This claim is inaccurate. FactCheckNI has estimated that 45% of properties in the Holylands are licensed as HMOs, and Belfast City Council report a figure of 40% for the larger Botanic, Holylands and Rugby policy area.

The chair of the Landlords Association for Northern Ireland (LANI), Robert Greer, claimed during an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster (24/9/2020, starts 1:52:08, and Greer’s claim at 1:58:00) that “aside from the Roma community, about 95 or 98 per cent of all households [in the Holylands] are HMOs.”

Where is the Holylands? 

The Holylands (also known as ‘the Holyland’ or ‘the Holy Lands’) is an inner-city residential area located one mile south of Belfast city centre. There is no official geographical definition of the Holylands area. Rather, it is a reference to an area where many of the streets were names after places mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, such as Jerusalem and Palestine. While it has no formal boundaries, it commonly refers to the streets enclosed to the west by Queen’s University, to the south by the River Lagan, to the east by Ormeau Road and to the north by University Street. (A full list of street names is provided in the notes below.) We used this geography—shown in the above map from OpenStreetMap—for our analysis of the claim.

Administratively, the Holylands falls within the Central Electoral Ward, part of the Botanic District Electoral Area (DEA) of Belfast City Council.

Who lives in the Holylands?

The population of the Holylands has evolved from a largely working-class Protestant demographic to a mixture of short-term students, long-term residents and migrant families. 

While we can find no intentional survey that details the precise demographic make-up of the Holylands, reports generally state that “a large number of students have been compacted into a relatively small area” and hypothesise that the student population number is in and around 7,000.

In 2019, the Housing Executive Research Unit conducted a scoping exercise to map the specific housing needs of the Roma community in Northern Ireland. They reported that the Romanian population in Northern Ireland had increased in size from around 500 people in 2010 to upwards of 2,500 by 2016. Community development workers at the Romanian Roma Community Association for Northern Ireland (RRCANI) have estimated that 1,500 Romanian Roma are living in Belfast—predominantly in the Holylands and Lower Ormeau area.

What is an HMO?

The definition of a House in Multiple Occupation (or HMO) was most recently updated in April 2019 with the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 coming into operation. Under this Act, an HMO is a property that is:

  • living accommodation;
  • the main residence of three or more people who are from more than two households;
  • rented by at least one of the people living in the accommodation.

(The previous definition of an HMO was “a house occupied by more than 2 qualifying persons, being persons who are not all of the same family”.)

As part of the 2016 Act, local councils took over responsibility for HMOs from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. 

Note that according to Housing Advice Northern Ireland, social housing properties are not considered to be HMOs: “A property will not be a HMO if … it is managed by the Housing Executive or a housing association.” The South Belfast Partnership, in its January 2020 study, Holyland Transition, indicated that in 2011, 17.5% of housing in South Belfast (defining South Belfast as Ballynafeigh, Blackstaff, Botanic, Finaghy, Malone, Musgrave, Rosetta, Shaftesbury, Stranmillis, Upper Malone and Windsor) is made up of social housing, reflecting the presence of Choice Housing, Oaklee Housing, Clanmill, and others.

Who holds figures for the number of HMOs in the Holylands?

The area of Botanic, Holylands, and Rugby is a defined “Policy Area” (HMO 2/22), as designated in the HMO Subject Plan for Belfast City Council Area 2015.

The geography of this area is shown in the following map provided by the Belfast City Council:

Source: HMO Subject Plan for Belfast City Council Area 2015, Map No. 3—South Belfast (East).

The Planning Service of Northern Ireland used to maintain a database of HMOs in conjunction with the Housing Executive. In December 2008, the Planning Service reported that the 64% percent of homes were HMOs in the area of Botanic, Holylands and Rugby Policy Area (HMO 2/22). FactCheckNI wrote to the Planning and Building Control department at Belfast City Council, which responded with further information. According to figures produced on 17 September 2020, there are 1,061 licensed HMO properties within this policy area, with a further 197 HMO properties going through the license renewal process.  These more recent figures exclude social housing properties, which are exempt from having to be licensed as HMOs.
Table 1: The number and percentage of HMOs by Policy Area HMO 2/22 (12/2008):





December 2008 figures2,491 total dwelling units




September 2020 figures2,643 domestic properties




Sources: OSNI Pointer Address Data, NIHE HMO database (2008), LPS Pointer database (2020).

However, policy area HMO 2/22 includes locations beyond the Holylands. 

How many HMOs in the Holylands?

Applying our defined geography for the Holylands, we used the Post Office’s Postcode Finder and searched Belfast City Council’s HMO License Register. The number of domestic properties was derived from the valuation list held by the Department of Finance. We calculated an estimated 45% of domestic properties in the Holylands are licensed as HMOs. FactCheckNI counted 798 HMO licenses for 1,783 domestic properties in the Holylands.

The table below shows the streets (with 25 or more properties) with the five highest and five lowest figures for %HMO per street. You can find full details of each street in the Holylands in our online spreadsheet.


Homes per street

% HMOs per street

Carmel Street



Palestine Street



Damascus Street



Jerusalem Street



Agincourt Street



Fitzwilliam Square



University Street*



Rugby Road



Rugby Parade



University Avenue



The Cloisters



* Excludes postcodes BT7 1FY and BT7 1FZ.


The Holylands and its contemporary geography is part of a larger area for which Belfast City Council took over responsibility to license HMOs from the Housing Executive. Recent figures now exclude social housing properties, which partly explains a decrease in the percentage of properties registered as HMOs in the wider Botanic, Holylands, and Rugby policy area, from 64% in 2008 to 40% in 2020.

Assessing just the Holylands area, FactCheckNI has estimated that 45% of its properties are licensed as HMOs. 

How To

In the preparation of this fact check, we used the Wayback Machine to access a report which was not immediately available online to the closure of the PlanningNI website. You can find out more about this useful archive of websites in our How To article


For the purpose of this fact check, ‘the Holylands’ area encompasses the following:

Agincourt Avenue

Agincourt Street

Botanic Court

Cadogan Street

Cairo Street

Carmel Street

College Green

College Park Avenue

Collingwood Avenue

Curzon Street

Damascus Street

Dudley Street

Fitzroy Avenue

Fitzwilliam Square

Harrow Street

Jerusalem Street

Magdala Stree

Palestine Street

Penrose Street

Rugby Avenue

Rugby Court

Rugby Parade

Rugby Road

Rugby Street

Sandhurst Road

Southview Street

The Cloisters

University Avenue

University Street (partial)

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