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industry news


Private tenants living in cold homes


London council to hound rip off rogue landlords


A series of raids on privately rented properties by Barking and Dagenham Council in east London has revealed dozens of tenants living in squalid, cramped and dangerous conditions paying thousands of pounds a month to rip-off landlords. In one three-bedroom house in


Sherwood Gardens, council officers found 11 people including two children living there with blocked fire escape routes and out of action smoke alarms. And in another property illegally converted into bedsits in Upney Lane,


“We will be relentless in our determination to stand up for standards and drive out these criminal landlords”


and losing their tenancy, according to new research by Sheffield Hallam University and funded by the Eaga Charitable Trust, an independent grant-giving trust committed to combatting fuel poverty. The private rented sector is the fastest


H


growing tenure in England. It houses a higher proportion of poor and vulnerable households than any other tenure and contains a higher proportion of the least energy- efficient properties. Research focused on private rental sector


tenants across two areas of England – in Hackney and Rotherham – and revealed that tenants face considerable barriers to seeking help with cold homes that are unaffordable to heat. Respondents in both locations experienced


dangerously cold homes and rationed their heating in winter due to energy inefficient properties and fears over high heating bills. The relationship between tenant and


landlord was one characterised by fear on the part of tenants that any complaint may be countered by retaliatory action such as rent increases or eviction if they spoke out. Most tenants felt reluctant to make contact with their landlord and instead found ways to work around problems.


Ill health


Keeping warm by routinely wearing coats inside the home, keeping blankets in living areas and spending extra time in bed or outside of the home were common practice, as was heating the home for very short periods in order to save money, rather than lobbying landlords for improvements.


ousing tenants in the private rented sector are choosing to live in cold homes out of fear of high heating bills


Issues such as excess cold, condensation, and extensive damp and mould were widely highlighted, with respondents also highlighting increased suffering associated with chronic health conditions (such as respiratory diseases and arthritis) known to be exacerbated by cold homes and the emotional strain of insecure tenancies and living in properties they would not have chosen to live in. Over half of participants used pre-payment


methods to pay for their heating and therefore paid higher tariffs, but despite this, many valued pre-payment meters as a method of controlling spending on heating and electricity. Under the Energy Act (2011), tenants are able


to request consent from their landlords to carry out energy efficiency improvements to properties. The landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent. It is, however, the responsibility of the tenants to arrange funding. Although the majority of respondents were supportive of the Act in principle, the majority felt too afraid to approach their landlord about this. Dr Aimee Ambrose, from Sheffield Hallam


University led the project and said "The picture emerging from the accounts of


respondents is one characterised by limited housing choice that leads to the acceptance of poor quality properties that would otherwise be unacceptable, to fear of challenging the landlord in case of retaliatory action, to enduring cold conditions and high bills, and to suffering the consequences for health and wellbeing. Dr Naomi Brown, manager of Eaga Charitable


Trust, said "This is highly significant research which is hard-hitting in its depiction of the challenges that tenants in the private rented sector face. "The Eaga Charitable Trust is very pleased to


have funded the research and hopes that it will influence positive changes to enable private tenants to live in warmer, healthier homes."


Barking, council staff found 10 tenants were paying around £600 each for a room. Councillor Laila Butt, Cabinet Member for


Enforcement and Community Safety, said: “Rip-off landlords are the scourge of London. I can assure our residents that we will be relentless in our determination to stand up for standards and drive out these criminal landlords.”


Rubbish


Elsewhere in raids which took place on the same day, officers also found nine people including two families of three paying up to £900 each living in a four bedroom bungalow in Gay Gardens. And in Western Avenue, Dagenham, five


men were living in a three-bedroom house. Officers said each bedroom was locked and had no smoke alarms. They said the garden was filled with rubbish and had a bed frame in it. In total 100 operations against private landlords had been carried out by Barking and Dagenham Council over the last two years. The operations by the council’s Private Rented Sector Team resulted in 25 landlords taken through the Magistrates Court. The PRS team enforces the council’s


borough-wide private rental property licensing scheme – one of only two in the country. Since the scheme has been operating


they have: • Brought over 400 unlicensed properties into the licensing regime;


• Received 12,000 license applications; • Inspected 10,500 of these properties; • 280 Enforcement Notices served on landlords requiring housing standards to be improved; and


• Prevented over 20 illegal evictions by criminal landlords who were not licensed.


www.housingmmonline.co.uk | HMM March 2017 | 23


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