Aug 13 2012 By Poppy Bradbury
Ealing Council is concerned about the growth of illegal outbuildings illegally used as sub-standard accommodation
ALMOST a year after the Ealing Council launched a £250,000 campaign designed to end the boroughs beds in sheds epidemic, councillors continue to push government to give them more powers.
The growth in the number of outbuildings illegally used as sub-standard accommodation, in breach of planning laws, demonstrates the strain placed on the local authority to provide affordable housing for a booming population.
Latest figures from the 2011 census, released last month, show the number of permanent residents in the borough has risen to 338,400, making Ealing the third largest borough in London. But Ealing Council leader Julian Bell believes that the beds in sheds are pushing that total closer to 400,000.
Southall has a growing reputation as a hot-bed for rogue landlords, where tenants looking for somewhere cheap to live have been found in garages and makeshift outbuildings, sometimes without electricity.
But the practice is also prominent in other less affluent parts of the borough.
Said Mr Bell. The problem goes beyond Southall.
Since October last year, 1,200 properties have been visited by the councils outhouses team, most in Southall where the campaign began. Investigations have been opened at 88 of those homes.
In Greenford 103 homes have been visited in the past few months. One illegal outbuilding has been uncovered and 27 properties were inspected after complaints.
The council has tightened restrictions to deal with similar concerns about overcrowding in houses of multiple occupancy in four problem areas Greenford Broadway, East Acton, Southall Green and Norwood Green.
Here, landlords sub-letting rooms in a three-bedroom house must apply for a licence,
while those in the rest of the borough must only do so if they have five or more bedrooms.
In residential North Greenford, Brian and Anne Davies, of Twickenham Gardens, are exasperated by the increasing back-garden developments around them.
From their upstairs bathroom window, at least 10 sheds or extensions can be seen in the surrounding gardens. They are uncertain which are permitted developments and which would need a licence.
Mr Davies said: Weve lived here a long time. In the last 20 years theres been miles and miles of over-development. Its not just next door, but all around us.
Its particularly bad here I think, compared with Southall.
Mr Bell said he visited a building recently and found children living in similar conditions while a 24-year-old man died in a house fire last year while living in a converted garage in Greenford Avenue.
Sometimes people are cooking on open flames in poor conditions, he said.
Many outbuildings are in breach of building regulations and often occupied by more than one tenant, sometimes with no electricity or running water.
Illegal ones make up about five per cent. Some people have suggested its a lot larger around half. Nevertheless, five per cent is a figure that is not insubstantial. We need to make sure were aggressively attacking the problem, Mr Bell said.
He protests that red tape is limiting what the council can do.
We dont have sufficient powers and the courts arent giving big enough fines to deter people, he said. The fines can be just one months rent for some landlords. At the moment, if we find someone in contravention of a housing regulation, we serve them with a notice and they rectify it, we cant take them to court.
The government doesnt understand the problems and we dont have the powers.