Overly strict enforcement of regulations can lead to homelessness

This is the text of a letter I had published in today’s Brighton Argus (14th April 2017) in response to, and in support of, a letter from Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association who warned that the uncritical enforcement of regulations would result in an increase in rough sleeping

When someone speaks who has as much housing experience as Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association, we would be wise to listen. Few individuals have such in-depth knowledge, and he is one of the few landlords who will still accommodate people on the lowest incomes.

In his letter of 13th April 2017 he warns that a consequence of the enforcement of regulations relating to houses in multiple occupation will lead to more people becoming street homeless. We should all sit up and listen.

Regardless of what one might think of housing being provided through private landlords, the reality is that almost four times as many homes are let in this way compared to those provided by the City Council and housing associations. With spiralling house prices, fewer local people will be able to buy in the years ahead. We must work with private landlords to make sure housing need in the city is being met.

At the same time, Cllr Tracey Hill is attempting to ensure that family homes for rent are not lost. She rightly wants to avoid whole areas becoming blighted by studentification with small family homes being turned into accommodation for six or seven students.

Her efforts in this regard are to be applauded and should be seen as a challenge to our two universities where not enough accommodation is provided to houses the ever-increasing student population in the city. Whether we can reverse what already has happened is unlikely.

If there is an issue of a lack of basic amenities, fire risks and overcrowding, then enforcement action should be taken. Enforcement is right in some cases, but not in cases where there is cooperation by the landlords and where standards are marginally below what we would ideally like.

This week I heard of enforcement action being against a property that has been let as four bedsits since the early 1960s. I don’t know the property myself, but the provision of such accommodation is essential for someone’s housing journey. I myself once rented a property which falls beneath current minimum space requirements, but small though it was, it was my home and I was happy there.

The simplest way to avoid council houses for families being lost and becoming houses in multiple occupation is by ending the Right to Buy, and not extending it even further to housing association homes. One in four, and some studies suggest one in three, former council homes are now in the private rented sector charging rents four times greater than the previous council rents. How many of these homes in Brighton and Hove, are now let to students?

Shared housing is all that is affordable for many, and the only form of accommodation for which those under 35 can claim housing benefit. I am a harsh critic of government housing policy, but while it remains as it is, we need to ensure that there is a balanced provision of homes.

We need to get this right, and the City Council could do worse that having a very early meeting with Mike Stimpson to find a way forward.

Rent Smart Brighton and Hove

Last night (Tuesday 22nd November) I attended the launch of Rent Smart Brighton and Hove.  This initiative seeks to ensure that those seeking to rent are provided with useful information about renting in Brighton and Hove.

launch-of-rent-smart-november-2016-with-bhts-alex-brining-cllr-tracey-hill-and-cllr-warren-morgan

Launch of Rent Smart Brighton and Hove with BHT’s Alex Brining, Cllr Tracey Hill and Cllr Warren Morgan

BHT is really pleased to be a partner in this initiative and at the launch my colleague Alex Brining paid tribute to Councillor Tracey Hill who has brought together a diverse group of partners including the City Council, the Southern Landlords Association, University of Sussex Students’ Union, Sussex Student Lettings, CAB Brighton and Hove, the two universities, and Brighton Housing Trust.

Please have a look at the new website and please promote it on your social media.

BHT housing advisers, together with Eastbourne CAB, expose scam preying on those in housing need

A scam preying on people desperate for housing in the private rented sector which they can afford has been exposed by staff at BHT’s Advice Centres in Eastbourne, Hastings and Brighton, and colleagues at Citizens Advice in Eastbourne.

The criminals behind the scheme offer accommodation for rent and request a deposit up front, usually for several hundred Pounds, before the individual has seen the property. The property doesn’t exist, and the criminals and the deposits are not seen again.

My colleague, Veronica Tomlin from our Eastbourne Advice Centre, explained to me how the scam works:

“Mainly in papers like the Friday-Ad and Gumtree, ads showing one bed flats for a low amount of around the £450 mark normally, although they are starting to up the price on ones in Brighton, all furnished looking like show homes. They don’t show the outside of course, as it isn’t real, and some don’t show pictures at all.

“A lot of the email addresses are hard to track. In the beginning it was possible to track the IP address and we could see they were coming from America but any Hotmail addresses which are widely used do not show the original IP address. Therefore we cannot track them. We have picked up scams in Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton and as far as Bristol in their Friday-Ad equivalent called Trade-it.”

Veronica and her colleagues emailed and received the same wording of two different types, which makes them easy to pick up as frauds.  They have also had back the same names on some of them. Veronica said: “Once we receive the email, we report them and get the ad removed. Some of the obvious ones we get removed straight away without emailing them as they are quite easy to spot.

“Our clients are quite vulnerable and we don’t want them to fall into the trap of giving a deposit to these people, only to never see their money again, so it is important for us to get to them first.”

Our advice to people is to ask for three things and check them out for yourself. Even then we can’t guarantee everything is above board.

That there is an address and a picture of the outside of the property so you can actually go and see it

Make sure that the ‘landlord’ gives you a phone number and their address

Ask whether they are a member of a respectable and recognised body (such as the Southern Landlords Association) and of a rent deposit scheme.

Sometimes people question the value of advice services, but they not only resolve individual crises, prevent homelessness and help people into accommodation, they prevent people being ripped off, and they prevent the humiliation and hardship that scams like this cause.

This story is being covered by BBC South East at 6.30pm this evening (Monday 24th August 2015).