Appalling state of Newham’s shanty homes

Newham Council enforcement officers have discovered people living in appalling conditions during raids on shanty-style housing.

Officers discovered cockroaches scurrying across a work top, dangerous electrical wiring, upturned dirty mattresses and a ‘super shed’ – an illegal outbuilding in the back yard of one semi-detached house in Forest Gate.

Two people were living in the rickety structure - which had no heating - and allegedly paying �300 a month rent, cash in hand. The shed had no loo so the tenants had to traipse over to a toilet in the main house. They slept on filthy matresses, thrown on the floor.

The council has created a special task force to combat these ‘super sheds’.

It plans to use infra-red cameras and aerial photography to track down the Dickensian homes – and ensure the landlords are brought to book. Last week, we revealed they have started a 10-week consultation exercise, examining the possibility of licensing all private landlords.

If given the go-ahead, Newham would be the first borough in the country to do this. The proposals are backed by national housing charity Shelter which has urged other councils to follow the council’s lead.

The owners of one Forest Gate property have 21 days to clean up their act or face an enforcement notice. The council may tear down super sheds and other illegal developments if these notices are not complied with. The owners could face prosecution, a fine of up to �20,000 and having to pay the council’s costs.

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Courts have powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act (PCA) to recover all the money from the landlords they pocket from illicit renting. Increasingly this is being used to tackle super sheds - which do not have planning permission - and other illegally rented properties. Recent Newham successes have included a landlord being stung for �30,000 under the PCA.

Mayor Sir Robin Wales said: “These buildings are not just illegal and an eyesore. They are dangerous and often used by landlords to sub-let.

“The creation of this task force gives a very clear message about our zero tolerance approach to illegal building, which is a crime. They are unsafe – endangering the inhabitants - and unsightly.

“There are good landlords in Newham and we want to work with them. Unfortunately there are also some unscrupulous ones – who we are vigorously targeting.

“This is combined approach involving planning, housing and enforcement builds on the successful work we have already done in tackling this issue.”

Kay Boycott, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: “With a chronic shortage of social housing and more people being priced out of the housing market, renting is fast becoming the only option for thousands .Our advice service for tenants in Newham sees people every day who are suffering at the hands of rogue landlords who are ignoring their responsibilities and wreaking havoc on tenants’ lives. We urge other local councils to follow Newham’s lead.”