I’m uncomfortable with the number of family homes converted to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), it’s a big issue in my constituency. It significantly alters the character of an area and deprives young families of starter homes.
I was reflecting on this last week when I read the Birmingham Mail story about the drug gang who built a £17 million property empire, including around 30 houses in Selly Oak. It reminded me of my role in promoting the Proceeds of Crime Act. In 2001, David Blunkett encountered a surprising degree of opposition when he decided that he was going to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gain. We often referred to it as the Al Capone Act, after the Chicago mobster who was eventually convicted of Income Tax fraud.
It’s not enough to send criminals to prison, we must make sure that they don’t benefit from their crimes. Without seizing their assets, gangsters continue to profit. It’s good to be reminded, all these years later, that we were right to persist.
There are plenty of decent private landlords and I want to see their trade and interests protected but this case raises questions about HMOs and so called ‘Supported Accommodation.’ Is it right to have so many of these properties in a single location? This gang seemed to be attempting to buy up entire streets. How can someone open an HMO to 4 or 5 tenants without the police or the local authority being consulted, or any checks carried out? I’ve come across residents who complain about noise and suffer abuse if they dare to object and people, with nowhere else to live, who say they’re forced to share properties with people who make them feel unsafe.
The private rented sector can be a lucrative source of profits and it’s obvious that criminals now have designs on this market as an easy way to launder money.
We’ve come a long way since 2001 and seem to have it right in terms of tools for law enforcement agencies but do we need to look again at safeguards in the private rented sector?