Landlords urged to share information with police in drive to prevent HMO problems in South Shields

Landlords of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) could be asked to provide information on their tenants under a police scheme.

Saturday, 24th August 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 24th August 2019, 10:14 pm
Picture c/o Google Streetview

In recent months, the council’s Place Select Committee launched a special commission into the property types – which include shared flats and houses.

Council bosses have previously called for more powers to identify and influence HMOs in the private rented sector.

Councillors heard information sharing could be a key tool to understand the issue.

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The debate was sparked following comments from Pc Jo Pepper, a neighbourhood officer for the Riverside area who is currently working with HMO landlords on her beat.

This includes encouraging property owners to sign up to “information sharing agreements” (ISAs) to keep tabs on people living in properties.

The scheme aims to help police find people who are wanted or victims of crime and to allow conversations with landlords about the “suitability” of tenants.

Pc Pepper told the meeting: “It also benefits HMO owners because we’re not knocking on their door looking for someone who left last week.

“We want to share information with owners and have a good relationship with them.”

The ISAs must be signed-off on a case by case basis, subject to a legal process, and are not mandatory, the meeting heard.

According to Pc Pepper, the scheme aims to build relationships with landlords and protect the public.

She added: “It’s all about information so we know exactly who is living in our area.

“I would like to know what convictions they have got and where they’re living so I know that if I need to safeguard people around them I can.”

The meeting heard a large proportion of HMOs in South Tyneside are based in Beach Road, South Shields.

While many HMOs are licensed or include council-commissioned services, others in the private sector can fall under the radar.

Committee chairman, Coun Ernest Gibson, asked if crime figures had increased or decreased since HMOs popped up in Riverside.

The meeting heard it was difficult to say as crimes taking place outside properties are recorded against that address – when they may not be linked.

Pc Pepper said she had good relationships with housing associations around HMOs.

But she added there was “red tape” around private HMOs in finding out how many people were living there.

“I have some landlords who are great and very proactive and want our help and I have others who say I can’t come in without a warrant,” she told the meeting.

Councillors heard information around HMOs could be passed to South Tyneside Council if linked to antisocial behaviour and environmental health issues.

And Coun Anne Hetherington questioned whether ISAs could be mandatory and added to council licences for HMOs in future.

Other suggestions included a byelaw around private HMO landlords and the ISA scheme being introduced across the borough.

The scrutiny commission is expected to meet several times in coming months.

After hearing all evidence, it will announce a list of recommendations with an aim of shaping and influencing council policy around HMOs.

Any major changes would need signed off by cabinet before coming into force.