The HMO Unit Manager submitted for the Committee’s consideration the following report:
“1.0 Purpose of Report/Summary of Main Issues
1.1 To consider an application for the renewal of a Licence permitting the use of premises as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).
12 Curzon Street
Dirnan Properties Ltd
1.2 Members are reminded that licences are issued for a 5-year period with standard conditions. Where it is considered necessary to do so, the Committee can also impose special conditions.
1.3 Following the public notice of the application, objections were received in relation to alleged noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour taking place at the property.
1.4 As valid objections have been received, the application must be considered by the Committee which must, after hearing from the objectors and the applicant, decide whether to grant the renewal application.
2.1 Taking into account the information presented, the Committee is asked to hear from the applicant and make a decision to either:
(i) grant the application, with or without any special conditions; or
(ii) refuse the application.
2.2 If the application is refused, the applicant has a right of appeal to the County Court. Such an appeal must be lodged within 28 days of formal notification of the decision. The licence will remain in place pending the appeal.
3.0 Main Report
3.1 Pursuant to the 2016 Act, the Council may only grant a licence if it is satisfied that:
a) the occupation of the living accommodation as an HMO would not constitute a breach of planning control;
b) the owner, and any managing agent of it, are fit and proper persons;
c) the proposed management arrangements are satisfactory);
d) the granting of the licence will not result in overprovision of HMOs in the locality;
e) the living accommodation is fit for human habitation and—
f) is suitable for occupation as an HMO by the number of persons to be specified in the licence, or
g) can be made so suitable by including conditions in the licence.
3.2 However, where the application is for renewal, the Council cannot take into account whether the use is a breach of planning control or would result in overprovision.
3.3 Following publication of notice of the application, a number objections were received. A copy of the objections have been circulated. The issues raised are as follows:
a) Over provision of HMOs in this area, leading to densification of the neighbourhood and reducing living quality;
b) Existing household waste arrangements are not sufficient for the existing population;
c) Insufficient sound proofing of properties;
d) Alleged nuisance complaints and anti-social behaviour attributed to the subject property.
3.4 Points a), b) and c) are not specific to the premises and, as this is a renewal application, the legislation prohibits the Council from taking into account issues around overprovision.
3.5 When considering the fitness of an applicant the Council must have regard to convictions in relation to specified offences and any other matter which it considers to be relevant.
3.6 The NIHMO Unit has consulted with the following units within the Council’s City and Neighbourhood Services Department –
Environmental Protection Unit (‘EPU’) - has confirmed that in relation to night-time noise there have been three noise warning notices issued on the 16 November 2017, 13 November 2017 and 3 December 2017 in respect of the HMOin the last 5 years;
Environmental Protection Unit (‘EPU’) - has confirmed that in relation to day-time noise there has been no relevant enforcement action required in respect of the HMO in the last 5 years;
Public Health and Housing Unit (‘PHHU’) - has confirmed that in relation to rubbish accumulation/filthy premises, there has been no relevant enforcement action required in respect of the HMO in the last 5 years; and
Enforcement Unit(‘EU’) – has confirmed that in relation to litter and waste, there has been no relevant enforcement action required in respect of the HMO in the last 5 years,
3.7 The NIHMO Unit received a complaint relating to an allegation of the tenants playing music and coming and going from the property on 5th April 2021. The complaint was accompanied by a video lasting 8 secs, showing an individual knocking on the door. In addition, there was a still photograph of a police car and a police officer on the Street at 1.36 am. The NIHMO unit took no action in relation to this complaint.
3.8 The NIHMO Unit received a further complaint relating to an incident on 8th August 2021 from 12.50 am onwards. The complaint consisted of a written statement and 3 videos, the complainant stated, ‘The lads in number 12 were having a party and playing football on the street and in and out of their house all night.’
3.9 The videos are short (23 seconds, 48 seconds and 79 seconds) and showed people coming and going from the property and in one video a person is seen kicking a football with someone out of camera shot. Officers will have these videos available for members to view at Committee.
3.10 On foot of this complaint, the NIHMO Unit wrote to the owner of the property.
3.11 The owner confirmed to the NIHMO Unit that, in response to the August incident, he had a meeting with the tenants regarding their behaviour, during which he reinforced their responsibilities as tenants and furnished them with a copy of the anti-social behaviour policy. He further advised the tenants that this couldn’t happen again and if it does the next step will be to contact their guarantors. The owner is of the belief that the tenants took the advice on board and he states that they apologised for their behaviour. The owner also asked his tenants to apologise to any of their neighbours that they may have annoyed.
3.12 Based on the information provided by the owner, the NIHMO Unit was satisfied that the owner’s conduct in dealing with the incident was reasonable and proportionate.
3.13 The applicants and managing agent have confirmed that they have not been convicted of any relevant offences, as set out at paragraph 3.6 of this report.
3.14 The applicant or managing agent have not been convicted of any HMO related offences by the Council. The EPU, PHHU and EU, solely in respect of their statutory functions, have confirmed that there are no relevant, previous convictions in respect of the applicant, managing agent or occupants. Due to data protection issues which have arisen, PSNI have not been accepting or responding to notification of these applications. Officers are continuing to engage with PSNI to find a resolution to this issue.
3.15 Officers are not aware of any other issue relevant to the Applicant’s fitness.
3.16 The applicant and/or their representatives will be available to discuss any matters relating to the licence application should they arise during the Committee meeting.
Suitability of the Premises
3.17 An inspection of the premises was carried out by officers from the NIHMO Unit on 13th August 2021, at which time it was established that the property met the physical standards for an HMO.
Notice of Proposed Decision
3.18 On 20th August 2021, pursuant to Paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 of the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, officers issued a notice of proposed decision to the applicant setting out the terms of the proposed licence.
3.19 The notice of proposed decision stated that the council proposed to grant the licence. Officers are of the view that any reported/alleged instances of anti-social behaviour and concern about the lack of accountability from those who own HMO properties, can be adequately addressed by the provision of an anti-social behaviour plan and out of hours contact number by the owner, as is already required under the standard terms and conditions of a licence.
Financial and Resource Implications
3.20 None. The cost of assessing the application and officer inspections are provided for within existing budgets.
Equality and Good Relations Implications
3.21 There are no equality or good relations issues associated with this report.”
The HMO Unit Manager provided an overview of the report and played for the benefit of the Committee three short videos which had accompanied the complaint which the HMO Unit had received on 8th August.
He reported that Mr. S. Byrne and Mr. B. Gardiner-Crehan, two of the objectors to the applicant, and Mr. D. O’Donnell, the applicant, were in attendance and they were welcomed to the meeting.
Mr. Byrne explained that he was a homeowner in Curzon Street and that, on at least one night per week, he and his wife were forced to stay with neighbours due to excessive noise and anti-social behaviour associated with the property at number 12. He pointed out that Section 10 (6) of the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 defined anti-social behaviour as “acting or threatening to act in a manner causing or likely to cause a nuisance or annoyance to a person residing in, visiting or otherwise engaging in a lawful activity in residential premises or in the locality” and stressed that this was particularly relevant to this application. He made the point that whatever management arrangements were in place currently for number 12 Curzon Street were clearly inadequate and added that HMO properties in the area generally were having a detrimental impact upon the quality of life and human rights of other residents, in terms of, for example, feeling safe and being able to sleep without interruption.
Mr. Gardiner-Crehandrew the Members’ attention to the three short videos which they had viewed earlier in the meeting and confirmed that he had recorded them outside number 12 Curzon Street from 12.50 a.m. onwards on the morning of 8th August, 2021. The video showing football being played in the street had been recorded at 12.58 a.m. He stated that this was a regular occurrence for that property and that his family, which included two young children, were often forced to move to another room in order to sleep. That was likely to be the case also for other families with young children living in the street. Such instances confirmed that the landlord was failing to address noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour. He went on to state that he had established a neighbourhood watch scheme in the street in an attempt to improve the appeal of the area, however, its effectiveness would be likely to be limited by the fact that ten of the seventeen properties in Curzon Street were now Houses in Multiple Occupation.
Mr. O’Donnell began by pointing out that, as the owner of the property, he had received only one complaint of anti-social behaviour, that being on 8th August. He stressed that he treated anti-social behaviour very seriously and fully investigated any incidents which were brought to his attention. That had been the case for this complaint, although, in his view, the videos which had submitted by Mr. Gardiner-Crehan offered no evidence, as they did not display the time of recording or the extent of noise nuisance. He confirmed that, following the complaint, he had met with his tenants to make them aware of their responsibilities towards other people living in the street and had provided them with a copy of the anti-social behaviour policy. Those tenants had left the property on 31st August, as their tenancy had not been renewed.
In response to a query from a Member, Mr. O’Donnell confirmed that there were now new tenants in his property and that he had not been made aware of any incidences of anti-social behaviour since they had moved in.
The Chairperson then offered the objectors and the applicant the opportunity to address any factual inaccuracies which had been raised by the other party.
Mr. Gardiner-Crehan pointed out that the videos from the night of 8th August had, in fact, contained noise, although this had not been apparent when they had been played to the Committee. He added that he had not made a complaint to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on that night as, from experience, the perpetrators had usually re-entered the property prior to officers arriving, nor had he contacted the Council’s Night-Time Noise Team, as it dealt primarily with internal noise.
Mr. Byrne drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that he had, on 30th September, informed the landlord that noise was emanating from his property.
Mr. O’Donnell stated that, in terms of the complaint relating to 8th August, he had not been provided with any measurement of noise levels.
The HMO Unit Manager added that the most recent information from the Council’s Environmental Protection Unit had been provided two weeks previously and that it had made no reference to a further noise complaint. The HMO Unit had also received no complaints of noise or anti-social behaviour relating to this property.
After discussion, the Committee agreed to defer consideration of the application until its meeting in November to enable officers to obtain up-to-date information on any complaints of noise and/or anti-social behaviour associated with the property and agreed also that the objectors and the applicant be permitted to submit any relevant information.