Canterbury council has come under fire after it emerged that landlords may be avoiding licence fees and inspections by failing to register their properties as shared homes.
In evidence uncovered by the Journal, the council has admitted it has no idea how many shared houses there are in Canterbury.
Homes occupied by at least three unrelated individuals are counted as Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and properties occupied by five or more must be registered with the council.
A Freedom of Information request also revealed that the council is not publishing the details of properties it suspects are operating outside the rules in case it alerts landlords that they are under investigation – meaning that members of the public are unable to see how many shared houses are in their area.
The council has a statutory duty to publish a list of all HMOs.
In 2015 legislation was introduced to limit the number of shared houses and effectively prevent entire streets becoming rows of student houses, and in October additional regulations came into force to protect the welfare of tenants and neighbours.
But without knowing how many HMOs there are, or where they are located, critics argue the council is unable to carry out its statutory duties.
As the decision whether to allow new HMOs depends on how many there already are in the area, local residents may find themselves living next to a shared house which would have failed to get permission had proper records been kept.
The Journal has seen evidence of local residents whose lives have been torn apart as a result of living next to shared houses. In one case a Canterbury man suffered a breakdown and lost his job through the stress of constant noise and antisocial behaviour from the neighbouring property.
Local property owner Jonathan Kelly said: “As a landlord who abides by the rules, even when they are counter-productive, I find it sickening that less scrupulous landlords are getting away with cheating the system and the council is effectively turning a blind eye.
“The system is broken and I don’t understand why nobody is doing anything about it.”
A council spokesman said: “It is possible there are properties in the district that should be licensed, but are currently not.
“Canterbury City Council will be conducting a piece of work to identify and deal with these. For those properties that should be licensed we think it is likely if we were to publish a list of potential HMOs this would affect our investigations by alerting the owner or residents of the property of our interest.”