England

What is it like to live near a party house?

House with swimming pool
Image caption A man was shot dead at this house in Surrey which had been hired privately for a pool party

The fatal shooting this week at a house in Surrey took place at a house hired out for a pool party. But what exactly is the law surrounding party houses and what is it like for those living nearby?

In less than a minute, you can book a party house near Manchester for a three-night weekend for just under £4,000. You would be limited to 20 people. But for an extra £100 per guest, you can stretch that number up to 26 people.

And if that property does not tickle your fancy, there are plenty of others to choose from and plenty of companies willing to hire them out.

People wanting to hire out a house for a party - surely that's not too dissimilar to a holiday let? Or is it?

"Yes", says Karen Edwards, who lives in a mews in Brighton where one in eight properties are party houses. The nearest party house to her is next door but one.

"It has been an absolute nightmare," she said. "I sleep with earplugs in every single weekend."

Image copyright Google
Image caption Some houses in Southdown Mews are let out as party houses, Karen Edwards says

Each of the three-bedroom party houses in Southdown Mews, she says, will have between 12 and 15 people staying there during the let.

It is a similar story further along the coast in Dorset. For Poole MP Robert Syms, the party house issue was serious enough to be raised in Westminster.

In a parliamentary statement on the matter, he recounted naked butlers turning up to hen parties, "blow-up dolls bought from a sex shop" being put up in gardens and "prostitutes being delivered well into the night".

He also reported: "Loud bass music thumping day and night, car doors banging through the night, taxis coming and going at all hours, bottles thrown into our garden."

Neighbours dealt with the issue, he said, by "barricading themselves into their homes" or, in one case, buying a caravan to visit at weekends for a decent night's sleep.

So what can residents do to tackle a party house?

Image copyright Thinkstock

According to Brighton and Hove Council, private prosecutions over noise nuisance and environmental health are possible but require independent evidence to support them, meaning it is "not a simple process".

It is also difficult to bring a case against a houseful of guests because "you cannot prove who is making the noise".

However, councils and the police do have powers to close a house under anti-social behaviour laws, if they believe the use of the premises has resulted in, or might result in, nuisance to members of the public. If the nuisance continues, the closure can be extended for up to six months.

Such closure orders have been used to deal with parties in private premises across England including Bacup in Lancashire, Headingley in Leeds and Gosport in Hampshire.

In Brighton, the local fire service reckons there are about 300 party houses.

However, the council believes the problem is worse than the records indicate as homeowners may be deterred from making a complaint because they are legally obliged to declare noise issues when selling their property.

Faced with mounting complaints, the Borough of Poole has used planning law to take action against one property, on the grounds using it as a party house constituted a material change of use. In a second case a noise abatement notice was served.

However, Brighton and Hove City Council has decided that, rather than taking a Draconian approach to party houses, it should seek to engage the party house sector. It has set up a system of voluntary self-regulation with the groups running the houses.

In 2014, the Brighton and Hove Holiday Rental Association (BHRA) was set up. Its homepage invites anybody "currently experiencing excessive noise disturbance" to report it.

Has it made a difference?

Ms Edwards said: "Things are improving.

"Noise is the main problem. It used to be every single weekend - it was so stressful. It is now once every few weeks."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Brighton is thought to be home to as many as 300 party houses

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