Shocked housing officials found filthy bedding packed onto every available surface, while piles of tattered clothes and worn-out shoes can be seen strewn across nearly every room. It is in these shocking conditions that 35 men were found living in a three-bed, semi-detached house in Brent, North-London on Tuesday 19 September.
The men, mainly Eastern European, were forced to sleep on mattresses, squashed and crammed into every room, together. Some of them were even forced to sleep under a canopy in the litter-strewn garden. In just one room, eight men were found to be sleeping side by side on wall-to-wall mattresses.
The discovery was made on Winchester Avenue, Queensbury, in the early morning, following complaints from neighbours.
But this is not a new phenomenon and is in fact, just the latest example of a series of properties being rented by rogue landlords to migrants who have no choice but to live in overcrowded properties that, on some occasions, house over 40 other people.
Back in April 2017, Harrow Council made a similar discovery when housing enforcement officers searched a home in Edgware and could barely see the floor of one room due to mattresses everywhere.
Up to 40 people were discovered to be living in another squalid three-bedroom house, with people sleeping on back-to-back mattresses. In this case, the owner of the property lives abroad, and the property was managed by a local letting agent from whom the council has had previous issues with, discovering they were letting other overcrowded properties to European migrants.
The truth is that rogue landlords make their money by exploiting people who can least afford it. And with rogue landlords come rogue letting agents. These letting agents often take huge commissions on rent and make their money by charging extortionate fees that can leave tenants in very difficult financial situations.
And too often tenants feel they had no choice but to accept to live in such unsafe conditions, whilst paying sky-rocketing rent.
Renting is becoming more and more unaffordable. Week after week, month after month, millions of tenants are paying someone else’s mortgage. In a country where, according to the Shelter, 150 families lose their home every day when landlords simply fail with their responsibilities, tenants have often no choice but to live in hell. This is something that impacts millions but receives so little coverage from the mainstream media.
I’ve met with Callum Hays, who lives with his partner in a one-bedroomed flat in Bristol that has had no electricity for weeks.
“Front door hanging by one hinge” said Callum before adding “None of the electrics in the bedroom work. The boiler has not worked properly since being installed six/seven months ago, after we’d been left for four months over Christmas without one. I can get hot water by keeping the supply valve barely open, any more and it leaks. Put the heating on and it pisses out like a waterfall.”
“The lights in the bathroom don’t work, and are hanging down from the ceiling. The shower is sealed at the bottom with Cello Tape, the wooden cladding on the bedroom walls is also held together with tape. There are also holes in the bathroom floor. I had to replace the shower and the washing machine myself. I’ve been there two years now.”
Like so many other tenants in a similar situation, Callum has tried to contact his landlord to make him aware of the dreadful situation he and his partner are in.
“He hadn’t taken my calls or replied to my messages for around two months until I involved the council at Christmas time over the boiler being broken.”
After several attempts and having contacted the local Council, his Landlord, Zahoor Ahmed, was forced to repair the boiler but in return, he had his own request.
“He eventually fixed it,” says Callum. “He even promised to move us to another property as long as I got the council to back off.” But these were nothing more than empty promises.
“We had another six months of being ignored while the boiler was leaking and eventually ending up with no electricity.”
Where many people would just give up and accept the conditions they are living in, Callum decided to contact ACORN, the Tenants union & anti-poverty organising group and he agreed to give an interview to the local newspaper.
“He didn’t answer the phone to me at all for three days, I then contacted ACORN and Bristol City Council and they managed to send him a letter to tell him they’d do an inspection on the Monday. He turned up to that, first time I’d spoken to him in months. When confronted by our ACORN representative, he asked him for ID.
“When he realised it was a community union, not an official body he said, ‘Oh, I’m not interested in that’ and began walking away. My partner shouted after him if that if didn’t get the electric back on, there’ll be hell to pay. To which he replied, ‘I hope you die in there.’
“To be honest, if the ACORN rep hadn’t been there you’d be interviewing me from prison.”
Callum has refused to pay his rent since April as he couldn’t expect to pay £520 a month (rent and electricity) for a property that is unfit for human habitation. This didn’t stop his rogue landlord issuing two section 21 notices to evict Callum and his partner.
“He has tried two section 21 notices, which ACORN have seen and have said for myriad reasons, are not worth the paper they are printed on. He’s never taken it further, never understood why.”
Why wouldn’t he leave the property and try to rent elsewhere? But like in so many other cities in the UK, there aren’t many properties available for under £650 a month in Bristol.
“We haven’t been in a position to afford a one bedroom flat until this month as we’ve both just started working. However, our budget, according to estate agent checks is £633 per month, which could be hard to find. Added to that we have two dogs, so it’s even harder to find places. We are looking hard now though.”
If we want to tackle the roots of the housing crisis, both rogue letting agents and irresponsible landlords must be dealt with.
Issues such as dodgy electrics, leaking roofs, no heating and ridiculous letting agent fees for example. So many tenants have to live in similar conditions but renting really shouldn’t be like this and councils should be able to do more,
But as Callum pointed out to me:
“The council license scheme is literally an excuse to milk landlords for a bung in order to rent their properties. They certainly don’t appear to have many restrictions on the state the place has to be in.
“The only thing that may stop my landlord being granted a license is the fact that my electricity is sub-metered off the shop below. Without that, the council would still have happily given him a license to rent this hell-hole out”