Tenants in Brent have urged the council to act as more than 10,000 private rented properties in the borough have hazards that pose a serious risk to people’s health, according to recent data. Residents claim they are treated ‘like they’re not human’ as they battle with damp, mould, and a lack of water and electricity.
Around 100 people attended a forum event in Willesden last month (September 30) calling on Brent Council to take further action against landlords renting out properties in poor condition. Members of the London Renters Union (LRU) negotiated with the council leadership to implement measures to crack down on bad landlords.
Attendees, including the leader of the council Muhammed Butt and the Lead Member for Housing Cllr Promise Knight, heard testimonies from struggling tenants. One complained of mould, going without water at times during Covid lockdowns, and the electricity cutting out.
They added: “It affects everything. Your mental health, your house pride, your willingness to have people around you in your home settings. All of the aspects and facets of what would afford you a healthy life.”
The private rented sector in Brent has grown from 32 per cent of the total housing stock in 2011 to around 46pc in 2022. Council data reveals that properties in 21 of the 22 Brent wards have levels of ‘category 1 hazards’ – hazards that have a physiological or psychological impact on the resident and may result in medical treatment – that are above the national average.
More than 10,000 privately rented homes in Brent have at least one ‘category 1’ health hazard (18 per cent), according to estimates by Brent Council. Since August 1, landlords renting out homes in Dollis Hill, Harlesden and Kensal Green, and Willesden Green, which have serious problems related to “poor” property conditions, have been legally required to have a licence.
Another resident claimed housing officers and landlords “treat you like you’re not human” when tenants complain about the housing conditions they are having to live in.
LRU members demanded a commitment from the council to agree on a timeline for dealing with the 10,000 unsafe properties, agree that cases can’t be closed before speaking to the tenant, carry out inspections of all properties, increase enforcement capacity, and issue landlords with ‘improvement notices’ for each category 1 hazard.
LRU organiser, Jacob Wills, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “Nobody should have to pay for a home that makes them sick. But thousands of people across Brent live in housing that presents a serious risk to their health.”
He added: “As long as councils fail to take swift and robust enforcement action, it will be more profitable for landlords to let out dangerous accommodation than to properly maintain their properties.”
Addressing the room, Cllr Knight said: “I’m someone that grew up in overcrowded social housing. […] I’ve also been a private renter, I know what it means to spend over a third of your income on rent. I’m someone that wants to listen and understand your concerns, to think about what is within our remit and what we can do to assist.”
The council has already rolled out a rogue landlord banning orders across the borough, as well as hiring eight more compliance officers to carry out 40,000 more inspections a year. However, Cllr Butt said that the meeting showed “the scale of the problem” and promised to go back and “see what more can be done”.
Following the forum, the council confirmed it has agreed to issue ‘improvement notices’ to landlords for each category 1 hazard found; pilot a housing and health project, including increasing current targets for dealing with hazards and unsafe homes; ensure cases aren’t closed before speaking with the tenant and creating a plan: and offer interpretations so people can request inspections.
Cabinet Member for Housing Homelessness and Renters’ Security, Cllr Promise Knight, told the LDRS that she and Cllr Butt were “very happy” to take part in the meeting and promised that the council will continue to work with LRU to achieve renter’s rights.
She said: “Brent is 100 per cent behind the aim to improve living standards for private renters. We have one of the most proactive enforcement teams in London with high numbers for both the prosecution and fining of criminal and rogue landlords.”
She added: “Brent was recently successful in securing a Banning Order against a criminal landlord, which will stop him from managing or letting any property in the country. We have licenced more HMOs than any other London borough, and introduced selective licensing in three Brent wards this year to ensure that standards are improved within the private rented sector.”