Ministers visit Southall to view illegal outbuildings
03 September 2012
Two government ministers have visited Southall to see for themselves how the council is leading a local drive to tackle the problem of people living illegally in outbuildings.
Council Leader Julian Bell accompanied the Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps, and Minister for Immigration, Damien Green, on the Ealing Council led operation on Tuesday 28 August.
'We are one of the boroughs leading the way in dealing with this issue'
The council had to apply to Ealing Magistrates to obtain warrants to allow officers to target the addresses to check whether landlords were renting out poor quality housing, or forcing tenants to live in overcrowded conditions. Magistrates granted 11 warrants to the council under Section 240 of the Housing Act (2004).
With the assistance of police and the UK Borders Agency, the council executed warrants at six properties. The remaining addresses will be targeted in coming weeks.
Officers carried out inspections to check whether people were living illegally in outhouses and whether there were any hazards, such as dangerous wiring or poorly maintained gas boilers in the properties. They were also checking whether the properties should be licensed as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – a requirement for some addresses where there are many tenants.
As a result of the action the council is in the process of serving prohibition notices on the landlords of all six addresses, as well as anyone else who has any other financial interest in the properties, including mortgage companies. The notices ban anyone from living in the outhouses until any housing defects or hazards identified in the notice are corrected. Under the Housing Act, those served with the notice have 28 days to comply. Only if the landlord does not comply can they be prosecuted – the maximum fine is £5000 per offence.
Council leader Julian Bell said: “We’re doing everything we can to tackle this issue and have created a special team dedicated to investigating illegal outhouses, but we need more funding and greater powers.
“We’re one of the boroughs leading the way in dealing with this issue, so I’m pleased ministers came out on our operation to see exactly what councils are up against.
“This year we’ve received a one-off £280,000 grant, but given the magnitude of the problem and the sheer amount of resources that have to go into each investigation, we hope the government will give us more funding to tackle the issue. We also need the regulations to be tightened up so that it’s easier for us to bring prosecutions and more difficult for rogue landlords to find loopholes in the law and we need those found guilty to face much tougher fines.”
The council is also continuing with other investigations at each of the properties with a view to prosecution.
One landlord is being investigated on suspicion of breaching management regulations at a licensed house of multiple occupation (HMO). If successfully prosecuted the landlord faces a maximum fine of £5000 for each offence. The landlords of the other five addresses, which are suspected to be unlicensed HMOs, are also under investigation. If successfully prosecuted they face a maximum fine of £20,000 for failing to license an HMO.