The local authority is consistently breaching the terms of its agreements to make necessary repairs to the homes of its tenants, resulting in repeat court proceedings and empty promises, according to national law firm CEL Solicitors.
From rat infestations to severe damp and mould, Croydon Council tenants are being forced to live in conditions that violate the Homes (Fitness Human Habitation) Act 2018, a law that was brought in to protect those in rented properties and give them more power to hold their landlords to account.
However, CEL Solicitors, which specialises in civil litigation, says more need to be done to hold landlords to account once court orders to make repairs have been made. The firm regularly reopens settled cases after councils and housing associations fail to complete works within the agreed timeframe.
Among those tenants is 70-year-old Yvonne, who has rented her one-bedroomed flat from Croydon Council for nine years. The grandmother-of-seven, whose repairs are estimated to cost more than £4,500, first complained to the local authority around six years ago but was given a dehumidifier to rectify the damp issues.
Now, despite CEL Solicitors stepping in and settling her case in March 2019, works have still not been completed, prompting lawyers to open the case for the third time.
Former home care assistant Yvonne, who has a series of poor health conditions including asthma, said: “During the winter, the walls in my living room were soaked through with damp, yet all I was given was a dehumidifier. I’ve been told I can’t use the sockets in that room as it’s too dangerous with the water, so I’m unable to have a television in there.
“I feel the council are simply not interested, especially as I’m elderly and disabled. I just want my home to feel like a home – at the moment I don’t even have a wash basin in my bathroom as it was too damp for them to plumb it in, so I brush my teeth in the kitchen sink.
“They don’t seem to care about how they’re leaving people like me to live, especially during the last year when we’ve all been told to stay at home – the council need to be held to account.”
A second tenant, Johanna, who wishes to be known by only her first name, says she’s living in a state of ‘limbo’ after being told countless times by the council that she would be moved out of her property so that repairs could take place.
Johanna, first raised issues with Croydon Council more than a decade ago; however, condensation was blamed and Johanna’s disrepair issues went unresolved.
After instructing lawyers to take action, she was told she would be temporarily moved to a hotel but, just as she was ready to move out, the local authority declared bankruptcy and she has been waiting for answers ever since.
Her repairs are expected to be worth more than £13,000.
Johanna, for whom CEL Solicitors has recently launched a breach claim after the council failed to make agreed repairs, said: “The problems at my property have been ongoing for more than 10 years – I’d repeatedly told the council about the issues but nothing was ever done. Inspectors would come out, assess the problem and conclude that it was down to condensation or the foundations of the house, but it was clear that there was something that needed fixing.
“The damp was coming through the wallpaper leaving it saturated, so I’ve forked out a lot of money over the years to keep redecorating and trying to mask the issue.
“Despite the council being ordered to make repairs, I’m still in complete in limbo – I’m surrounded by all of my things in boxes, not knowing what’s happening next.”
And, it’s a similar story for 57-year-old Sheila Nash who was faced with a rat infestation last year. The mother-of-seven, who rents her four-bedroomed house from Croydon Council, had been complaining of disrepair problems for around four years before taking legal action.
Her case with the council settled in February 2020 but, again, the council have not made repairs.
She said: “We discovered rats here last year after they managed to get into the property due to poor plumbing – it was horrific to live in. My last communication with the council was towards the end of last year and I’ve heard nothing since.
“The past 12 months have been difficult for everyone but to not have a home that is not comfortable or feels safe is awful. We just want these basic repairs to be made.”
On 11 November 2020, Croydon Council announced that it had a filed a Section 114 notice, citing ‘ongoing financial challenges’. It meant an immediate ban on all new expenditure, with the exception of statutory services for protecting vulnerable people.
The announcement meant that tenants waiting for essential repairs – many of whom have been waiting for more than 10 years – were left in the dark as to when they will have work carried out on their homes.
Deepa Chand, Future Trainee and Paralegal at CEL Solicitors, at CEL Solicitors, said: “Right across the country, councils and housing associations are forcing their tenants to live in conditions that are simply not fit for purpose.
“They should ask themselves whether they would be willing to live with black mould in every room, unusable electrics and, in the worst cases, vermin infestations and fire safety issues.
“Our repairs team ensure that cases like those at Croydon Council are seen through until repairs are made, breach claims being opened and, in some cases, reopened again, if needed.
“The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act was brought in to help put a stop to tenants living like this but, as we’ve seen, it doesn’t go far enough. Landlords are findings ways to avoid making repairs and putting some of our society’s most vulnerable at risk.
“We must remember that tenants will turn to legal action as a very last resort – all they want is a safe, comfortable home and something needs to change to ensure this happens.”