It’s that time of year again. Parents all over the country are waving off their precious babies, god-speeding them to far-flung cities to begin their adult lives. The great British teenager swap that is the new academic year has begun.
So, your little darlings have flown the nest; you are a bereft empty-nester and/or breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to having your home to yourself for a while. After all, you’ve done your bit, you brought them up well – they’ll be fine won’t they? Um…maybe.
Because for some communities in those urban centres of learning, the start of the new academic year is Groundhog Day. This year, like all the others before it, hordes of excitable young people will descend on quiet streets like a bad fairy’s curse. They will move into former family houses that have had little, if anything, done to them to sound-proof the thin party walls, and they will have a jolly lovely social life with all their new found friends. Which is great, isn’t it? Well, unless you live next door that is.
These often run-down and sometimes downright scruffy dwellings are known as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). A modest four bedroomed house can be converted into 6 bedsits (using the dining room and sitting room as bedrooms) and a landlord can expect marvellous returns on their investment: £4-500 per person per month round my way – that’s £3,000 per month, £36,000 per year.
Great news for landlords. Not so much for the neighbourhood though. The landlord’s profit is sweated from the misery of local permanent residents who have to wage a constant battle to achieve what most of us can take for granted – a peaceful neighbourhood; the right to the quiet enjoyment of your own home; to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep without interruptions.
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The police in Newcastle will no longer deal with party noise. They leave that to the local authority. But that is no help at three in the morning. Operation Oak, funded through the universities can be called out on Friday and Saturday nights to break up parties but if it happens on a Sunday or at any other times, tough luck.
HMOs are licenced and there are supposed to be rules about anti-social behaviour, but in practice, it’s a long, time-consuming business to get anyone to do anything lasting about a noise problem; and it becomes a full-time and thoroughly demoralising job to address it. Parts of the city that used to be desirable places to live are now totally blighted by overflowing bins, badly-maintained properties, and noise pollution.
But your kids wouldn’t make other peoples’ lives a misery, would they? Perhaps you could put that question to them? How are your kids using their new found freedom? Quite obviously it would be wrong to tar every student with the same brush and I’m not accusing you personally – not any more than the parents of the other countless thousands of young adults who have travelled abroad this year to get an education. Maybe you can succeed where many of us have failed, by teaching your lovely, bright, talented sons and daughters a crucial life lesson: that when you move into a community, you have to be considerate of the people who live there. In return, I promise not to move next door to you and have wild parties every weekend. Deal?
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