Updated: Mar 2
Calls to repeal the HMO (houses in multiple occupation) cap in St Andrews are growing louder, as studies by both Fife Council and a University of St Andrews student research team aim to shed light on the policy's negative impact on housing in the town.
Houses in multiple occupations, HMOs, are residences occupied by three or more unrelated persons, which require a special type of licence. Fife Council first limited the availability of HMOs in 2011, with a temporary ban on licences covering the St Andrews Central Conservation Area, after a public consultation unveiled local concerns about the increasing student population. The cap was later reinstated and the area that it affects has been extended to cover the entirety of St Andrews.
Councillor Jane Ann Liston told The Saint, “I support the removal of the cap because it is not achieving what it was imposed for, [...] to free up housing from student occupancy for middle and low earners”.
Jane Ann Liston – a Liberal Democrat representing St Andrews on the Fife Council – added that removing the HMO cap will make better use of the houses available in the town. She said, “We need the students in those town centre dwellings and families in the residential areas. It is appalling that some students, I would guess, the poorest who cannot afford the inflated rents caused by two people occupying a three or four-bedroomed property, have been shipped to Dundee”.
Indeed, students confirmed the existence of uninhabited extra bedrooms in non-HMO properties occupied, as landlords have been unable to obtain licences to house more than two students in residences with more than two bedrooms.
Ben Sanders, a fourth-year computer science student from Glasgow, told The Saint, “My flat mate and I, just the two of us, stay here inside a three-bedroom flat”. Ben lives in the centre of St Andrews and says that the HMO cap means that his landlord cannot rent to a third tenant.
Ben said, “One person who could have stayed here is going to be forced out to places like Dundee, Leuchars, Guardbridge, and Cupar. And they're going to have their St Andrews [experience] significantly worsened. And this bedroom that sits empty – we still have to pay for it”.
The recent HMO Overprovision Consultation was launched by Fife Council in response to the ongoing housing market crunch in St Andrews, and included a survey of students and local residents in January.
In an email to students, St Andrews Students’ Association President Juan Pablo Rodriguez argued that the HMO cap increased rent whilst also decreasing the available number of beds across St Andrews. Juan Pablo urges students to respond, “so that Fife Council can see the detrimental impact that the HMO Overprovision Consultation has had”.
According to Councillor Liston, “The [HMO] system was created to protect the tenants of such properties, after two fatal fires, one in St Andrews, where young tenants died through being unable to escape.”
Any decision to remove the HMO cap, again, would be decided by the Fife Council cabinet committee. None of the four councillors for St Andrews – who all call for the removal of the cap – sit on the decision making committee.
Councillor Liston said the removal of the cap would avoid a “notorious locked-bedroom scenario” where available rooms sit unoccupied. Liston added, “It is daft that we have created a situation where accommodation, always at a premium in St Andrews, is more likely to be under-occupied with a poor match of households and house types.”
Beyond the Council’s consultation, an ongoing vertically integrated project (VIP) led by students and faculty from the University of St Andrews titled "HMO Caps in St Andrews" is conducting its own study. The project aims to evaluate the impact of the HMO licensing policy on the St Andrews housing market.
The VIP has released some preliminary findings, stating that "the likelihood of someone from a high-income household living in town is significantly higher than somebody who comes from a low-income family".
Whilst neither study has published results yet, a Fife Council-commissioned report from 2017 found that the HMO policy has not achieved its intended outcomes. According to the report, “an unintended consequence of the moratorium has been to push the provision of HMOs for students out from the conservation area in the centre, where students want to be, to surrounding areas where families are more likely to want to live”.
From Week 7 of the spring semester, beginning 6 March 2023, the VIP research project will be launching a new survey to collect new data to support their study of how the policy affects rent, property prices, and student housing.
Those wishing to learn more are encouraged to contact the VIP’s outreach managers, Stephanie Lusser (email@example.com) and Manya Dutt (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Image: University of St Andrews Collections