Portsmouth sees 'significant' increase in landlords scaling back HMOs, say property experts

FOR years, HMOs – homes of multiple occupancy – have divided communities across the city, but now property experts are reporting that Covid-19 has landlords increasingly turning their back on the rental properties.
An aerial view of the densely population North End neighbourhood in Portsmouth.An aerial view of the densely population North End neighbourhood in Portsmouth.
An aerial view of the densely population North End neighbourhood in Portsmouth.

Residents across the city have repeatedly hit out at the form of housing, which can see anywhere from three to seven-plus people from different households sharing a home.

Recent high profile HMO applications in Plains Avenue and Tywford Avenue saw hundreds objections sent to the council, as well as petitions from residents concerned about the changing nature of their neighbourhood.

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But now property experts are reporting a ‘significant trend’ where an increasing number of landlords are selling their HMO properties or renting them out for family use.

This five bed terraced house - a fully tenanted HMO in Gladys Avenue went on the market for £330,000 earlier this year.This five bed terraced house - a fully tenanted HMO in Gladys Avenue went on the market for £330,000 earlier this year.
This five bed terraced house - a fully tenanted HMO in Gladys Avenue went on the market for £330,000 earlier this year.

The number of landlords changing their HMO properties has increased by almost 50 per cent over the last 12 months, according to Martin Silman, chairman of the Portsmouth and District Private Landlord Association.

He said: ‘We are in the middle of a downward trend – we are seeing 30 to 40 per cent more people than normal leaving the market.

‘With capital gains tax, with the stamp duty (freeze), with Covid-19 and Brexit, there’s a cohort (of landlords) who would have sold in a few years’ time, but they have now brought that forward.

‘Add it all together and it makes a significant trend.’

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The council estimates there are 4,471 houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) of three or more occupants, accounting for five per cent of properties in the city.

Lettings agent Daryn Brewer said he was regularly seeing four or five-bed HMO properties coming on to the market – and believes Covid-19 has left landlords fearful of the future.

He said: ‘Where I look at Rightmove every day, you’re seeing four or five-bed HMO properties in Southsea come on the market.

‘There’s been a lot of landlords who have been hurt over Covid because they haven’t had students in their property for a year.

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‘I know a lot of landlords have repurposed their properties and rented them out to families.

‘This makes me think landlords are actually exiting the market because they’re concerned about its future.’

Approximately one-third of all HMOs in the city were student occupied, accounting for 1.7 percent of homes in Portsmouth.

There are more landlords in Portsmouth who wish to rent to students than there are students available to rent private accommodation in the city, according to a spokesman from the University of Portsmouth.

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He said: ‘The impact of students on the city’s housing stock is relatively minor and in fact there is an oversupply of private rented accommodation in Portsmouth.

‘The university has ambitious goals for the future and is always looking for opportunities to enable more people to access our gold-rated, high-quality education.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the development of online learning and this is one of the areas where we aim to expand further in future.’

Across the wider rental market, recent analysis by national estate agents Ascend Properties found that the city remains in high demand.

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Portsmouth was found to be in the top seven cities in terms of rental demand across England, with almost a quarter of residents living in the private rental sector.

There are more than 20,000 privately rented properties across the city, according to Martin, but the problem facing the market is a lack of housing stock on the market.

He said it is this lack of housing – and not HMOs – that is restricting options for young families looking to rent.

The landlord added: ‘I have heard this argument several times. I have heard it come from quite leftwing organisations, picking the ‘families good, students bad fight’.

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‘It plays to groups that think HMOs are bad – I don’t want to be disrespectful to the council, but there are a few that are against HMOs because the issue gets them re-elected.

‘I would say 30 or 40 per cent of our members are student landlords. That’s stayed fairly static. The housing stock hasn’t changed radically.

‘We need to be a mixed community and unfortunately our housing stock is what it is

Using Milton as an example, Martin said there is an estimated 3,000 three-bed houses with just one elderly occupant.

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Daryn agreed said: ‘There is 100 per cent a shortage across the city.

‘It’s very rare we have a property last 72 hours on the market.

‘There’s a massive shortage of rental, there’s no doubt about it, rental is going up. But property prices are so high, there is no incentive to buy a property. I don’t see many new landlords coming on to the market.’

Portsmouth City Council is hoping to increase the number of homes across the city with several large projects – but it faces an ‘impossible’ central government target of more than 850 new builds a year, according to Councillor Hugh Mason, cabinet member for planning policy and city development.

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He said: ‘We are encouraging building in Tipner West. We are also buying back some properties sold under Right To Buy

‘We recognise the problem, but we are doing what we can to address the problem.’

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