouldn’t result in overprovision.”

In March this year the Licensing Committee made a watershed decision to refuse a landlord’s HMO licence renewal, on the grounds of student anti-social behaviour. The first of its kind, the decision could mean landlords lose their HMO licences providing residents can give significant evidence to the council of rowdy neighbours.