Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Private Sector Housing - time to get tough.

Sewage splattered across the path to the front door due to a broken fall pipe. Houses split into 10 or 12 rooms, looking decidedly delapidated. Huge bundles of wires strung along outside walls, clearly a health and safety nightmare.

These are just some of the badly managed properties that I have come across in the private sector whilst door-knocking in Stroud Green. One resident told me it was "like living in a slum" and that it had been that way for years.

All it takes is a landlord unwilling to spend the rent he or she collects on basic repairs, and soon you have a property in decline. Not only is it bad news for the residents, it's not great for the neighbours either.

I was interested, then, to hear at last night's Area Assembly from Dave Princep, Team Leader of the Private Sector Housing in Haringey. Mr. Princep stressed that 77% of residents in privately rented accomodation are satisfied with their abodes (I'd be interested to know where that statistic came from). If that statistic is true, it is just as well as about 1 in 3 of Haringey's residents reside in this sort of housing.

There are various financial incentives and schemes that landlords can take advantage of, including one to implement energy savings measures, which is good news for tenants because it obviously means lower bills. (Interestingly, when I put in a Freedom of Information Request last year, asking how many landlords in the borough had made use of this scheme, I was told that the council didn't run it and so they didn't know).

I was more concerned about the issue of enforcement, and what tenants could do if they found themselves at the mercy of a negligent landlord. The council's website gives woefully little information on this issue, merely stating that most large landlords have their own complaints procedure, though failing that tenants could call the council. This isn't the most reassuring of news for struggling residents.

The council are concentrating on registering good landlords through the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, and relying on tenants to inform them if landlords are being negligent. This is all well and good, but imagine a tenant, perhaps not speaking English, trying to figure out how to complain about a landlord who is charging them to live in a veritable slum. It seems unlikely they will complain lest they lose the roof over their heads.

I asked Mr. Princep how much more money needs to be invested in enforcement, but he didn't seem to think it was the solution. But as I outlined at the beginning of this article, you just need to walk down a street to see some of the examples of run-down, over-crowded private sector housing. Sure, some delapidated properties will be that way because of a negligent owner-occupier, but the majority will be in the privately rented sector. Sure, some may look habitable from the outside, but inside might tell quite a different story. But I am confident that with more enforcement, more negligent landlords would be exposed and more tenants would reclaim their right to a decent place to live.

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