OFFICIAL figures have confirmed the number of low-rent shared accommodation properties is on the increase in Torbay.
It is claimed properties in prime seafront locations such as Paignton seafront are operating as houses in multiple accommodation with tenants sharing facilities.
Carolyn Custerson, chief executive of the English Riviera Tourism Company, said "The problem is the number of unlicensed houses of multiple occupation.
"It's operators which choose to take people in, under cover if you like, for four years and then the authorities have to give them a licence. It's getting a licence through the back door.
"Enforcement is a question of resources. You would have to have a whole department monitoring the situation.
"Neighbours are reporting their concerns and I understand more money is being spent on the issue and the council has a team looking at it, but it's not an easy thing to establish evidence.
"In Blackpool, officers walked every street to find out the extent of the problem. One of the biggest giveaways is when there is more than doorbell.
"But not all HMOs are bad, for example executive shared houses in cities and student accommodation and that can work well.
"Obviously the rise in the number of HMOs is not unique to Torbay. Every seaside resort has them because resorts are nice places to live when you are on benefits.
"If you had choice of picking up your benefits in Birmingham or Bournemouth, where are you going to go?"
She said they and Torbay Council were aware of reports of alleged change of use in one property in Paignton Esplanade.
"We want to rejuvenate that promenade, it's the town's shop front. The issue of HMOs within the core development areas need to be addressed. That should be a priority."
The board has objected to proposals in the new local plan to prevent holiday accommodation being converted to residential outside core development areas.
Mrs Custerson said: "The board still believes that there is an over supply of 'poor quality' serviced accommodation in particular.
"We are aware that one of the political arguments being presented is the concern in the increase in the number of HMOs in Torbay.
"We share this concern but we think this issue — which relates essentially to the policing and enforcement of existing policies — should not be allowed to distort the development of the resort overall.
"As such a 'common sense' approach is requested moving forwards, including increased consultation with the company regarding applications for change of use so that jointly we can work to protect our key tourism assets as well as allowing the resort to evolve."