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Nov 13 2013

Leader’s Blog: Beds in Sheds – November 12, 2013

susan_hall_pinup-150x150WHEN I stepped into the back garden of a semi-detached house in Harrow, I saw the building – little bigger than a garage – complete with its own front door, and even a garden gnome on the doorstep.

This new structure – complete with self-contained kitchen, toilet and bathroom, suitcases dumped on the floor, was clearly home to someone willing to pay £850 for the privilege of living there. This was, we believe, pure profit to the landlord who had built this illegal structure. Not a penny was going to the local authority which provides services like rubbish collection and schools to those living there.

This is the reality of beds in sheds, which information and reports from residents suggests is becoming a creeping problem in Harrow.

The most recent example I saw followed a site investigation I went on last week involving Harrow Council officers, the police and the fire service. It’s important to stress our visit followed complaints from residents about the use of the property.

Our housing team already suspected the three-bedroom property, sat on a road five minutes from the town centre, was being run as an unlicensed house of multiple occupation (HMO). With that in mind, we obtained a court warrant to investigate and, at the same time, serve a planning enforcement notice.

The occupants, mostly east Europeans, clearly did not expect to start their day with up to a dozen men and women in high visibility uniforms milling in the stairwell but we made it clear our dispute was not with them – it was with their landlord.

Once inside it was relatively easy to establish this was also an unlicensed HMO. A few checks revealed that up to 12 people were potentially living inside the main house, the extension and the stand-alone garden annexe. Individual toilets, bathrooms and Yale locks abounded, pointing to the subdivision of the property.

If you do the maths based on typical room rental prices in Harrow, this unassuming semi is potentially generating £4,000 a month for the owner, who we will be interviewing.

So where’s the harm, cynics might ask? Landlords are business people after all. The real issue for us is that occupants of unlawful HMOs and ‘beds in sheds’ like this using council services – bin collection and schools most obviously (a mother of two was taking her children to school when we arrived) – but very often the council does not collect council tax from these tenants to help support them. And the drain on the public purse goes further when you consider the occupants of the standalone garden building were apparently also claiming Housing Benefit. The occupants of these buildings may be a hidden population, but their call on our services is very real.

The other issue with beds in sheds is safety. If an unscrupulous landlord decides to cram as many people as possible into an unlawful house of multiple occupation, where is the guarantee it is safe? If a hastily built and converted outbuilding burns down, will the fire brigade be able to save the occupants, if they don’t know who actually lives there?

In Harrow, we are investigating more than 100 suspected illegal houses of multiple occupation with a noticeable rise in complaints from the public. The concern must be that a kind of hidden residential market is sprouting up in the cracks and back gardens of our suburbs.

Over the coming weeks the council is going to be stepping up its action against the beds in sheds industry. We are working in an innovative new way with police, benefits, the fire service and other partners to build up an intelligence picture of where these houses are, and we will be acting on that. This isn’t about ‘picking on’ people who are desperate to live in the capital; it is about safeguarding them and ensuring Harrow residents who pay their fair way aren’t subsidising unscrupulous landlords who believe that regulations only apply to others. Anyone foolish enough to think that can expect a knock at the door.

It was my privilege to be among hundreds of mourners at the funeral of Donal Drohan last Friday. The tragic death of this hugely popular officer continues to overshadow life at the Civic Centre –especially the depot – and the huge turn-out, with not a spare seat to be had at St Joseph’s Church in Wealdstone, was testament to that fact. Donal’s friends and colleagues at the council will of course continue to support the family in the days ahead, and I know the outpouring of feeling for Donal has provided some comfort to them.

Donal’s wife Geraldine has asked me to pass on a message:

“Thank you for the support of all the family and friends who attended Donal’s funeral last Friday. Along with the many messages of comfort I have received, it will give me strength in the days ahead.

“Donal’s friends and colleagues at Harrow Council have done a sterling job and have done their utmost to make his last day special. Their attendance was heartfelt; they went the extra mile just as Donal would have done.”

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24 comments

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  1. Harrow Dude

    The problem here Susie is that the council failed to deal with the beds in sheds when they first started to appear throughout the borough despite numerous complaints from residents. Now your hands are tied by the Planning and Compensation Act 1991which introduced rolling time limits within which local planning authorities can take planning enforcement action against breaches of planning control. which states that following the change of use of a building, or part of a building, to use as a single dwelling house.
    Enforcement action can no longer be taken once the unauthorised use has continued for four years without any enforcement action being taken.
    Once these time limits have passed, the development becomes lawful, in terms of planning.

  2. John

    You need to check out Station Parade in South Harrow, owned by the nnotorious slum landlord Better Properties.All sorts of sub-lets and illegals are there in cohorts with the abysmal Network Housing.

  3. sonoo malkani

    Deepest sympathies on the loss of such a good human being and loyal worker at Harrow Council.Our hearts go out to the family of Donal Drohan.Heart-warming to hear the manner in which he was honoured by his colleagues and friends.

    Regarding the “Beds In sheds”situation which seems to have gone on for far too long.If the legislation as stated by Harrow Dude is in fact helping these unlawful activities then we must seek to amend such crazy laws and do whatever is possible to reverse these trends which impact so badly on law abiding tax-payers in our borough.The fact that it is happening all over the place is no reason to throw up our hands and give in to land-lords who are milking the system and cheating those who are trying their best to uphold the law even in these challenging times.Besides,hardship is no excuse for anybody to get around the laws and blatantly cheat our public.

    ANYBODY choosing to do so should feel the full force of the Law.

  4. Thaya

    People need some where to live. Unless and until we build enough affordable housing stock, it is not going to be easy.Tenants do not want places like this but they do not have a choice. We must look into the root cause of the problems and tackle it.

  5. Concerned Harrovian

    Peter Rachman has been reincarnated in Harrow. These corrupt landlords are building a property empire of slums. Housing benefit was never meant to be used to fund this scam. Do the proceeds of crime legislation apply to this situation because it could be used to fund housing? The fire risk to these dwellings must be off the scale and also endangering neighbouring properties.
    The only sort of stock these rascals should be allowed is the one where arms and legs are inserted and folks pelt them with rotten fruit and vegetables.

  6. Thaya

    This why I was so keen to bring private Land lord licensing to Harrow. Does any one listen?

  7. j p hobbs

    Until we sack incompetent councillors for these errors this sort of thing will never stop , and who pays ? Joe Public , it goes on and on in local and National Government . The corrupt people just get richer and richer and the poor well who gives xhit the fat cats don’t . just look at the soldier carrying out Blairs War he goes to prison while Blair lectures on peace and makes millions . angry yes very . Beds in Sheds that’s where many UK pensioners will end up when the rest of the Romas get here .

  8. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    Goodness me not a sigle author on this thread, including Cllr Hall, understands what a “Bed in a Shed” is, so please let me explain…

    A Bed in a Shed firstly is an OUTBUILDING. What Cllr Hall has described and what you are all now complaining about is an “HMO” or a Home in Multiple Occupation – a completely different animal and, if compliant with all local and national requirements, completely legal. So, assuming we’re discussing Beds in Sheds (the title of Cllr Hall’s blog) and not HMOs (the subject matter of Cllr Hall’s blog) then Beds in Sheds works like this:

    Unscrupulous property owner builds or converts an outbuilding into a studio or 1 bed ground floor self-sufficient self-contained flat i.e. with gas water electric loo shower/bathroom kitchen/cooking facilities. They then let said new “home” for whatever they can get for it under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. They then register the address for Council Tax and start paying same, very generously, on behalf of their tenant. At this point they have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ILLEGAL. All they haven’t done is obtained planning permission for said abode because they know that it would be refused; this can be obtained retrospectively which makes it unlawful use BUT NOT ILLEGAL. Now all they have to do is wait four years then they are allowed to obtain retrospective planning permission WHICH BY LAW CANNOT BE REFUSED provided they prove occupation for the last four years. THAT’S why they PAY the Council Tax – the Courts consider that 24 karat proof of occupancy REGARDLESS of WHO paid it. Add the Tenancy Agreements to that and it is a watertight shut case as far as the Courts are concerned, therefore there is NOTHING, NIET, NAD A, RIEN, ABSOLUTELY ZERO that the Planning department can do. They then have a property WITH planning permission that they can sell or continue to let and at NO POINT have they BROKEN THE LAW. And the ONLY way to stop them is to catch them before the four years have passed.

    Susan you so should have researched this or asked an Officer or amember of the Planning Committee before you blogged this because your blog is about as accurate as an archer in a hurricane.

    The rest of you-hope this explains Beds in Sheds but if you have any questions fire away!

  9. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    Sorry Harrow Dude I was wrong – you DID know what you were talking about-which is intriguing as it kind of means you must either be in planning, or a Cllr yourself on a planning Committee somewhere, or you own a Bed in a Shed…?!! Careful you don’t give your identity away!! 😉

  10. j p hobbs

    As I said above until some of you bods do what you are getting paid for or take some responsibility for gross incompetence nothing will change . I rest my humble case your Honour .
    Oh by the way Willie the LIB/DEM news letter this week said at least two people were caught by the stealth camera at Harrow and Wealdstone Station ,I have been asking my local branch to print something for about a year and told them it was 1,700 people that received PCNs , is every Political party in Harrow corrupt and getting payola from this camera ?

  11. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    We can’t change an Act of Parliament. Sorry…

  12. j p hobbs

    At least Guy Fawkes did try , its time all that was changed then , surely nothing is impossible it just takes a little effort and heads to roll .

  13. Concerned harrovian

    Why can’t the politicians try and get the law changed? I thought the councillors and MP’s were elected to represent the people of Harrow. Although I would not advocate the use Guy Fawkes tactics J P Hobbs has a point. A “Sorry” does not endure the people of Harrow to politicians.
    At least Cllr Stoodley has given a response and Cllr Susan Hall is trying to get some action. I suppose the rest of the, late council tax payers but early on allowance claims, councillors are looking for some sand to bury their heads in.
    No wonder voters are apathetic when it comes to voting!

  14. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    It takes a Parliamentary majority to change a UK statute – unless Brussles does it for us that is… Sorry, but I have to stick by my “Sorry” – if I or any other member of the Planning Committee could change it tomorrow morning we certainly would; but we can’t. However that doesn’t stop you lobbying Bob Blackman and Gareth Thomas to do so…

  15. Harrow Dude

    I’m with big Willy on this one it’s time to to put our elected MP’s to work and get lobbying. However I feel it is in the council’s interest not to pursue these Rachmanites because they simply haven’t got the housing stock to deal with the resulting homelessness.

  16. j p hobbs

    So why are we going to let Millions more in next year , where are we going to put them and who will be paying their housing benefits of Circa £5/600 a month at a guesstimate ?

  17. j p jobbs

    PS And a lot more for families .

  18. Concerned Harrovian

    Well done Cllr Stoodley for giving residents an explanation of the situation. Excepting for Susan Hall who is also trying to dealt with this issue all the other politicains have to use that famous HAVS quote “kept schtum”. Is there any chance clones could be made of you both ready for the 2014 elction?

    Yhe rest of the coincillors seem to be invisible except when they are slagging each other off in the press or saying “may I count on your vote.”
    Which of our two MPs is willing to take up the challenge of dealing with this issue? If there is no response we can draw our own conclusions.
    Remember we vote you in and we can vote you out.

  19. Steve

    I have reported two of these dewlings to Harrow over the past few months and have now , with the help of locals and staff at the school i work in, have 3 more to report .
    The problem is a lot more that illegal dwellings .
    There are knock on factors as well .

    I am the Site Manager of a local Primary School in Edgware and we are feeling the knock on effects of these buildings .
    The people that live in these dwellings do not get a dustbin .. so what do they do with their rubbish .
    They can not dump their rubbish in the offical landlords house or property .. so they bag up their rubbish and go for a walk and dump it on the pavement ..
    Sad to say as a number of these dwellings look onto our playing field they dump them over the fence .
    Foxes come and route through the bags and all i find is rubbish everywhere .
    Not only that , but the majority of these dwellings are not linked up to outside sanitry waste systems , so the foul goes straight into the soil or rainwater drain .

    There are more and more of these dwellings popping up and landlords and home owners see it as a way of earning more money in these hard times.

    I have asked our Council what is it doing to be pro-active about this and have emailed all our local councilors and sent them pictures..
    I did not get a reply back from one , including the Mayor .

    Poor show guys .. might just run for MP myself .. because im sure i could do a better job !

  20. Steve Pollard

    Councillor

    Seems understandable if they do all you say they should . But … !

    What if they do not register for Council Tax .
    Where does their rubbish go ..do they get an extra bin from Harrow’s waste department ?
    Have to complied with all building regs with regards H&S and foul waste .

    If you were to take a trip down any road near my school , you would see the size of the problem but the ammount of dummped waste bags that lie along every street .
    And this on top of Harrow now only cleaning oure streets every 6 weeks .. you need to see Edgware .. it draws a short straw within this borough .

  21. j p hobbs

    Steve the ones who don’t reply , just stick their emails on facebook with a little piece of what its about and ask readers to bombard them , it got me an answer about a freedom of information act item that had been ignored for several months , in fact the very next morning and that was from that bunch up at our civic centre . good luck don’t just let it go . i don’t , do i Willy ?

  22. Concerned Harrovian

    I have just read in the the posts above of the impact beds in sheds are having on local school children. Surely those invisible and silent councillors/MPs should have a duty of care to the borough’s childen. Where in their election literature does it say “I do not care about the environnment in which the borough’s children are forced to live because of the beds in sheds situation but I would like your vote?

    Does anyone know which councillor is in charge of children’s matters in Harrow Counci? Why do they feel it is all right for Harrow’s school children to be surrounded by rubbish and filth? Also it shows the children that a corrupt system cannot be changed and anti-social behaviour will be ignored.

  23. j p hobbs

    Harrow will end up as the slum these people are running away from and bringing to us .
    Its already starting to look that way in Wealdstone and other parts .

  24. Steve

    I will just say this … ours is a multi-ethnic school with at last count 29 languages spoken other than English ..
    We embrace children with open arms into our culture… but they dont seem to understand a lot of how our local procedurs work.
    Some and i stress its only the minority , seem to think that its ok to dump items and bags on the streets as Harrow will clear it up .
    Harrow wont clear it up !!
    Its bad enough trying to get them round here once every 6 weeks .. but its left to me to constantly clear the mess around the school and local roads.

    I am now in the process of messaging Harrow with another 4 of these illegal dwellings ..and the problem round here is getting worse and worse .

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