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Maidstone council looks to crack down on HMO houses after problems in Fant

In many areas of Kent, there has been an increase in the number of landlords buying up larger family homes - or extending smaller ones - so they can fill them with several tenants.

As Maidstone council looks to crack down on houses of multiple occupancy, or HMOs, reporter Alan Smith went to see what life was like in one of the worst hit areas, a street where nearly every other home has been converted...

Bins predominate the street scene in parts of Maidstone
Bins predominate the street scene in parts of Maidstone

Take a walk through the back streets of Fant, in Maidstone and two things strike you immediately.

Firstly, the enormous number of wheelie-bins outside some properties - and sometimes blocking the pavement - and second, the lack of car parking.

Even at 10am when you would expect most people to be at work, you would struggle to find an empty bay. Amid the rows of terraced housing, very few residents have the luxury of an off-road parking space.

Locals tell you the situation is getting worse year by year - and they know the reason why - they blame houses in multiple occupation (or HMOs).

There are various definitions of a house in multiple occupation but they generally involve five residents from different households living in the same property.

Parking in the street is difficult in Bower Place, Fant
Parking in the street is difficult in Bower Place, Fant

There are already 115 HMOs in Fant alone, with around two or three extra being added each month.

In Bower Terrace, 44% of the properties have been converted.

The Fant ward councillors have described the situation as a "nightmare" for neighbours.

Speaking to KentOnline, Geoff Wilcox said: "My wife and I have lived in Fant for almost 50 years and have brought up our family here. We have seen many changes during this time and the most concerning is the growth of the HMO's.

"The wonderful thing about Fant is the community spirit that we have enjoyed here. It has always been a place where families thrived with the excellent local schools and other facilities.

An aerial view of Fant in Maidstone. Picture: Google Earth
An aerial view of Fant in Maidstone. Picture: Google Earth

"HMOs do not encourage community living and they put pressure on local services, causing problems with parking, noise and bins."

Mr Wilcox said: "Fant is fast becoming one of the most densely populated areas of Maidstone resulting in a considerable change to the local community character with HMOs exacerbating this problem."

Kelly Wissenden said: "Over the 20 years I've lived here, I've noticed a big increase in the number of cars, particularly in the last four or five years."

She said: "It's got to the point now that if you get home after 5pm you've got no hope of parking anywhere near your house. I sometimes end up parking two blocks away near the Grange Moor Hotel and walking back, which is no fun if you have shopping or kids in tow, especially if its dark.

"I put the increase down to the HMO's because they bring extra cars as well as putting disproportionate pressure on everything else like our doctor's surgery.

'When these homes are converted to five or six people, that brings five or six extra cars'

"They also tend to have multiple bins. On collection day, the combination of cars parked half on the pavement and all the bins put out means I often have to walk in the road itself. I never used to have to do that."

Another Fant resident from Bower Place, who asked not to be named, said: "The worst thing is the extra parking they bring. It's always been pushed for parking here, but when these homes are converted to five or six people, that brings five or six extra cars."

He said: "If you get home late, you often have to park streets away and walk back, no joke if you are carrying heavy shopping and getting on a bit like me."

Fant’s three councillors, Cllr Paul Harper, Margaret Rose and Patrick Coates, have asked Maidstone council to impose an Article 4 direction on their ward, so future conversions would have to go before a planning committee for consideration.

Cllr Paul Harper
Cllr Paul Harper

Cllr Peter Homes (Con) said: “This is much wider than just Fant. It’s a real community issue that needs dealing with.”

The council’s head of planning, Rob Jarman, suggested imposing an Article 4 direction would achieve little because the council had no grounds to refuse HMOs.

Instead it was agreed to draft a new policy on the approval of HMOs which could be used in streets where they accounted for at least 10% of homes.

The council would also look to review parking policies and explore expanding a licensing system to encompass HMOs, which would also ensure adequate housing standards for tenants.

Finally, it would suggest the Government Valuation Office reviews the valuation of properties of converted homes, in the hope having to pay higher council tax might discourage landlords from creating them.

A report on the options will be prepared for September 30.

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