Tenants say landlord crackdown failing as 'horrible' conditions persist

As a five-year council scheme aimed at rooting out rogue landlords in Great Yarmouth passes its second anniversary.

As a five-year council scheme aimed at rooting out rogue landlords in Great Yarmouth passes its second anniversary, landlords and renters alike have raised fresh concerns about its impact. - Credit: James Bass/Naomi Sutherland

As a five-year council scheme aimed at rooting out rogue landlords in Great Yarmouth passes its second anniversary, landlords and renters alike have raised fresh concerns about its impact.

The selective licensing scheme in the town's deprived Nelson ward came into force in January 2019, requiring private landlords to be licensed and meet health and safety requirements.

As of February 5, 2021, 1,484 properties within the ward had been licenced, 1,169 inspected and 4,850 issues identified - ranging from "imminent" to minor risk.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) further revealed that 24 landlords have since had their licence to rent revoked.

Andy Grant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for waste. Picture: James Bass

Andy Grant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for waste. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Andy Grant, chair of GYBC's housing and neighbourhood committee, said the scheme had been successful in flagging up potentially-life threatening hazards, but that progress on inspections and repairs had stalled due to Covid.

He added that the scheme was nevertheless working to "discourage unethical landlords who have an unfair advantage because of poor practices".

But Nelson ward tenant Naomi Sutherland disputes the council's assessment.

The 40-year-old lives with her daughter in a private flat in the town. Both said they "absolutely hate" being there but claim they've been told it will be years before their council house application is considered.

Ms Sutherland said: "My landlord knew nothing about the selective licensing application and never had a renter's license.

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"Nobody from the council has come to properly assess the flat to see how safe it is in the two and a half years I've been here. Maybe if they had, my asthma and mental health wouldn't be so bad.

Chronic mould at Naomi Sutherland's flat in the Nelson Ward

She says her door is rotten because it was broken at the bottom and unable to close properly for months - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Naomi Sutherland's mouldy door at her Yarmouth flat

She says her door is rotten because it was broken at the bottom and unable to close properly for months - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Rotten door

Ms Sutherland's door was breaking apart due to rot - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

"I have extreme mould and damp, no central heating, cracks in my bathroom floor, leaks in the walls and for a while a rotting front door which wouldn't shut properly. It's horrible.

"We've now got three electric heaters which run up £12 a day. It's extortionate but we've got no choice. We need to try and dry the flat out somehow."

Chronic mould at Naomi Sutherland's flat in the Nelson Ward

Chronic mould at Naomi Sutherland's flat in the Nelson Ward - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Mould on a coat

Mould is even getting onto their clothes - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Mould in Great Yarmouth flat

Mould in Naomi's property - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Chronic mould at Naomi Sutherland's flat in the Nelson Ward

Chronic mould at Naomi Sutherland's flat in the Nelson Ward - Credit: Naomi Sutherland

Ms Sutherland's landlord said they were aware of her complaints and were working to resolve them, but did not want to comment further.

Another Nelson ward tenant, Deano Procter, said in his case the council put "enormous pressure" on himself and his landlord which eventually forced him out of the home he rented for years.

After a council inspection as part of the scheme, Mr Procter's landlords were told to make a series of changes which Mr Procter himself did not want, as this would increase the rent beyond what he could afford.

With the council refusing to budge, Mr Procter ended up being evicted by his landlords.

He said: "It worked out in the end for me as I'm now in a council flat which suits me, but it was a lengthy and stressful process."

In his view, if the council keep putting landlords in "difficult positions" which force the eviction of their tenants, there won't be enough council housing stock to cater for all the displaced renters.

"I was lucky that I could get a council house quickly, but many won't be," Mr Procter said.

In response, brothers and co-landlords of the property Richard and Chris Allen said the scheme was "hare-brained" - and that they could see no sense in having to get rid of a tenant who had been "no bother at all".

They have decided instead to sell the property on the open market to "avoid any further stress".

Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Great Yarmouth branch of the ELA and who is opposed to the scheme

Paul Cunningham, chairman of the GYGLA and who is opposed to the scheme  - Credit: Nick Butcher

Landlords generally say while they are not opposed to the scheme in principle, it is overly punitive and has had the effect of "demonising and alienating" the ethically-minded among them.

But a council spokesperson made clear the scheme is not just about housing repair.

They said: "It also targets crime, anti-social behaviour, low housing demand and high deprivation related to the private housing sector.

"Landlord associations and letting agents were sent all the relevant information after we first made the idea for the scheme public in 2017.

"This included radio and TV coverage, social media, the BBC website, our own website and extensive leafletting.

"A late application fee was put in place to enforce against landlords who did not comply with the requirement to license.

"The alternative to this fee was either to prosecute the landlord, which carries an unlimited fine, or impose a civil penalty of up to £30,000."

Alan McClernon, a private landlord in Great Yarmouth

Alan McClernon, a private landlord in Great Yarmouth - Credit: Alan McClernon

However, an FOI to the council revealed that it does not actually have records of how many eligible landlords have not applied for a licence.

Paul Cunningham, who heads the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Landlords' Association, said this was what was so frustrating for "good landlords".

"The council said it was going to level the playing field", he said, "but they don't even know who hasn't got a license when they should. I find that unbelievable.

"Besides, some of the conditions are ridiculous, like needing to have 300mm of worktop either side of the cooker. A lot of the properties in the Nelson ward are small and this is just setting landlords up to fail."

Alan McClernon and Sarah Tozer, fellow Nelson ward landlords, were hit with late application penalties of £1,000 a property - on top of the cost of licensing the property itself.

Mr McClernon said this was "disproportionate", and that being threatened with a £30,000 penalty from the council "simply for renting out a room" was "terrifying".

"I didn't receive any information telling me about the scheme and to react in the way they did was unhelpful. I've always said that I'd be happy to live in any of the properties I rent out and still would", he said.

"In the past, I have exclusively rented out to GYBC housing benefit tenants. Despite taking that risk, they've showed no leniency towards me."

Ms Tozer, too, said she spends a lot of time abroad and not in Great Yarmouth. She claims she received no direct correspondence about the licence. 

"I am a reputable landlord in the area and find it hypocritical that I am being fined simply for handing in a document late, when some of the council's own properties, as reported by this paper, are in a total state.

"It puts us off being landlords here. We feel totally demonised when the council isn't held to the same standards."

A request for the number of complaints received by the council from its own tenants was refused.

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