COUNCILLORS will not be able to refuse licences for houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs), despite concerns that Inverness city centre could be over-run with them.
Highland Council’s licensing committee has agreed to continue a rule banning councillors from refusing HMOs on the basis of over provision, saying there is no evidence there are too many of them within the city.
The rule was first introduced five years ago but was recently reviewed.
And this week local authority solicitor Susan Blease said instead of there being too many HMOs in Highland, there is actually a "dire need" for more.
A HMO is any accommodation where three or more unrelated people live on a permanent basis.
These can range from a three-bedroom privately rented flat to a large homeless hostel.
There are 269 licensed HMOs in the Highlands and more than half of them, 168, are situated within Inverness.
Ahead of the decision by the council’s licensing committee on Tuesday, The Inverness Courier reported that a number of public figures had expressed concerns that more HMOs might lead to an increase in the anti-social behaviour which has blighted the city centre in recent months.
But the committee unanimously agreed not to lift the cap at the meeting.
"The figures demonstrated that we did not have an over provision of HMO properties, quite the contrary, there was actually a dire need for HMO properties," said Ms Blease.
"HMOs cover a multitude of different properties, we are not just talking about large accommodation for homeless people.
"We are also looking at flats for young professionals who can’t afford to buy their own, nursing homes, student accommodation and staff accommodation.
"There continues to be a significant un-met demand for HMO properties throughout Highland."
Earlier this year councillors agreed a trial cap for HMOs in Inverness city centre, allowing the refusal of licences for properties that would house six or more people in a flat or seven or more in a house.
It will only come into force when 13 per cent of the city centre’s bed spaces are in HMOs.
When the decision was made the population was 12.9 per cent and no new HMOs have been approved since.
The ban on refusing HMOs because of over provision will only apply to HMO licences and planning permission for new HMOs can still be refused.