Up to eight people were housed in “appalling” conditions in a former ‘shortlife’ property that had been illegally converted into flats, Lambeth Council has discovered.
Council officers who took back possession of the property, in Rectory Gardens, Clapham, found that it had been transformed from a three-bedroomed home to a HMO, with eight rooms – pulling in an estimated £40,000 a year in rent.
A large branch from a nearby tree was growing into one of the rooms – and the occupants were using electricity from a cable passed through a hole drilled in the branch.
The house did not have clear and suitable emergency exits. All eight occupants had to share a single bath and toilet.
Council experts estimate that, at a market rate of £100 a week per room, the “landlord” could have made £40,000 a year from the property, which actually belongs to Lambeth Council.
The terraced house was a “shortlife” property, one of 1,200 licensed to housing associations and cooperatives on a short-term basis in the 1970s, on the clear understanding that they would be returned to the council.
However, many fell into the hands of unlawful owners. Lambeth Council are in the process of claiming properties back.
The discovery comes a week after Lambeth Council warned of the potentially fatal dangers of stealing electricity after taking possession of another shortlife property in the Clapham area, from which power had been supplied illegally to a number of houses.
An electrician contracted by the council to make the property safe said unsecured cables and unsafe connections made it the most dangerous site he’d seen in 35 years and it was a miracle that no one had been electrocuted.
Cllr Matthew Bennett, cabinet member for housing, said: “The conditions the people in this illegal HMO were living in were truly appalling, and represented a genuine danger to life and limb.
“It is shocking that someone can make money exploiting people by illegally renting out such dangerous accommodation with no regard for the safety of the people living there.
“We have 21,000 people on our housing waiting list, 1,800 families in temporary accommodation, and 1,300 families who are severely overcrowded.
“With this housing need, it would be irresponsible to spend our money refurbishing shortlife properties which are in a very poor state of disrepair – particularly when they are being misused for these exploitative and illegal purposes.”