Rogue Landlords Out of Control in Peterborough

08:35 Wednesday 1st August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: We’ve been looking at homeless people in the city this morning, and the state and squalor that some people are having to live in. A lack of affordable housing is to blame, and a lot of people are calling on the Council to offer more help to find a home. And the recent reduction in Government housing benefit hasn’t helped either. It’s seen a number of people, a growing number of people, struggle to find accommodation. It comes after yesterday’s announcement by SSentif that the number of households declared in need of emergency accommodation in England has risen by about 25% over just the past three years. And the East of England has seen the biggest rise as well. Earlier we heard from Darren Frith. (TAPE)
DARREN FRITH: I basically say to them, go round the properties that you’ve accredited, to all the landlords you’ve accredited, and look at their properties before you make people live in there really. It needs to start being regulated a lot tighter, because there’s a lot of rogue landlords in Peterborough, and all they want is the money, because they know the people are here and they want to live in the houses, and they’ve got no choices. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well earlier we heard from Sean Evans, the Housing Needs Manager at Peterborough City Council, who said they were looking at reintroducing the Accredited Landlord Scheme that they got rid of four years ago. And basically, now, they get a list of landlords from, and just copy and paste them, and give them to people looking for housing. Well Rachael Orr is Campaigns Manager for Shelter. Morning Rachael.
RACHAEL ORR: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: I nearly fell off my chair when he said that, earlier this morning. Are you surprised?
RACHAEL ORR: It’s absolutely shocking, but unfortunately this isn’t an isolated incident. We know of some really terrible conditions of properties that are being let up and down the country. We know of rogue landlords who are consistently letting out properties in areas where local authorities know that those rogue landlords are letting out properties, and are not taking them to task, they’re not prosecuting them, and people like Darren, who are being forced to live in frankly awful accommodation.
PAUL STAINTON: It shouldn’t be happening. It’s 2012. I feel ashamed. Honestly. I feel ashamed this morning that we let this happen.
RACHAEL ORR: Absolutely. And I think this is a result of a number of things. First of all, it’s a result of decades of under investment in housing. The reason that more and more people, when they fall on hard times, and they go to the council for help, are being offered homes in the private rented sector, is because we’ve not been building enough social housing. That’s where people might typically have expected to go, if they needed that kind of helping hand up. More and more people are now moving into the private rented sector, and the regulation and accreditation hasn’t kept pace with that at all. So councils up and down the country need to be being far more proactive. They need to be bringing out really strong accreditation schemes, so that landlords are not allowed to get away with letting properties in these kinds of conditions. And most importantly, we need the Government to start investing big time in new homes, so that we can get decent places for people to live in.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s the perfect storm at the moment, isn’t it? You’ve got a government that’s reducing benefits for housing. You’ve got a government reducing money for councils, so there’s a lack of building, a lack of infrastructure being put in place. And people forced into these places. Effectively though, what worries me is, if I was a rogue landlord, and I had a rat infested shed, as long as it’s on RightMove it would be on the Council’s list.
RACHAEL ORR: In some areas there is such a desperate shortage, that the quality of the accommodation that people are being forced to live in really is terrible. And some people, it’s a minority of landlords, but some people are profiting from this situation. And we need to stamp that out. We need to get rid of the rogue landlord, and we need to start properly investing in new homes. Because more and more people .. we’re in a recession. People are finding it difficult. They’re finding they’re losing their jobs. And they’re turning to the safety net, which is gradually being eroded. The housing safety net that people would hope to be able to turn to is no longer there. And we need to start addressing that.
PAUL STAINTON: Do we need a separate regulatory body here for private r ented accommodation? Because I know, and a lot of people in the city know, that there are vested interests at stake here as well. A lot of the councillors in Peterborough are private landlords. And I’m not saying they rent out houses that are substandard. But it’s very difficult isn’t it to distance yourself from something like this. Do we need a separate body? Should councillors be in charge of this, or not?
RACHAEL ORR: I think we really need to have a proper look at this. The private rented sector is currently the only growing housing tenure. More and more people are moving into the private rented sector, every day, every week. And for a long time in Britain the private rented sector has been seen as somewhere where students live, and young professionals might for a couple of years. It’s not any more. It’s the housing destination for an increasing number of families. And we can’t continue to have a sector where there’s really light tough regulation, where people are only offered tenancies for a year. We see people coming to Shelter every day. They’re offered a six month or a twelve month contract, and then they have to move. People are having to move once a year. If you’ve got children in school, then that’s such a huge upheaval.
PAUL STAINTON: You don’t want to.
RACHAEL ORR: Absolutely. So we really need to look at this again. And we need to absolutely focus on driving out the rogue landlords. But we need to bring up standards across the sector. I think that there’s a lot of amateur landlords renting out properties. They’re not wilfully bad, but they need a lot more advice and support about how to be good landlords. And we need to think about who the best people are to provide that kind of support and regulation.
PAUL STAINTON: Until we get to that point though, until we get to the point where somebody takes charge of this and looks after these poor people, who are the people with no money, the people with nowhere to love, the people with least who are being exploited the most, until we get to that point, what should these people do as a matter of course now, people like Darren, who are living in squalor and can’t afford to fix up the place?
RACHAEL ORR: Well the first thing they should do is they should get some help and advice. They should come to Shelter, they should go to their local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Come and talk to us, because we can potentially help with local solutions, try and find some alternative accommodation, try and explore different possibilities. Absolutely people should go back to the Council. People should not be afraid to demonstrate the quality of the properties that they’re living in. But this really is a big problem. And it’s a problem that needs a big solution.