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‘Ban slumlords’ Cambridge protest highlights number of unlicensed landlords

Campaigners attended a protest in the centre of Cambridge to highlight the number of unlicensed landlords in the city.

Banner at Acorn Cambridge protest against unlicensed landlords operating in the city
Banner at Acorn Cambridge protest against unlicensed landlords operating in the city

The event was organised by Acorn Cambridge, the community and tenants’ union, which is campaigning to bring an end to unlicensed houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in Cambridge. HMO licensing is a legal requirement for properties occupied by five or more people from more than one household, and yet the council estimates there are between 600-800 unlicensed HMOs in Cambridge, with only 800 licensed HMOs on the books.

Licensing ensures the property being rented is fit for living in – it is a legal requirement.

Evan Wroe, Acorn membership officer, says: “Licensing ensures that a basis standard of living and safety is met in HMOs, it ensures that houses are up fire, gas, and electricity standards, don’t contain dangerous hazards, gets repairs seen to and aren’t overcrowded.

“It is a legal requirement: by allowing almost half of homes landlords in Cambridge to rent without licences, the council are showing contempt for the rights of renters to live in decent conditions.”

The event went on for an hour with high turnout of Acorn members.

Lewis Jordon, Acorn Cambridge membership officer, said in a rousing speech as the banner was dropped: “The council are meant to make sure renters have good safe housing to live in: Houses of Multiple Occupancy are required by law to be licensed, but we have discovered that over 600 unlicenced HMOs in Cambridge. So, what are the council doing? Without licensing, homes can become overcrowded, in disrepair and not up to standards, and landlords can get away with it! Well, were not going to stand for it – we want all HMOs in Cambridge to be licensed, as everyone has the right to decent, safe housing.

“What do we say? Ban the Slumlords!”

One attendee added: “We got an enthusiastic response from the public, with cars and cyclists honking in support as they drove past, and many residents stopping to talk about their experiences renting in Cambridge. There was a feeling of contempt for landlords taking advantage of renters at a time when working people are already being stretched by the cost-of-living crisis, and anger at the council for not making sure tenants have the protections they are entitled to by law.”

Mike, a Cambridge Acorn member who lives in an unlicensed HMO, said: “I met four student paramedics through door knocking who are living with fire safety issues – one issue is the fire alarms continually being sonorous.

“One of the tenants called it ‘mental torture’ with squalid conditions including water leakage in bathrooms, mushrooms growing and the landlord entering the property without their consent.”

Acorn organiser Polly O’Neill said: “Acorn’s next plan is to present our demands to the council at hosting scrutiny committee meeting on September 22. Our demands are that the council recruit a team of at least two employees to identify landlords of unlicensed HMOs, hold them to account and fine landlords breaking the law.”

Protesters in Cambridge campaigning to ban ‘slumlords’ in the city. Picture: Richard Marsham
Protesters in Cambridge campaigning to ban ‘slumlords’ in the city. Picture: Richard Marsham

A spokesperson for Cambridge City Council said: “We have licensed over 450 properties as HMOs since 2018 when the requirements were extended to mean that rental properties with five or more tenants and fewer than three storeys became eligible for licensing as HMOs. The total number of licensed HMOs in Cambridge is now 808, and we would like to thank those landlords who have come forward.

"We estimate there may be a further 640 licensable properties, and will continue our work, including proactive inspection, to confirm that those properties are safe and suitable and whether they need to be licensed as an HMO. We eagerly await the introduction of the government’s proposed rental property portal, which will enable us to more easily identify licensable HMOs and further crack down on criminal landlords.

“It’s really important that HMOs are correctly licensed, as correct licensing ensures greater safety for tenants in their homes. If a tenant is living in a rental property that’s occupied by five or more individual ‘households’, sharing kitchen or bathroom facilities, it’s probably a licensable HMO. Tenants can check whether their accommodation is licensed by contacting our Environmental Services team, who can also investigate any safety concerns tenants may have about their rental accommodation.

“We would also encourage landlords to contact our team as soon as possible, if your property may be an HMO to ensure that it is licensed as necessary.”

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