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Civil servant fined over badly maintained property

Property maintenance is a big issue right now, especially as so many people are desperate to find an affordable and suitable property, and so landlords are often called upon to make sure all their properties are up to scratch. However, even those that own their own houses are now coming under fire, such as Gerald Watkins from South Wales who left his property in a rundown state for over four years which caused surrounding houses to depreciate in value by around twenty thousand pounds. Continue reading

Council looks to find absent landlords in a bid to ease housing crisis

Local authorities in the North Devon towns of Barnstable and Bideford are looking to work with property investors with an interest in landlord insurance to ease the pressure on the housing waiting list.

With 3,000 people on its housing waiting list North Devon Council have launched a new Empty Homes Policy which it hopes will see up to 500 homes currently lying empty brought back into use, and providing homes for people desperate to get off the housing waiting list. The council believe they have already identified hundreds of homes lying idle and have used council records such as council tax bills to try and identify the absent owners. They are also calling on the public to identify homes not in use and promise to investigate any leads.

In fact the policy could be good news for many owners as the council have stressed they will work with willing owners to get the properties back into habitable condition and will even help them find a tenant. North Devon’s Executive Member for Housing, Faye Webber, is keen to persuade absent owners to contact the Homes and Communities Agency and said “I think we need to do all we can to help young families who cannot afford to buy, More than 2,800 people are currently on the housing register, waiting for a home in North Devon district, so I feel sad that about 500 homes in our district have been empty for more than 12 months.”

The new policy will allow North Devon to place a compulsory purchase order on a property in exceptional circumstances but at the moment the team are just trying to contact the owners of the properties and persuade them to realise how they can help themselves and the North Devon community as a whole.

Council to work with residents to solve student problems

Residents in Bournemouth are being given four different options to tackle the problems caused by the “studentification” of some parts of the area. Currently around one in fourteen properties are used by students and Bournemouth Council are eager for residents to have their say on a range of possible solutions.

The four options are a result of residents’ complaining that the influx of students has changed the character of the area and led to an increase in unsightly properties, noise and antisocial behaviour in the early hours of the morning. Over the past two years, the council in Winton has seen a huge increase in complaints of noise nuisance associated with HMOs (homes in multiple occupation). The options being put to residents include introducing an additional licensing scheme for HMOs which would give the council powers to tackle rogue landlords.

However, it would introduce a new fee for landlords, who would probably pass this on to the student tenants. Another option is to introduce an accredited landlord scheme that is compulsory. At the moment the voluntary accreditation scheme has only managed to get 47 landlords to sign up. Landlords who sign up to accreditation schemes are usually expected to comply fully with all rules and regulations surrounding health and safety issues, property insurance and provide evidence they are fit and proper persons to let out property. Less than 50 coming forward to support a voluntary scheme is a big disappointment for local councillors.

The Winton Forum will hold a public meeting where residents can hear about the options and have their say. Forum Chair Anson Westbrook said: “This is the culmination of six years hard work by the forum. I cannot stress how important it is for everyone who has ever complained about antisocial behaviour or the changing face of Winton to attend this meeting, or at least complete the consultation form online. It’s also in the interests of students to improve the standard of HMOs in Winton and we want them to take part too. This is a great opportunity to improve things and it is so important that we take it.”

Council wants a ten year ban on tenants buying their council house

Perth and Kinross Council want the Government sponsored Right-to-Buy scheme, which enables sitting tenants to purchase council owned properties, suspended for the next ten years in a bid to protect their limited stock. The local authorities are seeking approval for a ‘pressured area’ designation which will suspend the right to buy for tenants living in the area who took out a new tenancy on or after 30 September 2002.

A consultation was held in December last year among the tenants affected by the proposals and the results of this showed that 58% of the respondents were in favour of the plans, while 34% were against them and 8% were undecided. Perth and Kinross Council want the entire local authority area designated as a pressured area with immediate effect. It is hoped that the suspension on right to buy will help ease the pressure on social housing and make sure the situation does not get any worse. Although private investors in the area are consistently organising property insurance quotes on residential properties they intend to let out, the area is still experiencing a huge demand for affordable housing.

Housing and Health Convener, Councillor Peter Barrett, said “The suspension of right to buy through pressured area status would help us preserve the scarce supply of affordable housing to rent in Perth and Kinross. There is far greater demand for social rented and other forms of affordable housing than there is supply throughout the Perth and Kinross area. There are thousands of people in Perth and Kinross who are in housing need and that is why this move is important.”

The council is working very hard to increase the amount of affordable housing available in Perth and Kinross; however, their job is being made very difficult when their social housing stock is being sold. The council have written to all tenants thanking them for taking part in the consultation. The results showed that the vast majority of tenants understand the reasons for this course of action and support the council.

Tenants feel money has been wasted on pebble dashing

Work which is being carried out to pebble dash blocks of flats in Hallam at a cost of over £360,000 is being branded a total waste of money by residents. They feel that the money would be better spent on something that everyone can benefit from, such as a playground, park or youth centre.

The work is only part of the councils programme to improve their properties that are all protected by a property insurance policy. As well as pebble dashing, work will include brand new kitchens and bathrooms. Work is being carried out on sixty council properties at a total cost of £361,899.19. Anyone living in one of the privately owned flats within the blocks has to pay for their share of the work, as per their lease agreement.

One of the unhappy residents said: “What I am seeing happening at the moment is something that is really not essential. Surely something like extra doctors or nurses or policemen is more important? I just don’t understand it. People’s jobs at the council are potentially at risk and they are paying for things like pebble dashing. The buildings are looking a bit grey but they are not that horrific. Surely they could just paint them? Everybody is aware that the council have to make cuts so why are they wasting money on pebble dashing.”

A spokesman for the council said they are carrying out a range of both improvements and essential repairs which include exterior works on flats. They do not feel these tenants should miss out as they are just as important as any other tenant in the borough and the pebble dashing is necessary to maintain the fabric of the flats. The work is funded from the Housing Revenue Account and the council are prevented in law from spending this money on a non-housing related service.

Developers are delighted after winning decade long fight

Property developers have won a ten year fight to build housing on former army land after the Scottish Government overruled a council decision to reject the bid. Taylor Wimpey and Miller Homes will now build 75 properties on the land in Colinton.

The council chiefs had twice previously rejected the proposals, which local residents claim will lead to the small village of Colinton having its population doubled in the next few years. Plans to develop the land were first drawn up twelve years ago, prompting angry residents to start a campaign to try and raise the £50,000 they needed to buy the land from the Ministry of Defence. The campaign failed but it did not matter as the council rejected the proposal.

The developers submitted a new planning application in 2004 which was again rejected after 2,000 people objected individually. A third application was made six months ago, and when this was refused Taylor Wimpey and Miller Homes then appealed to the Scottish Government who overruled the decision and gave the go ahead to build the mix of housing which will include some social houses that will be protected by the cheapest landlord insurance. Colinton Amenity Association (CAA), who have been opposing the development from day one are very disappointed with the decision of the city council to give up after a decade of standing firm.

Ward Councillor Jason Rust said: “This is a black day for Coliton and devastating news for the local community despite their best efforts and for all the people who have objected. It seems that Scottish Government advice about appropriate land supply has outranked the council’s city development plan. This is particularly unfortunate since there seems to be no shortage of sites in practice and there is already a lot of uncertainly in relation to the Barracks sites.”

Residents ask Oxford council to move the goalposts

The original plan to install new goalposts in a Oxford recreation ground look like they will have to be changed due to the fact that they are too close to people’s back gardens. The goalposts, along with new play equipment were installed by the council as part of neighbourhood renovation scheme.

The goalposts had only been in place hours before complaints were made by residents and landlords who claim they are far too close to the fence which separates the recreation ground and the gardens of adjacent properties. Residents now claim that balls are constantly landing in their gardens. Children are climbing fences to get the balls back and effecting property insurance for landlords by damaging flowers and garden equipment. Property owners with cheap landlord insurance have also had windows broken by footballs which are flying over the fence and breaking the glass and local people are already disgruntled with the situation.

The council say a number of solutions are already being discussed, including removing the posts and installing a proper football pitch in a nearby recreation ground. Another solution is to lower the height of the goalposts to discourage high kicks but this is not a popular idea as it takes away the realism of a game of football. Residents do not want the goalposts removed permanently as they understand that children love to play football. However, they feel that more thought should have been put into the planning considering nearly £50,000 was spent by the council during the revamp of the playground.

Marilyn Casey, who lives in one of the properties affected, said “We’ve been getting balls over the fence for years but since the new goalposts were installed it has got 100 times worse. I wouldn’t want to see the goals taken out because there’s not much else for older children to do, so I am not sure what the solution is.”

North East Street to get a half a million pound makeover

A Hartlepool Street looks set to be transformed in a £500,000 pilot scheme. The local council are currently working on tackling the serious problem of empty properties in Baden Street as the houses have become a target for vandals and arsonists.

Currently there are forty six houses on the street with approximately half of them empty. The majority of the houses are owned by private landlords and council officials are concerned because there is no demand for any of the properties at the moment. Residents, local councillors and the police are all calling for action to be taken as soon as possible.

Some of the proposals include a landlord incentive scheme which would see the owners of the empty properties eligible for a £5,000 grant/loan to improve both the inside and outside of their properties in order to attract new tenants into their properties. A huge total of 200,000 is also going to be spent on improving the roads. Also included in the proposal is a permanent security presence on the street with the possibility of the police taking over a house.

The scheme has not won the approval of everyone in Hartlepool though and many are questioning why public funds should be used to help landlords with landlord insurance cover of their own. One local said: “I have been in a number of meetings whereby Baden Street has been brought up. I do think there is a need to do something but there are other problematic areas so why choose this ward and this street?”

Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond has been asked to endorse the proposals and if he does back the plan, property surveys will be carried out and the scheme will start in July or August. If it is successful, the scheme may be extended to other areas of the City.