London – VIJAY SHAH via Newham Council
In yet another sign of the housing crisis gripping London, council officials in the east of the city found a man forced to sleep in a room no bigger than a store cupboard after conducting a raid on an overcrowded home in Beckton, Newham Council wrote on its website on Friday.
Housing officers from Newham Council, which administers the Beckton area, were tipped off that the house in the south of the borough was inhabited by more people than was allowed legally. The council’s private housing team sector entered the property, with the borough’s mayor, Sir Robin Wales and representatives of the GMB workers’ union, Warren Kenny (London Regional Secretary), and Tim Roache (General Secretary) in attendance.
What they saw shocked them. In the Beckton house, one man was found to have been paying hundreds of pounds in rent per month to live in a store cupboard no bigger than 1 metre by 2 metres in area, with enough room for a single mattress only. The man’s living situation was made more dangerous by the presence of a gas meter and pipes directly above his bed. The raid also discovered a total of eleven sleeping spaces in the property, including bunk beds crammed into single rooms. The team also uncovered fire and electrical safety hazards, according to Newham Council.
The mayor and GMB leadership attended the raid to discover the day-to-day operations of those involved in enforcing Newham’s landlord licensing scheme, which requires all private housing landlords in the borough to purchase a five-year licence which requires them to obey certain regulations such as on overcrowding and fire safety. Newham was the first London borough to introduce such a scheme, which is now under threat of non-renewal due to central government financial cutbacks.
The housing officers also paid a visit to another suspect property in Upton Park, in northern Newham. They stumbled across a shed being rented out as a living space. Three people were found living in the shed, paying £200 a month each to live in sub-standard and cramped spaces. The house itself was split into eight rooms over three floors, which were being shared between four different families.
The rogue landlords responsible for renting out the properties raided by the officers will be subject to financial penalty notices, which could see them paying fines of up to £30,000 per offence committed, Newham Council said.
Mayor Wales said: “It cannot be right in the 21st century, in one of the world’s wealthiest cities, a young man is being forced to pay hundreds of pounds to rent a cupboard under the stairs, sleeping alongside the gas metre [sic].
‘The scenes we saw on this visit are a timely reminder that, while by tackling bad landlords we are driving up standards, there is still much to do. That is why it’s imperative that the government allow us to continue with this work, and stop the exploitation of tenants.’
‘The scheme aims to improve the quality of property in the private sector, to make the experience of renting homes in the borough safer and more secure for our residents.
‘The GMB union leadership was keen to come down and see our licensing scheme in action, to understand why it’s so important.”
The GMB’s general secretary, Tim Roache added: “Our visit to Newham was a real eye-opener, we all know the housing market is broken, but finding people living in cupboards marks a new low.
‘It’s fantastic to see how Newham’s licensing scheme is forcing this kind of chronic exploitation of tenants into the light, and how its effective enforcement by dedicated workers on the front line is bring the guilty landlords to book.
‘I would appeal to the government to act quickly and allow Newham to continue this critically important work.”
London has a whole has become notorious for its overheated housing market, with often sky-high rents, coupled with a low level of new houses being built, enabling unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of desperate renters priced out of the buying market, as well as new settlers in the city. Several landlords in outer London boroughs were prosecuted recently for renting out converted outbuildings and garden sheds, overcrowding family homes and letting out properties with numerous healthy and safety violations. The housing market problem has now spread far beyond the borders of Greater London, with the South East of England reporting some of the UK’s highest house prices.
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“Man found sleeping in under the stairs cupboard in rogue landlord raid” – Newham London/Newham Council (3 November 2017) https://www.newham.gov.uk/Pages/News/Man-found-sleeping-in-under-the-stairs-cupboard-in-rogue-landlord-raid.aspx?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn&utm_source=Facebook&utm_content=News
“Renting Property” – Jeff Djevdet, Flickr (22 February 2016) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffdjevdet/24568649014