Date: 21/11/2008 Category: Housing and Homelessness
Medway Council has begun improvements to a house in Strood after becoming the first council in the country to be given permission by a Residential Property Tribunal to take over a privately-let house. It took the panel just 15 minutes to grant the council an Interim Management Order (IMO) on a six-bedroomed terraced house after the landlord failed to carry out improvements. The order, which was approved under the Housing Act 2004, gives the council four months to bring the house in St Mary's Road, Strood, up to a habitable condition. Officers now have the arduous task of turning the rundown four-storey property into a secure and attractive home. Private contractors MHS Commercial are carrying out the repairs to the property on behalf of the council, who will then bill the landlord. They will also decide if they feel the landlord is ready to be given back control of running the property. The extensive repairs list makes a depressing read. Doors need to be made secure, locks replaced - or in some cases installed, broken windows repaired, fire alarms installed, provide a hot water supply, beds, and improve washing and cooking facilities. The house was frequently targeted by thieves who stole from the tenants while they were out. In September, fireworks were thrown into the ground floor entrance and caused extensive damage to the property. Environmental Health officers are also dealing with a rodent problem; three mousetraps nestled behind a bed and table in the basement hint at the scale of the problem the five tenants who live here are dealing with. The putrid smell of stale urine and damp are the first things that hit you when you step inside the house. The full scale of this rundown house has only just become visible during sunlight hours because the landlord didn't even supply light bulbs in the property, forcing tenants to dig into their pockets and buy six light bulbs a couple of weeks ago. The downstairs toilet and shower room is covered in mould and the bathroom ceiling is buckling under the weight of a leaky toilet system two floors above. There's little sanctuary outside. The garden is covered with rubbish and the broken windows give an indication of the horrors that await tenants who call the place home. Housing officer Mark Pledger was instrumental in bringing the house to the attention of the council and the housing tribunal. He said: "The property had been on our radar for a while, but it was during a routine visit to the house that I discovered the full extent of the problem. "The house was in a dreadful condition. There was no management of the property and tenants were living in squalid conditions. "The tenants had not had any contact with the landlord for about nine months and hadn't been collecting rent. As such, the property was in a dreadful state and people were coming and going as they pleased." Repairs have begun in earnest since the council seized control of the property. Builders are a familiar site in the house and busy making the house secure. One tenant, who has asked not to be identified, is pleased Medway Council has stepped in and taken control of the property. He said: "Don't let anyone criticise the council. They've been here a week, and they have transformed this place." Tenants have been given contracts and rent is now being collected for the first time in months. "We will be taking tenants shopping to buy them furniture like beds, fridges, cookers and chairs," Mr Pledger said. "We will also be letting them decorate their rooms to give them ownership of the property and make it feel like their home." Earlier this year the council's housing department was given a zero rating by the government's Audit Commission and rated as being the worst in the country. A series of dramatic changes, including new management and a crackdown on landlords who fail to comply with housing regulations, are already bearing fruit. Medway Council's Portfolio Holder for Community Services Cllr Howard Doe said: "This landmark case shows the high levels of work and commitment being achieved by Medway Council to improve housing conditions in Medway. "This case shows how serious Medway Council is about targeting private landlords who opening flout housing regulations and show little or no regard to their tenants' health, safety and wellbeing." The IMO was made on Wednesday, 12 November.