GENUINELY affordable homes are in short supply in Reading.

Many people who want to live in Reading can't afford to rent on their own or even dream about buying a property, so they turn to shared accommodation.

To cash in on this growing demand, landlords are converting old family homes into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

These properties, which are home to at least three people who have to share kitchens and bathrooms, are popping up in areas of Reading that are already densely populated.

There are over 1,300 licensed HMOs in Reading and while they can provide affordable accommodation for students and cash-strapped professionals, critics claim landlords are just cramming people into poorly maintained properties to turn a larger profit.

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And some of the neighbours say these properties only attract transient tenants, such as university students, who don't want to become part of their community.

Catarina Bagulho, a 31-year-old flight attendant, pays £580 a month to live in a Victorian house in Oxford Road that has been converted into a HMO for four people.

"In the four years I have been here it has been neglected. It's gone from bad to worse," she said.

According to Catarina, there is ongoing problems with damp, black mould, the plumbing and rats in the overgrown garden, while thin walls leave the tenants with little privacy.

"I can hear my housemate going to the toilet and hear what he is doing," she said.

"I would have moved out if it wasn't for Covid. I'm still furloughed, getting £1,100 a month, and moving out is so expensive. Over half that money goes to my rent.”

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She added: "I feel trapped."

Cllr Rob White, who sits on Reading Borough Council, claims the standard of HMOs in Reading varies and many are "cold and poorly insulated".

"We've reported boilers broken for months at a time in the winter and reported walls that are black with mould," he said.

"Green councillors have supported HMO licensing, although we think there are still many HMOs without a licence. We would like the council to extend the licensing system to bring more smaller rented accommodation into the system as a way to drive up standards further.

"Coupled with this increase in licensing, the council needs to invest more in enforcing the standards and taking action against landlords who do not provide good accommodation."

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The Green Party councillor also said that when there are too many HMOs in one road this can lead to a shortage of parking spaces, overfilled bins and a "break down in community" because there is a high turnover of tenants.

Under the current rules in Reading, landlords must obtain a licence to operate a HMO which is home to at least five people who share kitchens or bathrooms.

If tenants raise concerns about poor or dangerous living conditions at a licenced HMO then council officers carry out an inspection.

If they find hazards that pose a serious danger, the council can order landlords to take immediate action, prosecute them and hit them with a huge fine, revoke their HMO licence or apply for them to be banned from letting or managing a property for 12 months.

Since 2017, Reading Borough Council has approved 1,046 HMO licences and revoked just 49. But it has also taken legal action against several unruly HMO landlords.

'We are not promoting HMOs, we are dealing with HMOs'

Cllr John Ennis, lead member for housing, said one of Reading's HMO landlords was fined a staggering £66,000 earlier this month for failing to maintain safe standards at the property.

"If you don't abide by the law and make renters life a nightmare, we are coming after you," he said.

"There are a lot of good landlords out there who engage with us. But there are some who are not and some who are breaking the law."

He added: "We are not promoting HMOs, we are dealing with HMOs - that's the truth.

"We have to be realistic and accept that HMOs are a major part of the housing stock in Reading.

"We don't necessarily think that's a good thing, but we have to work with landlords - there are lots of good ones but there are a small number who don't respond."

According to Cllr Ennis, the council is planning to carry out a housing stock survey to identify unlicensed HMOs and it has "bolstered" its private sector housing team, who investigate complaints and inspect HMOs, by providing them with additional funding.

The Labour councillor also said the council is now encouraging students, who occupy many of the HMOs, to move to student accommodation that is run by companies willing to work with the University of Reading.

"The licence scheme is a good idea when you get buy in. But it's like the Covid rules, most people buy in but there's a minority that don't and they are the ones we have to concentrate on and catch," he added.