Author- Faye Brown
Rogue landlords were caught housing tenants in sheds after the council flew an infrared plane above areas where suspected migrants lived. Oxford City Council deployed aircraft equipped with aerial thermal imagining to detect the illegal structures, where people were found cramped on mattresses in ‘appalling’ conditions. The technology worked by using a sensor to find garages or outbuildings with heat levels that could indicate people living in them without proper facilities. It found 21 sheds had been built without planning permission and were being rented out to vulnerable people. One person was charged to live in an outbuilding that was a minuscule 10.5 square meters and had no toilet, heating or kitchen facilities.
Cabinet member for housing Linda Smith, urged residents to report rogue landlords. She said: ‘If you think there are beds in sheds in your neighborhood, please contact our private sector safety team and we’ll take action. ‘Oxford has the highest proportion of private rented homes in the country and every private tenant should have a decent roof over their head’. The local authority launched its mission to find the illegal buildings in January last year, following a £274,942 grant from the Government’s Controlling Migration Fund, with the principal aim of preventing the exploitation of migrants. The government funding has enabled the team to visit more than 1,000 suspected beds in sheds since January last year. While some outbuildings had been converted into offices or gyms, others were used to house people in squalor.
Inspections found overcrowded conditions, fire safety problems, electrical hazards and structures without heating, hot water and basic sanitary provisions. Councillor Smith added: ‘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.’ The team will reinspect the 21 premises in the coming months to ensure the prohibition order has been complied with and assist the occupant with alternative accommodation if necessary. It is a criminal offence not to comply with a prohibition order issued by a local authority.