Croydon Council could be breaking the law by taking Council Tax from tenants of seven sub-standard flats in a South Norwood conversion which has never been granted planning permission, a local residents’ group alleges.
The on-going saga over the fate of The Ship pub could represent the first failure of Croydon’s controversial landlord licensing scheme. Town Hall staff have told residents that it is not possible to check on the identity of the developer of the flats above The Ship because the licence details have not been uploaded to the council database.
The landlord licence is supposed to protect tenants from rogue property owners and to prevent sub-standard properties being rented out. The scheme was introduced in October, despite hefty bleatings by the poor, down-trodden landlords. Croydon’s landlords have to pay a £750 fee per property for five years, or risk fines of up to £20,000 for failing to comply.
A residents’ group in South Norwood which wants to take over The Ship pub as a community asset alleges that the owner of the property has been allowed to redevelop the building into flats which are not fit for habitation, and without ever being subject to proper enforcement action over planning rules.
“The Council has confirmed that they’ve registered seven flats at The Ship pub for Council Tax, even though these flats don’t have planning permission,” a spokeswoman for the residents’ group said, adding that the flats are “regarded as not being of the required standard for human habitation”.
Poor sound insulation and sub-standard ventilation, often a cause of damp and nasty smells in properties, have been mentioned among the flats’ short-comings
Government guidelines state a property has to comply with current planning legislation to enable Council Tax to be collected.
“The council’s failure to undertake planning enforcement action on The Ship has enabled a developer to convert and rent out properties that fail the basic requirements with regards to letting out homes. So far it’s estimated that the landlord of The Ship has earned £60,000 in rent in six months,” said Rachel Lawrence, of the Save The Ship Campaign.
Lawrence said that because the licence system is not yet properly functioning, “landlords are making a mockery of the council’s new scheme”.
A retrospective planning hearing was held at Croydon Town Hall on Thursday night where planning officers reported that they have allowed tenants to stay in The Ship’s flats while liaising with the building’s owner to get them to comply with minimum requirements for housing quality.
Councillors who visited The Ship said that the accommodation there is “pretty dreadful and the building was in a bad way”. The planning committee was told that the planning department’s refusal to take enforcement action had resulted in a failure to protect a listed building and produced flats which do not meet minimum legal requirements.
“The Ship was listed as an Asset of Community Value in May 2015 and we have been lobbying the council to stop the building works before and after the ACV, but nothing has happened,” Lawrence said.
“When the tenants first moved in in June, we made Croydon Council aware and they indicated that they would serve an enforcement notice to stop the works and force the developer to remove the tenants from the building. This never happened. It is so sad that families are paying good rent for homes which some regard as slums.”
At one point, council officials forced the landlord to ask the tenants to move out so that work could be carried out on the homes to make them comply with planning rules. But the landlord moved tenants back in before any works were carried out.
“We’re unsure what will happen now as the decision has been deferred because the planning committee are unhappy with the amount of protection given to the pub,” Lawrence said.
“Our understanding is that as the property doesn’t have planning permission for flats, Croydon Council shouldn’t be collecting Council Tax from residents. Our understanding is by doing this Croydon Council are in breach of the law.”
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