‘We’re being treated worse than animals’ - tenant blasts council’s rogue landlord scheme for lack of action
PUBLISHED: 13:18 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:08 13 March 2020
Tenants living near Great Yarmouth’s seafront say they fear rogue landlords are still getting away with shoddy practice - despite a crackdown hitting its first anniversary.
The Selective Licensing scheme, launched by Great Yarmouth Borough Council last year, is supposed to force negligent landlords in the Nelson Ward to meet health and safety standards before they can receive a licence to rent.
According to the council, over 1,000 properties have been licenced and 1,500 property defects corrected since the scheme launched in January last year.
But it is yet to revoke a single licence for serious malpractice, and some tenants wonder whether the council is 'all talk' when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable.
Andrew Burley, a Nelson ward resident, claims his individual living situation is 'uninhabitable'.
He said: 'You wouldn't treat animals the way our landlord is treating us. I feel like a squatter in my own home. My son hasn't been here in months because I won't allow it - it's just too horrible.'
Mr Burley and his partner claim the council 'knows full well about their situation', but is too slow to take action.
His flat came under ownership of the current landlord in December, but three months later, the landlord is yet to be licensed, the flat is yet to be formally inspected and only one of his requested repairs has been dealt with.
He also claims the police are frequently called out to the area because of anti-social behaviour.
He said: 'I've had to arrange a system with the post office because my mail keeps getting stolen, and there's drug users constantly appearing in the corridor.
'A few weeks ago, someone had gone to the toilet by the back door, which a visitor from Environmental Health literally stepped over on their way out.'
After speaking to Environmental Health at the council, his landlord fixed the boiler, which had been broken for 13 days and left Mr Burley 'too depressed to get up in the morning because of the cold'.
However, he says the landlord then 'put his hand up to his face and shooed him away' when presented with a repair form outlining 18 different issues - ranging from a flea infestation and rotten floorboards to the fact that there's a 'single working socket' in his half-finished kitchen - with the previous landlord selling the flat before works were completed.
He is now seeking legal advice from Shelter on how to proceed with the situation.
Mr Burley's landlord was approached several times for comment but did not respond.
However, another resident of the area claims that the new landlord is 'trying his best', and that it was the previous one who let the flats get into disrepair.
For Paul Cunningham, head of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Landlords Association, the problem is that the council are obsessing over 'menial breaches' such as a weed in a gutter or the height of a bannister - but are stopping short of taking proper enforcement action against genuinely bad landlords who 'deserve vilification'.
'Maybe', he said, 'it's because of the acute housing shortage in Great Yarmouth which they don't want to make worse, but that's only going to make tenants' lives more difficult in the long run.'
By the council's own admission, they have corrected issues such as the security of windows, the condition of wall plaster and blocked guttering, but are unable to withhold housing benefit - paid to the landlord on the tenant's behalf - if the property is in a particularly poor state.
Already this year, landlord Stanley Rodgers was charged with putting his tenants at risk and managing a 'dangerous' unlicensed home in multiple occupation (HMO) on South Market Road and was ordered to pay £20,000.
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Though outside of the Nelson ward, the fact that a landlord, previously jailed after two teens died of carbon monoxide poisoning in one of his homes, could still be allowed to rent out properties is 'unbelievable', according to Mr Cunningham.
He said: 'These are the kind of people the council should be focusing on. We, as compliant landlords, welcome prosecution where it's necessary.'
One of Mr Cunningham's concerns as a landlord himself is that good landlords are selling up and moving with a greater frequency than he's seen for 'the past 30 years' - largely because of expensive licence fees and inflexible requirements.
He added: 'When I see properties like that of Mr Burley's, I find it disgraceful that I'm failing a licence because of a weed in a gutter.
'It doesn't matter if the landlord's only been there three months - that's more than enough time to sort the place out.'
According to the council, conditions to obtain a licence involve showing documentation such as gas safety certificates - but specific repairs won't be identified and corrected until the inspection stage much later, leaving many tenants in Mr Burley's position.
In response, Great Yarmouth Council countered that 'landlords are engaging positively with the council to make the required improvements for the benefit of their tenants'.
A spokesman said: 'We have liaised with the tenant, visited the property and contacted the landlord, who has already fixed an issue with the boiler and will attend to other items of disrepair.
'This is a private property and there is no assessment of property conditions related to the payment of Housing Benefit.
'But we are confident that the new owners intend to improve the conditions.
'Selective Licensing provides a formal framework and process for working with landlords to help improve housing standards and has already seen 1,500 property hazards corrected.
'Landlords are at different stages in this process, depending on when they bought the property, when they applied for a licence, the condition it was in when acquired and how much work needs to be completed.
'Mr Burley's flat has recently been bought by the current landlord and is due to have a full inspection under Selective Licensing.'
According to the council, the scheme relies heavily on assistance from responsible landlords and residents, who can 'report to the council for investigation both suspected breaches of licence conditions and also unlicensed properties'.
But Mr Cunningham believes this ignores the power dynamic between 'vulnerable tenants' and landlords, with many tenants lacking the legal knowledge or confidence to be able to articulate their rights.
Leader of the opposition Trevor Wainwright also expressed concern that the scheme 'often uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut', and that it might be 'pushing out compliant landlords who feel they are being unnecessarily penalised.'
Nevertheless, Chairman of the housing committee Andy Grant said that 'Selective Licensing is proactively making it harder for unethical landlords to prosper.'
He added that 'people can report concerns by calling the Selective Licensing Team on 01493 846636, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or completing a form anonymously at www.great-yarmouth.gov.uk/selective-licensing.'
Have you been affected by a rogue landlord or had complaints ignored? Email email@example.com
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