How are tenants living in such squalid conditions in this Lowestoft home?
PUBLISHED: 06:30 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:52 16 March 2018
Archant © 2018
When trust breaks down between tenants and landlords the consequences can be devastating. On day two of our look into concerns over the poor state of some rented homes, we visit one block of flats in Lowestoft.
A few metres from Lowestoft train station is a sky blue, three storey house.
You would walk past 160 Denmark Road without taking a second look.
But the inside raises questions about how those in hardship are housed using public money.
The front door to the property has been broken for months.
In the hallway the carpet has been ripped out and the cream walls are darkened with dirt.
The first floor flat has a strong smell of damp. It is cold. There is no heating and no carpets - they had to be removed when sewage leaked down from the flat above.
The floorboards in the bathroom are rotten from the damp. The walls in all three rooms are black from the mould.
Two of the tenants in the block of six say they have constantly complained about the squalid conditions to the council, letting agent and landlord but very little gets done.
The council, which has a responsibility for inspecting homes with potentially serious health and safety issues, letting agent and landlord, meanwhile, say they have tried to repair the flats but the tenants have not let them in and been rude and aggressive towards them. It’s an indication of how complex cases of this nature can be.
Landlord Philip Dunne says he has only received complaints from two of the tenants about the building and they could not get in to do the repair work until the tenants move out.
Waveney District Council’s chief executive, meanwhile, wrote to one of the tenants saying the council already knew about the problems and he should stop raising issues which he had already told them about.
The tenant has been offered another flat in the past by the council but rejected it.
He says that was only one bedroom. He needs two for him and his teenage daughter.
In early March he finally moved out to a new home.
Above him a lady lives in worse conditions. She is also on housing benefit and taxpayers’ money is being used to pay the rent for her flat.
There is a black, fungus-like growth spreading across her kitchen wall.
The top of the fridge is stacked with medicines. She says her health is deteriorating in the damp conditions.
At the back of the block is the most recent tenant, Justin Palmer.
Two weeks ago raw sewage leaked through his ceiling from the flat above and on to his bed and carpet.
He has slept on friends’ sofas and at his partner’s ever since.
He is not accepting these conditions and is trying to take the council and landlord to court over the state of the building. Since moving in just over a year ago the 38-year old has been complaining about the mould and damp.
Council inspectors found hazards in the flat which needed fixing, including “excess cold”.
They issued an improvement notice in August last year to the landlord and letting agent and some work has been done to the ceiling.
Mr Palmer says the lack of insulation left him with heating bills of more than £100 a month to heat the one-bedroom home.
The council also told the landlord to get new heating for all tenants at the end of November. Three months later, he was the only one who had one.
The council says this was because they have been unable to get access to other flats.
Mr Palmer was offered another property but he says it was so small he could hardly fit his bed inside.
He used to be a window fitter but has not worked since 2015 when his back was badly damaged in a car crash.
He denies the landlord’s claim that he has refused entry to workmen to fix problems.
The landlord, Mr Dunne says the state of the building was down to its age, “society issues” and “poor tenant behaviour”.
“It should be remembered that none of the flats were let out in such conditions,” he added.
“As landlords, we have no interest in ignoring tenants, if repairs are required, we are happy to carry them out.
“Maintaining the building is very much a two-way street, with both tenants and landlords having to work together.”
He added: “For the building, we have in particular worked with environmental health at Waveney Council and Shelter in attempting to ensure the building is maintained in a decent condition, and both organisations are satisfied with our efforts.”
The letting agent Lisa King said: “We have tried to do everything possible whenever necessary with these tenants. We have a large portfolio of properties we manage with happy, long term tenants.”
A council spokesman said: “These particular properties and occupants present challenges which require flexibility and patience.”
They added the council had a range of enforcement powers against landlords but implementing them was “not always straightforward”.
We reported yesterday about concerns thousands of people were living in sub-standard accommodation, with a bill currently going through parliament to give tenants more power against landlords.