Outbuilding are often illegally rented (Google Maps)
The government has ‘not ruled out’ giving councils new powers of entry to crack down on landlords illegally renting out squalid and overcrowded sheds in back gardens.
The Department of Communities and Local Government told EHN that it was setting up a task force to look into ‘a range of measures’ including changing the law so housing officers do not have to give landlords 24 hours written notice before they inspect suspect outbuildings.
Councils including Ealing, Newham and Slough have asked ministers for tougher powers because more and more landlords are renting out sheds.
Ealing told EHN that is it struggling to mount prosecutions under existing laws as rogue landlords often remove evidence before officers arrive.
‘Outbuildings do not require planning permission if they are within size limits and are auxiliary to the living accommodation. Landlords say it is a gym or a study. It is quite difficult to prove otherwise when we have to give that much notice. Evidence can be removed,’ said a spokesperson.
Ealing believes there are currently ‘no major deterrents’ for unscrupulous landlords who consider council enforcement action to be just another ‘business cost’.
The task force - which includes representatives from the police, the UK Border Agency and local government – aims to encourage councils to take action and better share information with other agencies.
Grant Shapps, housing minister, said he wanted to help councils to make greater use of legal powers across planning, fire safety, housing and environmental health.
‘It is a scandal that these back garden slums exist to exploit people, many of whom are prepared to return voluntarily to their home country but instead find themselves trapped into paying extortionate rents to live in these cramped conditions,’ he said.
It will also work with organisations such as the Indian High Commission to help those wanting to return home.
Damian Green, immigration minister, said people with no right to be in the UK must leave the country.
‘The UK Border Agency will do whatever is necessary, working with local authorities and the police, to clear up this problem and enforce our laws against those who are in the UK illegally and the employers who exploit them,’ he said.