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How Many HMOs In Portsmouth?


2,600 - of which over 1,200 are already licensed and the remainder are small ones. Not 6,000 as estimated by the council, or 4,271 as reported by the council, or 2,801 as licensed by the council last time they did Licensing. No, just 2,600 - so what is all the fuss about (that is about 1 property in every 40).

Number Of HMOs Is Grossly Over-Estimated 

Much of the justification for the introduction of Additional Licensing is based on the belief that there are 6,000 HMOs in the city with only 1,200 currently licensed under the Mandatory Licensing scheme.The logic being that all HMOs are the same and if they find problems with the big HMOs, they will find the same problems in the same proportions in the small HMOs.This is not logical, but the bigger question which this section seeks to answer is how many HMOs there are in the city.

Portsmouth City Council seems to rely solely on the BRE data which we assume is based on total number of dwellings divided proportionately into types of dwelling based on national averages and is not actually based on any local evidence.

We have looked at all of the available data points and conclude that there are actually between 2,600 and 3,000 HMO's in the city of which 1,200+ are already licensed under the mandatory licensing scheme.

2013-18 Additional Licensing

In the justification put forward for Additional Licensing prior to its introduction in 2013, PCC claimed there were 6,000 HMOs in the city, the same claim as they make today.

After 5 years of Licensing, according to the minutes of the HMO Governance Board dated 9th April 2018, there were 3,103 HMOs of which 3,074 had been licensed and there were 190 Section 257 properties of which only 126 had been licensed.

Based on this specific data source – PCC argued that there were 6,000 HMOs but after 5 years of operation, they were only able to identify 3,074 (or 3,200 if you include S257 properties).

Portsmouth Local Housing Needs Assessment 2019

"As of June 2018 there were 2,801 licenced properties in Portsmouth, which amounts to over 3% of the housing stock and over 10% of the private rented. Therefore, HMOs form an important part of the housing market in Portsmouth."

"in an area such as Portsmouth the private rented sector is the major source of accommodation for low income households and students and therefore, should be treated as a priority in the area. It is probably equally as important for Portsmouth to seek to improve conditions in its private rented sector as it is for it to deliver additional affordable housing"

Planning Applications

One of our members made a review of all planning applications over the past 5 years analysing the rate and volume of change from family let (C3) to mixed use (C3/C4) or HMO (C4) and similarly, the increasing trend which is seeing small HMOs being converted into 'Super HMOs'

All of this data can be made available, but the net result was an estimate of 3,026 HMO's in the city. This total comprised 1,535 small HMOs (3 or 4 bed as would be covered by Additional Licensing) in the south of the city plus a further 253 in the northern wards not covered by the previous round of Additional Licensing.

HMO Database

This database is a combination of Planning data and Licensing data and has 4,271 entries. However, this document is widely accepted as inaccurate because:

  • -It includes many C3/C4 properties where letting agents applied for flexible use when the Article 4 Direction was originally introduced to ensure the option to switch from C3 to C4 usage remained in the future so they could accept, say 3 nurses in a family house without having to wait 8 weeks + for planning consent. Many of these were never HMOs at any point.
  • -It includes many C3/C4 properties which have switched to family use because of the drop in student numbers over the past few years (demographics, Covid, etc)
  • -It includes many 1 and 2 bed flats which are not HMOs
  • -It includes S257 properties

Our analysis quickly found HMOs in Gunwharf and Port Solent, where they are not allowed under the local rules, collections of 1 and 2 bed flats in parts of Southsea, such as Campbell Rd which could not possibly be HMO's and many, many family let properties listed as being HMO's.

So far, without a great deal of effort, we have identified 400+ incorrect entries. Whilst this does not confirm our estimate of a maximum 3,000 HMO's in the city, we suggest that a proper review will show that our estimate is much more accurate than the 4,271 currently listed – so with potentially one third of entries being inaccurate, this document is not fit for the purpose to which it is put.

Student Council Tax

According to the Additional Licensing documentation, there are only 835 student occupied HMO's and 53% of these are currently licensed under the Mandatory Licensingscheme. If we assume the larger ones average 6 occupants and the smaller ones 3.8, this gives a total of around 4,100 students living in the community in shared accommodation. We will not argue with these figure – they appear logical and fit with other sources, but we would argue that there are not 5,000 non-student HMOs in the city.

Black & Green Bins

In response to a Freedom of Information request, Portsmouth City Council told us:

the number of black bins handed out since the roll out of September 2018 according to our records:

- 140L (standard size): 48,000 bins

- 180L (provided to larger families and HMOs): 1,600 bins

- 240L (provided to larger families, households with certain medical needs and HMOs): 1,450 bins.

Given that the larger bins regularly get stolen by households wishing a larger bin and thus needing to be replaced, and it is not just HMO's that get larger bins, these figures confirm our upper estimate that there are no more than 3,000 HMO's in the city.

Changing HMO Market

We have evidence as above, of there being 2,600-3,000 HMO's in the city – half of which are smaller HMOs in the southern wards, predominantly serving the student market.

Over the past 4 years, since Additional Licensing finished, we have seen significant movement away from HMO letting for a host of reasons:

  • -Demographic / Population changes resulting in fewer students over past few years
  • -Market conditions now make it more profitable to let a small house to a family than as an HMO
  • -Current fuel and utility prices exacerbate this latter point
  • -Increasing levels of regulation and changing tax rules (both personal and in the use of disaggregation of HMO rooms) have also forced many from this market segment
  • -The introduction of minimum room sizes took several hundred rooms out of the local market
  • -The extension of Mandatory Licensing for all 5-bed+ HMOs caused many 5-beds to change to 4-beds as the loss in revenue was considered acceptable given the increase in profitability associated with the lower costs and higher rents afforded by the change

As a result, we believe the city has lost 250-300 HMO's in the past 4 years, which further supports our estimate of probably 2,600 HMO's in the city up to a maximum of 3,000. 

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