HMO – damp, cramped and infested

Published

Credit: Glasgow Guardian/Caroline Evans Abbott

Jennifer Bowey
Writer

When my step dad came to Glasgow at the end of last year, I was surprised at his reaction to my flat. He was, in his words, “absolutely appalled” by it. You’re probably thinking his outward disgust was the result of Domino’s boxes replacing the carpet and empty wine bottles spilling over the bin, but actually, for once, we had cleaned the place. No, rather than a self-imposed pigsty synonymous with student living, my stepdad’s disgust was borne from there being no living room, almost no natural light whatsoever and rat poison in the corner of every room.

Having experienced an infestation of maggots in student halls the previous year, my standards were already set very low – something that was probably for the best, considering what I was about to face for roughly £400 a month. Since moving into the flat in September 2016 I had slowly become accustomed to living in substandard conditions, but witnessing my stepdad’s near-violent reaction restored the perspective I had lost.

Experiences like this are, sadly, more common than not in HMO flats. HMO formally stands for “Houses in Multiple Occupancy”, but to students it is synonymous with “damp”, “cramped” and “infested”. Interestingly, on the Scottish government website, it is stated that this legislation is designed to ensure certain living standards. This is ironic, given that the majority of HMO flats are barely liveable in and cost substantially more to rent than non-HMO flats.

Last year, I was living in a three bedroom flat with no living room and an internal kitchen, which doesn’t just mean that your kitchen is inside (which you’d hope) – it means that your kitchen has no windows and a dirty great big fan to try and keep the air clean. The rent was £395 per person monthly and, to our horror, we discovered that this was to be increased to £460 each for the new tenants.

Ironically, now that I live in a non-HMO flat my rent is lower and my quality of living is much higher. Given that most students that want to live as a group have no choice but to rent a flat with a HMO licence, it seems counterproductive to install ineffective legislation which simply costs students, a notoriously impoverished demographic, even more money. Money which, in most cases, is probably coming out of the government’s pocket in the form of student loans.

Even more disturbingly, security levels of the average HMO flat in Glasgow are unacceptable and dangerous. In my own previous flat, the main door was always left unlocked meaning that anybody and everybody could enter our building. I have numerous friends who have been robbed while living in HMO flats which is terrifying in any situation, but particularly for students who have only recently left the comfort and safety of their family home. Of course, the matter of a flat’s security is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain, and in my experience landlords of HMO flats have been incredibly reluctant to fix any problems relating to the flat, perhaps because they rely on students being relatively powerless. It’s daunting enough for young people leaving home and having to cook, clean and organise everything for themselves without the additional stress of living in what is, essentially, squalor.

Unfortunately, in addition to this problem, it is all too easy for landlords to exploit naïve students – who have only ever lived in student halls – and charge extortionate rent prices for their second-rate flats. This insidious behaviour is so prevalent that, in reality, it would be impossible to completely eradicate it. HMO licences, however, are an antiquated “solution” that only exacerbates an already existing problem.