Families facing eviction brand Prospect House 'appalling'
- Credit: Nathalie Raffray
Families facing eviction from a Stonebridge housing block have said their living conditions were "appalling" at the same time private tenants are moving in.
Fifteen former homeless families will be leaving Prospect House, in North Circular Road, from May after receiving notice in November.
Residents said their emotions ranged from "relieved" to "horrified" when they started being turned away from estate agents and found they were unable to bid on Brent Council's Locata housing system.
Prospect House was an office block built in the 1960s and left vacant for many years.
Its owner, Ashok Vohra, of Sonal Trading Ltd, was given a grant through Brent Council's Empty Property Scheme in 2015 to convert the first and second floors into residential accommodation.
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According to council documents, the flats are let to homeless families on a five-year lease arrangement managed by Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association (SBHA).
In 2017, Mr Vohra put in a planning application to build four additional floors containing a further 28 self-contained flats. This application was approved by Brent Council in 2019.
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The families are being evicted as SBHA's lease with Mr Vohra has ended.
However, new private tenants are moving in with no connection to the council, SBHA or housing benefit.
Parents told this paper that since they accepted the flats in 2016, there has often been no hot water for weeks on end and sometimes no water at all.
They said the electricity often cuts out, ventilation is poor, the communal front door breaks and there are no lifts, as well as pollution, noise and infestations of rats in the car park where the children play.
Mr Vohra disputes these claims.
L'Oriel Williams was placed in a two-bedroom flat in August 2016. Her son Micah, 10, has the neurological brain disorder septo-optic dysplasia and is severely sight impaired. Her four-year-old daughter Olivia suffers from rhinitis and is one of three children in the block with severe obstructive sleep apnea.
She said she had a homeless application and appeals rejected "several times" by the council before being accepted in 2019 with help from Advice for Renters.
"All of this time I've been pleading and they finally accepted the place was unsuitable but this is just my circumstances," she said. "The building itself cannot hold the amount of people that are in it, let alone be habitable."
Mum-of-three Fadya Mohamed said she spent eight weeks in a hostel in Ealing after a private landlord evicted her from her home in Harlesden and she "took the flat because the council gave me no choice".
"We get our gas bills from Sonal Trading and they are so high and don't make sense," she said.
"Some months it's £65, £43, £58. Even when a family is on holiday they will get a bill for that month, but we never see how he breaks it down. In the summer, the building gets so hot the children get rashes."
Mechanic Kyle Mitchell found his flat, with a 12-month lease, on Gumtree and moved in on January 25.
He shares the £1,300 rent with a friend and they will pay in cash.
"It's ringing a bit of alarm bells at the moment of what to expect," he said. "Why is all this happening?"
Darren Reynolds, SBHA’s director for resident experience, said: “As a social landlord, we want to offer permanent social housing although there is simply not enough of it.
"To help alleviate this, we leased private accommodation to prevent homelessness or families going into temporary accommodation."
He said the rents "were agreed with Brent Council" and had not risen in five years.
"The landlord is responsible for repairs and has completed numerous repairs during this time.
"In some cases, it has been necessary for SBHA to complete some of the required repairs directly.
"Some of these repairs have involved the supply of utilities and where these have not been able to be resolved, we have arranged temporary accommodation while remedial work is done."
He said SBHA had previously met with the landlord to discuss the gas bills and promised "to do what we can to resolve this issue" and be in contact with residents.
Mr Vohra claimed many of the accusations against him "are not true" and responds to water and electrical issues "within 24 hours".
He said the gas bill was based on one metre for the whole building and defended how he charges, but accused "some tenants" of "not paying a penny".
"Nobody pays me, I pay £40,000 from my own pocket," he said. "They are using gas, heating and hot water from my pocket."
He added: "There are no building problems. If there are building problems why are they living there for five years?
"Now they are leaving, they are complaining. We gave them notice because the lease is expiring."
Families have been told to contact Brent Council.
A spokesperson said: "
A Brent Council spokesperson said: “We have been in regular contact with Shepherds Bush Housing Group about the tenants at Prospect House whose homelessness ended under a private rented sector offer of accommodation.
"We have advised SBHG that any tenants who are not confident that they will be able to make their own housing arrangements when the time comes for them to leave, to contact the council at the earliest opportunity for advice and assistance.
"We're also in touch with the tenants and are very keen to work with any household in difficulty."
The spokesperson added: "As SBHG manage the building, any complaints about facilities are directed to them, and are not part of an assessment for planning permission.”