Poor housing in York must be tackled say campaigners – but landlords say that will put rents up

The poor quality of some private accommodation in the city “cannot be ignored any longer” according to campaigners – who say housing issues are affecting residents’ physical and mental health.

Councillor George Norman, whose Hull Road ward has a high level of student housing, said international students are often most vulnerable to poor housing because they may not realise they can complain about bad standards.

A council meeting heard examples of overcrowding at shared homes in the city, properties where the electricity flickers on and off when the shower is used and a home where an attic was rented out with the only access being a ladder – putting the tenant at risk of falling from the hatch and down a flight of stairs.

Shared homes – or houses in multiple occupation – where five or more people from two or more households live are already subject to strict licensing checks.

The council is looking to extend the scheme to homes in certain areas of the city with three or more people from two or more households.

They say the rules have already improved housing standards and the move could help more people.

Insect infestations

Photograph: Pixabay

Rachel Barber, from the University of York Student Union, said nearly a third of students in private rented accommodation in the city say they experienced pest or insect infestations and around 16 per cent had issue with electricity, gas or fire hazards.

Fiona Derbyshire, chief executive of Citizens Advice York, said poor shared housing is a concern for all residents including working adults and families, who are “paying extremely high rents because of the dreadful pressure cooker value of properties in this city”.

She said she has spoken to people living in “appalling conditions” whose mental and physical health has suffered as a result.

Andy Simpson, chair of York Residential Landlords Associations, said: “Obviously everyone wants a high standard of rental accommodation in York.”

But he warned that if further licensing guidance is brought in – at a cost of around £500 to landlords every five years – it could put rents up.

He said: “We recognise that there’s need for a system for regulating standards but we believe the real issue is the funding of a system, because there’s a cost involved in the inspection element and administration of standards.”

“Our position would always be [in favour of an] accreditation based collaborative approach, driving up standards through market forces in a positive way.”

Cllr Michael Pavlovic said: “The good landlords want to be accredited, they want some recognition that their properties are of a good and decent standard.

“It’s move out of the city or accept what you’re given and what you can find [for some residents] and that’s not a situation that any of us should be prepared to accept.”

The housing scrutiny committee will recommend that senior councillors roll out plans to licence smaller houses in multiple occupation in areas of the city that have the highest number of shared homes.