Student leaders vow to fight HMO ban

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Rob Shannon outside the house he was due to rent before the ban

St Andrews’ student leaders are in uproar at  Fife Council’s decision to ban new House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licences from being granted to properties in the centre of St Andrews.

The HMO question has been an issue of contention since it was first proposed in January, and to the dismay of St Andrews Student leaders, it was passed with a narrow 8-7 majority on 8 June.

Student Association President Patrick O’ Hare said he was “utterly opposed” to the implementation of the HMO cap.

He has promised to “fight the decision through any means possible,” also refusing to rule out the possibility of a legal challenge. O’Hare is particularly upset by the council’s transformation of the HMO legislation from an issue of tenant safety to what he called a “method of social engineering against students.”

Director of Representation, Sam Fowles, supports O’ Hare’s position, maintaining that the move was “possibly the worst thing Fife Council could have done for the community atmosphere of St Andrews.” He implores all students to vote in local council elections in May, bluntly stating: “when politicians make bad policy they should pay the price at the ballot.”

It is his wish for all students and the representatives of “the progressive and cooperative majority of the townspeople” to work hard together in an effort to “ensure that our councillors’ folly does not permanently damage the St Andrews community.”

Local councillors in favour of the ban cite antisocial behaviour and poorly maintained student properties as motives behind it. Councillor Dorothea Morrison was reported as telling the meeting, “Yes we do need students, but we need real people too.”

Student leaders, however,  feel the move was driven by those attempting to stop the “studentification” of the town. It is Fowles’ belief that the area committee has taken “deliberate steps to segregate students and the community.”

The issue of affordable housing is at the centre of the debate, and an interview with one St Andrews student on the wrong end of the legislation gives an example of its wide ranging implications.

Fourth year student Rob Shannon was due to be moving into a four person house this September, but the property’s pending HMO was rejected days after the Council’s ruling, leaving him to embark on what he described as a “frantic last minute search for accommodation.”

Shannon’s frustrations were evident as he explained the property he was meant to be moving into now had two rooms lying empty. He felt he was forced into paying vastly inflated rent for his current property as a result of his “desperation and time constraints.”

He described the HMO cap as a “farcical decision,” labelling it as a “tragic step backwards not just for town and gown relations, but in the battle for affordable housing in St Andrews too.”

It remains to be seen how the HMO cap will affect an already strained accommodation situation in St Andrews.

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