Kursaal residents call for stricter rules on bedsit conversions

A residents association and Labour candidate in Southend are calling for the council tighten restrictions on who can convert their home into a bedsit.

Labour candidate Tricia Cowdrey has supported Kursaal residents in putting together a petition which calls on the council to impose a policy that will mean homeowners cannot convert their property into a bedsit without first obtaining permission from the council.

Ms Cowdrey highlighted significant issues at properties on St Leonard’s Road and Hastings Road where residents have been left in “absolute squalor”.

She said: “Although it is recognised that there are some very good landlords in the area, there are those who appear to exploit some of our most vulnerable residents, where they live in absolute squalor.

“As a result, on these properties, there are high levels of anti-social behaviour including noise nuisance and drug and alcohol misuse, fly-tipping and general litter. Rubbish left on properties is often considered a health hazard and is definitely an eye-sore for all those that live in the area.

“Southend Council has been helpful in dealing with any issues which occur in the public domain, however, their hands seem to be tied in relation to these unscrupulous landlords.”

She intends to work with the residents association to submit to the council a petition that calls for the imposition of Article 4 Directions – a legal means the council can use to force property owners to seek permission before converting a single house into a small house of multiple occupancy (HMO).

Under the current rules planning permission is not required to convert a small house into a bedsit that has less than seven residents, instead it is regarded as ‘permitted development’.

Article 4 will change this by giving the council power to remove permitted development rights.

Ms Cowdrey added: “By doing this the council will have more control over housing stock through their ability to control the density of HMO’s in the area and also, in the case of conservation areas, this allows them to consider the impact any development might have on the character of that area, not just HMOs.”

Kursaal ward councillor Matt Dent said Ms Cowdrey is “absolutely right” over the issue of poor quality HMOs.

“The restrictions on HMOs are incredibly lax and it is very easy to transform a family home into a HMO without recourse to the planning system of what the area needs,” he said.

“The measure Tricia is after is not to stop HMOs but to make them have to go through the planning process.”

However, Mr Dent admitted Article 4 could only be applied to new properties and it would not have any impact on those that already cause problems.

The petition for the measure will be presented to the council at a meeting set to be held on October 29, it will then be discussed by councils bosses at a future cabinet meeting.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter