FEARS are growing that neighbourhoods are becoming taken over by student houses and there are no rules to prevent their spread.

An investigation by The Argus has found families across Brighton and Hove are rapidly being outnumbered by students.

In at least 30 streets more than 10% of properties are so called houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) - properties occupied by large groups of non-related individuals, typically students.

Campaigners say communities are “being destroyed” and the current system has “no teeth”.

National planning rules mean landlords need to apply for change of use to convert a family home into a five or more bedroom shared property and permission should be denied if HMOs already occupy 10% of the surrounding 50m area.

Brighton and Hove City Council introduced an additional licensing scheme for properties with fewer than four bedrooms in five of the worst affected parts of the city in 2012.

But in recent cases new licences have been granted for houses already surrounded by HMOs.

A new licence was granted for a four bedroom HMO in Coombe Road in April when there are already 12 HMOs within a 50m radius.

The council’s Conservative housing spokeswoman Mary Mears said: “It’s frustrating for people because they think the licensing system is there to prevent more HMOs but the system’s got no teeth.

“The system can’t stop someone going into business running an HMO - it only governs the quality of that housing provision.”

In St Martin’s Place off Lewes Road there are just 43 houses but 27 of them are HMOs housing more than 70 students.

In Mafeking Road there are 30 houses of multiple occupation out of just 60 properties. Two new licences were issued in the street last December.

The Government introduced laws forcing landlords to obtain licences for properties housing more than five people from different families under the 2004 Housing Act.

In 2012 the city council extended the rules to cover smaller properties in five parts of the city – Hanover and Elm Grove, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, St Peter’s and North Laine, Hollingdean and Stanmer and Queen’s Park.

A 2011 survey by the council found Washington Street had one of the highest proportions of students in the city – making up more than 20% of the houses in the road – but last year alone the council granted 13 new licences in the street. Another has been passed this year.

Chris Taylor, chairman of the Hanover and Elm Grove Local Action Team, said: “Our neighbourhoods are going to be destroyed. If that sounds over-the-top, then try coming to live here and see for yourselves.”

Executive director environment and housing Geoff Raw said: “Licensing is about housing management standards, planning permission is about numbers and over-concentrations.

“Since additional HMO licensing was introduced in November 2012 thousands of tenants living in more than 95% of licensed HMOs now live in safer homes.”

John Duffy, registrar at the University of Sussex, said: “It’s a shame students sometimes get a bad rap when most of them are doing great things in the community. We believe our students add to the cultural life of Brighton and provide services to help them be responsible neighbours.”