The Southall Shed People
Dispatches reveals tenants living in illegal and squalid accommodation
People are living in sheds and outbuildings in parts of Ealing but profiteering landlords are not being prosecuted.
That was just one of the findings featured in the Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 last night.
Broadcaster and housing campaigner Jon Snow investigated the squalid and often dangerous conditions that many tenants are forced to live in and showed a range of underhand tactics adopted by landlords, including illegally renting out sheds.
The programme highlighted Southall where, in the last year, 149 enforcement notices were served on private landlords for breaches of planning and building regulations - but only one person was prosecuted.
Ealing Council say proving that an outbuilding is being used for housing, independent from the main house, isn't easy and current housing legislation isn't tough enough.
Under the Housing Act, council officers cannot do spot-checks. They must give 24-hours notice, and evidence - such as beds which would indicate the shed is being used for housing can be moved.
Householders often claim the person living in the shed is a relative. Family members may be permitted to stay in an outbuilding without planning permission being required. Council officers are not able to demand proof of identity to establish the person is not a relative.
Cllr Julian Bell, Leader of the Council, said:
"It is deeply disturbing that people are being exploited by these rogue landlords and I would urge anyone who knows of people living in outbuildings or sub-standard conditions to report it to us so that we can investigate.
"To tackle this issue we have set up a new team that brings together the council, police and border agency officers, with greater powers to enter properties.
“Although we have carried out hundreds of investigations in the last year and served 149 enforcement notices, only when we have the powers to do on-the-spot inspections can we prove these buildings, which often don't require planning permission, aren't being used as garden offices and gyms as many owners claim.”
The housing charity Shelter welcomed last night's C4 programme.
Campbell Robb, Shelter’s Chief Executive said:
''The Government has to recognise its responsibility to protect this vast and growing population of private tenants, especially as our research has proved that Generation Rent want better rules to protect them.
‘We urge the Housing Minister to work closely with all local authorities and ensure they are using every weapon in their armoury to crack down on unlawful operators, like those exposed in Dispatches.
''It is absolutely essential that we are sending a clear signal to tenants, landlords and local authorities that enforcing the law against rogue landlords is a priority.’
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5th July 2011