Mould, debts and deposits not returned - what is happening at this Norwich block of flats?
- Credit: Archant
Tenants not getting deposits back, complaints about the landlords and the companies behind it all chased for £110,000 in unpaid bills - what is happening at one city apartment block? TOM BRISTOW and DOMINIC GILBERT report.
It was their first home together.
But for one Norwich couple renting a one-bed apartment at 60 St Faith's Lane in the city centre has left them short of a £2,000 deposit and given them a bad taste of how badly the property market can work.
Amber Taylor-Thomas Coe, 19, and her husband Alex, 24, moved into their flat in the 47-room apartment block off Prince of Wales Road in May 2016, paying £950 a month.
It was their first home together and they admit they were naïve. 'We didn't really know what we were doing,' said Mrs Taylor-Thomas Coe.
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They had a series of problems with the flat including:
• Severe mould on the walls and around the windows.
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• Unable to vote in elections because the city council did not recognise the block as a place where people lived.
• Shortage of hot water.
• No internet.
The city council gave the owner of the block, a company London property developer Nick Sutton is the sole director of, permission in 2012 to convert it from offices to an 'apart-hotel'. It meant it could run as a hotel but residents were not meant to live there as their main or sole home.
But tenants said they had to sign minimum leases of six months and were living there long term as their only home.
For the Taylor-Thomas Coes and three other tenants this newspaper has spoken to, it was their main home from 2016 onwards, which goes against the planning permission Norwich City Council granted in 2012.
As reported, one of those tenants Tom Hall and his girlfriend Cassie Heasley, moved out after six months last December and never received their £850 deposit back, despite chasing landlords Max Estates - a company owned by Mr Sutton.
And rather than signing a tenancy agreement with Max Estates, tenants signed a document called a 'licence to occupy', which meant they did not have the same rights as normal tenants to get deposits back.
Mr Taylor-Thomas Coe said: 'We felt really trapped.
'We didn't get hot water for two weeks and we had to go to the gym to shower.
'On our wedding day we had to get up at 4am to have a hot shower.'
Mould also built up around the windows and they contacted Max Estates to no avail.
'We tried mould remover, lemon juice. I had to clean it all under the bed,' Mrs Taylor-Thomas Coe said.
But they could not afford to move out without getting their deposit back.
They also said there were no post boxes for the flats meaning private mail was left lying on a reception desk with all other residents' mail for anyone to pick up.
And when the couple went to City Hall to register to vote in the EU Referendum and to get a parking permit they were told their building effectively did not exist for residential purposes.
'I kept getting (parking) tickets and had to rent a garage,' Mr Taylor-Thomas Coe said.
His wife said: 'I would say to the council, 'what are we supposed to do?' It was not recognised (as a residential building).'
The UEA students left after 18 months having never received their £2,000 deposit. 'We knew pretty quickly we were not going to get the deposit back,' Mr Taylor-Thomas Coe said. 'We made friends with other tenants who told us.'
A council spokesman said: 'Alleged planning breaches are investigated and, where a problem cannot be resolved by negotiation, enforcement action may be taken.'
They added no action would be taken in this case because the suggested breach had now been resolved with a new planning application.
Last week, the council's planning committee voted to allow the landlord to turn the building into 41 flats.
Green Party councillors on the committee voted against the application.
One of them, Nelson ward councillor Denise Carlo, said: 'With private renting on the increase, it is essential that councils enforce high standards.
'I have asked Norfolk Trading Standards and Norwich City Council Housing Team to investigate whether there is scope for action in this case before the city council issues the planning decision letter.
'There is also a question for the city council on whether it missed earlier opportunities to pick up on the unacceptable management practices of Max Estates at its St Faith's Lane apartments'.
Max Estates has been contacted for comment.