I attended the housing committee meeting yesterday, as I understood that my deputation on the damp flats in Brentwood Road would be discussed. As well as an update on progress in the affected flats, I was looking forward to hearing some comments about whether the contractor’s response to damp complaints could be made a little more holistic, ie looking at the problem in terms of the whole building, not just one flat at a time. Possibly even being proactive and identifying where there might be a problem, even if it hasn’t been reported. Sounds optimistic, but addressing a problem before it gets really bad would save money. Also, some of the solutions offered seemed not only “patching up” from the tenants’ point of view but not best value from the taxpayer’s point of view either. Replacing plasterboard when you don’t know what is causing the damage in the first place doesn’t sound sensible to me for anyone.
Unfortunately my hopes were not realised. What I actually got was the committee chair Cllr Bill Randall reading out exactly the same response he gave at the full council meeting, word for word (without the “political comment” thank goodness). That was it. No discussion at all. It seems that as far as the administration is concerned, everything is now fine. I’m not so sure, I have to say.
I was also hoping to hear something about what the council could do when a tenants’ association folds because key residents move away. It’s all very well saying that tenants can come forward if they want to be part of as association, but it may not have occurred to most tenants that this is something they could or might want to do. I’ve been knocking on doors with a community and council worker in the Hollingdean estate recently, and hardly any tenants are aware that money is available for estates improvement if tenants bid for it. Sitting at the town hall and waiting for tenants to come in and ask to be involved is just not going to work.
There was also a discussion on HMO licensing which covered some of the key problems in the private rented sector. The report on which it was based is here. While HMO licensing is definitely improving the quality of multiple occupancy housing and the accountability of those who offer it, several councillors pointed to some ongoing issues. Not all HMOs have been licensed. There is an issue with licenses being given to properties that should not be granted planning permission, and this wasn’t dealt with – it’s been carried over to another committee meeting, apparently. Landlords and agencies move tenants in before planning permission has been granted and a license acquired, putting the tenants in a precarious situation. There are ongoing issues with refuse and noise around some HMOs.
In a street near me, a small close which already has one large HMO, another house was bought and converted into one. It does not have planning permission or a licence. The Council said that they could do nothing, even when the house was being advertised as a six-bedroom shared let. They said that the occupants would have to move in first before they could enforce the unauthorised change of use. This kind of thing is extremely frustrating for residents who feel that they and the Council have no control over their local area. There is clearly a lot more to be said and done on this topic.
One thing residents can do, and at this meeting were asked to do, is report to the Council any properties which appear to be being used as an HMO but do not have a licence. The Council will then investigate. The licence list is here. I would like to see as many non-licensed HMOs reported to the Council as possible, and will be following the discussion on the planning permission issue as well. It seems obvious to me that an HMO license should not be given to a property that is in the area where planning permission is required, until planning permission has actually been granted. Another point to raise is why agencies and landlords are offering properties for rent on the open market which are not licensed and do not have planning permission. This is something else I will be looking into.