In the third of our series on the housing crisis affecting London, Millie Bull looks at Eros House, a block of flats in Catford that has been the subject of angry protests by some residents.
Eros House can stand as a metaphor for the housing crisis facing Londoners. It is a privately-owned block of flats, which different parts are rented out by local authorities, private landlords and organisations to residents placed in temporary accommodation.
With many organisations involved, some residents concerned that no-one is willing to take responsibility. Most of those who live in the privately-owned block are placed there in temporary accomodation by Lewisham Council because they were in danger of being homeless.
As Eastlondonlines reported yesterday, Lewisham is now one of a number of councils signed up to a new agreement to try to improve the provision of temporary accomodation, at a time when thousands of families are also being housed outside their home boroughs, some considerable distances away.
Some residents backed by the London Renters Union (LRU) have been campaigning for over six months to improve conditions in their parts of the block.
Dangerous heating, chronic damp, leaking pipes, broken windows, expensive bills and poor security are among the complains being levied by residents.
With many organisations involved, some are concerned that no-one is willing to take responsibility.
Of 60 flats in the block, 45 are occupied by people placed in temporary accommodation by Lewisham council; two are occupied by people placed in emergency accommodation by Croydon council and one flat occupied by people placed in temporary accommodation by Wandsworth Council. The remainder are privately rented by landlords.
Quinata Global, a multi-million-pound property development business based in north London, owns Eros House, along with 1500 other apartments scattered around the country. The council also pays District Homes, a provider of temporary housing, to manage its flats in the block.
Assetgrove, a property management company also manage three flats in the block. They promise to ‘manage all day-to-day tasks, such as inspections, lettings, viewings, maintenance and legal issues as well as providing ‘excellent property standards.”
All three organisations have refused to comment on the ongoing problems residents are facing.
According to sources, District Homes say they will only fix the heating when it is completely broken, even though numerous residents have complained about radiators heating up the walls, which are made of plaster board, rather than the rooms themselves. LRU have demanded records of safety tests from District Homes, but the company have not yet produced any.
Residents are also holding Lewisham Council accountable for the issues inside the block. The council has a legal duty to ensure that temporary accommodation is suitable and meets certain standards regarding health and safety.
According to the council, landlords who rent out accommodation have a responsibility to ensure that it remains in safe condition. Under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords are obligated to repair the structure of the property. This includes roofs, gutters, ceilings, walls, floors, windows, doors, staircases and steps, banisters, drainage and paths. This also includes installations in the property such as gas, water and electricity including baths, toilets and sinks, water heating and space heating.
If the Landlords do not carry out the repairs, the council’s Environmental Health Residential Team can visit the property and serve notices ordering the landlord to do so but this can only take place where the disrepair is a danger to life.
Lewisham Council also has a legal obligation to enforce standards in all privately rented accommodation in the borough, which includes Eros House.
Lewisham has acknowledged the damp patches but said they were isolated to only the communal areas of the building.
In a statement, they said: “The council is working to help create a Private Renters’ Union, as there is a lot of very poor practice creating misery for private renters.”
The creation of a Renters’ Union clashes with the Lewisham branch of the LRU, which is working hard to combat the issues at Eros House. This will only create a conflict of interest within the council as it would involve their Renters’ Union applying the necessary pressure to the council themselves.
Although not all responsibility can be placed on the council, it is clear that as a regulator of privately rented accommodation in the borough it is largely accountable for the families they have placed there and the private tenants renting directly from private landlords.
Following actions from the LRU and protests by the residents, the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, has made commitments to improve the conditions in the building.
In response to a letter written by LRU and residents, he said: “With the winter approaching we are concerned about the complaints regarding the state of the windows and heaters. Therefore, officers are going to take the following action:
- Ensure a joint inspection between Lewisham Council and District Homes of all the 45 flats to assess their condition, placing particular emphasis on heating, state of the windows and doors and condensation.
- Ensure appropriate action is taken to remedy any repairs identified within a reasonable timeframe.”
- Arrange for an inspection of flats 18 and 22 (subject to access being granted by the residents) which currently are not managed by District Homes and ensure either the agent or landlord is made aware of their repairing obligations.”
Croydon Council have also said they will inspect and take action following an update on disrepair issues in the building.
A council spokesman said: “Since February 2017 Croydon Council has rented three flats at Eros House as emergency accommodation, and to date neither housing inspectors, nor the tenants nor the managing agents have informed us of any issues with these. We are now looking to move these households into more suitable alternative accommodation as soon as possible.”
Wandsworth Council confirmed they lease one flat for temporary accommodation but that they have not received a complaint. They are now planning to visit the building.
Councillor Paul Bell, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing said: “Refurbishment works are ongoing to individual flats as they are handed over to District Homes. This includes the provision of economy 7 heaters which will be installed throughout the whole building as required.”