Over the last 18 months Oxford City Council has targeted rogue landlords as part of an initiative to protect vulnerable tenants from potentially dangerous ‘beds in sheds’.
The council began proactively targeting these structures in January 2018 following a grant of £274,942 from central government. This has enabled the funding of three additional full-time members of staff for two years.
What are beds in sheds
The Private Sector Safety team proactively investigates suspected unlawful dwellings (commonly referred to as ‘beds in sheds’.) These are outbuildings that have been constructed without planning permission or building regulations approval and used for human habitation.
Inspections have revealed overcrowded conditions, fire safety issues, electrical hazards and structures without heating, hot water and satisfactory sanitary provisions.
Results of enforcement
The government funding has enabled the team to visit over 1,000 suspected beds in sheds since January 2018. This has resulted in 21 beds in sheds being shut down and 31 enforcement notices being served. The team expect to visit another 400 suspected beds in sheds by the end of the year.
The inspections have further revealed over 70 privately rented properties requiring inspection and a number of unlicensed houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) which have been referred to the HMO Enforcement team to investigate.
Using the Housing Health Cost Calculator, the council estimates that the work of the two teams results in an average £40,000 a year in NHS savings and £538,800 a year in savings to society.
Identifying beds in sheds
Although the Private Sector Safety team takes information from tenants and members of the public, most structures are targeted following an aerial thermal imaging survey. This enables the team to identify structures such as garages and outbuildings constructed without planning permission emitting a heat signature.
In many cases the structures are used as gyms or offices and occasionally they uncover criminal exploitation of vulnerable people.
Case study - August 2019
Earlier this month (August), the Private Sector Safety team inspected a house in Rose Hill and discovered a person living in a poorly constructed lean-to at the rear of the property.
The poorly constructed lean-to, was just 10.5m2 and contained a number of hazards that potentially posed a threat to the health of the occupant. The external framework comprised timber plank panels acting as external walls, significant gaps around external doors permitting uncontrolled draughts; there was no fitted heating system, just a small portable electric heater; and only one small openable window. There were no sanitary or kitchen facilities.
The property was deemed unsuitable for use as habitable accommodation and a prohibition order on the structure was served. This required the landlord to cease the use of the lean-to as habitable accommodation and to remove furnishings.
The team will reinspect the premises next month to ensure the prohibition order has been complied with and assist the occupant with alternative accommodation if necessary. The main house at the property was found to be an unlicensed HMO and has been referred for further investigation.
Case study - May 2018
In another case in May 2018, the team discovered that a garage in a semi-detached house in Rose Hill had been converted into habitable accommodation.
The garage consisted of a sleeping and living area and a small shower room. There was a microwave oven for heating food but there was no cooking appliance or other kitchen facilities. The total floor space was 15.6m2 and on the date of inspection two people were living there.
The property was found to be unsafe and the residents at risk of injury due to electric and fire hazards, food safety issues, lack of insulation and heating and cramped living conditions.
The landlord was served with a prohibition order, which required them to cease the use of the garage as habitable accommodation, remove the furnishings and revert the garage back to its intended use. It is a criminal offence not to comply with a prohibition order issued by a local authority. In this instance, the landlord complied with the order and the occupants were helped with finding suitable alternative accommodation.
Funding for beds in sheds enforcement
The funding for the rogue landlords project was provided by the government’s Controlling Migration Fund, with the principal aim of preventing the exploitation of migrants. However, the Private Sector Safety team will investigate all exploitation of Oxford’s tenants.
Oxford City Council has a separate HMO Enforcement team that investigates breaches of HMO regulations. In March, the council became the third local authority in the country to make an entry onto the government’s new rogue landlords database.
Report a bed in a shed
If you have concerns that there might be a ‘bed in a shed’ in your neighbourhood, you can contact the Private Sector Safety team by emailing PSST@Oxford.gov.uk.
“Oxford has the highest proportion of private rented homes in the country and every private tenant should have a decent roof over their head. We work proactively to drive up standards in private rented housing and we won’t tolerate rogue landlords exploiting tenants by providing substandard and dangerous housing – whether this is a bed in a shed, a house in multiple occupation or a family home.
“Conditions in some of these beds in sheds are appalling and we won’t accept this. If you think there are beds in sheds in your neighbourhood, please contact our Private Sector Safety team and we’ll take action.”
Councillor Linda Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and housing