Cornwall Council tackles poor housing above commercial properties

Over the past few years, Cornwall Council found that when they received referrals from the UK Border Agency and the Police service regarding House in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) above commercial premises, such as takeaways, pubs and restaurants, they routinely found unsafe living conditions and poor standards of property management. 

Following referrals from the UK Border Agency and the Police, Cornwall Council’s Private Sector Housing team looked into whether there was anything they could do to ensure that tenants living in the HMOs above the commercial properties were not having their health and wellbeing adversely affected.  

Cornwall HMO 1 

Multiple safety risks and general disrepair in a Cornwall HMO 

As a result, Cornwall Council began a pilot project where they looked back at some of their historical interventions, requested further referrals from partner agencies and undertook full inspections of the premises in question.

HMOs are defined as a building or part of a building which includes more than one unit of accommodation and in which the occupiers share basic amenities.

HMOs are on the whole safe and healthy places to live but in Cornwall, local officers found a variety of problems including: inadequate fire escape routes through commercial premises, inadequate heating provision and poor standards of management such as blocked fire escapes and fire doors being propped open when they should be closed. Such hazards are high risk and have a great likelihood of causing serious harm to occupiers.

In order to bring these properties up to scratch, the council conducted a variety of enforcement interventions, two prosecutions, and improved partnership working between the Private Sector Housing team, the UK Border Agency and the Police.

Cornwall HMO 2 

Cornwall HMO with one bedroom occupied by four people 

The pilot has now been incorporated into a wider project in Cornwall which aims to identify if other ‘subsectors’ of HMOs are ineffectively managed.  The project involves survey and risk assessments of a significant proportion of HMOs including student accommodation, HMOs predominantly occupied by migrant workers, and HMOs predominantly occupied by people in receipt of housing benefit.

Cornwall Council’s Stuart Kenney MCIEH, Principal Officer for Private Sector Housing, said: “The vast majority of HMOs are safe places to live in but sadly there are examples of properties which are detrimental to the tenants’ health and wellbeing. Furthermore, HMOs tend to be the only option for the vulnerable as well as people who would otherwise have no-where else to live.

“We have been delighted at the success we have achieved through the pilot and that we have been able to make a real difference to people who have had their health and wellbeing adversely affected through no fault of their own.”

Cornwall Council’s HMO programme is featured as a case study within the ‘Housing and Health Resource’, a specially designed website launched by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and supported by Public Health England (PHE) that aims to inform Environmental Health Practitioners and local authorities on the impact that housing conditions can have on physical and mental health, with the objective to improve health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities.

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