Residents feeling ‘unsafe’ in Barking block of flats

Fearful residents living in a block of flats in Barking feel ignored after raising concerns about rented homes allegedly being sublet to strangers and a lack of CCTV to capture parcels going missing.

This is not the only problem that has been raised by residents living in Challingsworth House, who claim the building is “falling apart” despite being less than two years old.

Challingsworth House was built by Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration arm, Be First as part of the redevelopment of Crown House and welcomed its first residents in July 2022.

The building has two blocks and is made up of private tenants and ‘affordable’ housing comprising of shared ownership, low cost rent and affordable rented units.

Avenia, not her real name, is a private tenant and lives with her husband. They hope one day they will be able to own a home of their own.

She said her block is made up of people who exclusively rent, including private tenants and those paying a below market rent, while she says the other block is lived in by shared ownership residents.

She argues there is a difference between how services are handled in her block, and how residents are treated in the other block, and feels ignored whenever she reports issues due to a lack of action.

Avenia claims she has experienced online deliveries going missing in the past and by default is now getting them delivered to a nearby shop or safe point.

People are ‘getting away with it’

On one occasion she ordered some toilet roll online because it was on offer, but said by the time she went downstairs to pick up her parcel, it wasn’t there and believes it was stolen by someone else.

When she asked to see footage from the building’s security cameras, she claims she was told “CCTV was not available” for her, and she argues people are just “getting away with it”.

Avenia says problems with parcels going missing and flats that are allegedly being sublet is making residents feel “conscious with each other” because they don’t know who is a “good neighbour” and who isn’t.

She said: “When [a neighbour] was able to find the person who stole her parcel, she went to knock on the door and there was a cleaner who said this place was used for Air BnB, and said she doesn’t want to get involved.

“We have the door number and everything, I went to B&D Reside [the landlord] but nothing has been done.”

She added: “Sometimes the people [causing problems] are visitors and they are renting the flat for the weekend to have parties or stuff like that. They have been told to clear all the rubbish out of the flat, but they don’t have access to the bin area so they will just leave it at the door.

“Who should do the job for them? Of course we don’t want to be monitored like children, but unfortunately we are living with people who need rules and need to see that if you’re messing around, action will be taken.”

Avenia is not the only resident claiming there are flats in her building that are being used for subletting as her neighbour, Elba explains.

Elba said: “When you see people dropping the keys in the mailbox with their suitcases on the weekend, it means they are subletting. It’s very clear, it’s not something that is very hard to find out.

“Sometimes you can see [neighbours] coming for the check-ins, you can see them but you want to just avoid problems as you don’t know how people are or what kind of conversations you’re going to have. So I prefer to just report it.”

Subletting is illegal if it’s prohibited on the lease, and is against the law for a council or housing association tenant to sublet without written permission from their social housing landlord.

Reside told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) it acts as the landlord, though Barking and Dagenham Council is responsible for managing the services at Challingsworth House.

Reside said tenants and shared ownership residents are aware that subletting without its permission is a breach of their contract, and face legal action and could lose their property.

Reside said it works closely with the council’s counter fraud team, which is lead by Kevin Key, who has urged people to come forward and report ‘potential fraud’.

However, since reporting it Elba and Avenia don’t believe thorough action has been taken, as they claim it’s still happening.

Elba said: “There are families that need a place but someone is using it for business.

“How come? What is the reason? Why are you giving those people the keys from the beginning, you need to study and see if the person is deserving to take the place or not, and not just give it away like that.”

The residents have also been frustrated with broken lifts and door entrances and have had issues with getting a replacement security fob.

When both of the lifts in her block broke down for several days, it caused great difficulty for Elba who needed to carry her child all the way to the 15th floor.

Elba claims the building is “falling apart” and is putting residents’ safety at risk.

When there was a problem with the main entrance door, Elba said: “There were people having sex and selling drugs inside the bin area because everyone could access the building – we had everything, pictures of this all.”

I need to know what I’m paying for’

She and Avenia, who has called the council ‘numerous times’ about her fob being inactive since last year, feel the price they are paying in rent and bills is not worth it because of the issues they have experienced.

Avenia said: “At least if we had a service where [maintenance] come and visit our flats I would be okay, but I feel like they are getting rent from us but the customer service is not great at all.”

Elba said: “When we took the place it was affordable but I’m paying £1,500 for two bedrooms so I don’t know how this is affordable. Everything feels very cheap in the building.”

She said she understands London is expensive, but “I need to know what I’m paying for”.

Elba added: “When you end up paying for a two-bed that’s £1,500 [per month] plus £150 for council tax, plus bills, you end up spending £2,200 by the end of the month.”

Matt Lismore, who is campaigning on behalf of residents at Challingsworth House said they feel “repeatedly let down” by the council.

He said: “The council has repeatedly failed to meet the most basic requirements of a landlord, when it comes to repairs, communication, complaint handling and resident safety.”

A spokesperson for Reside said it was aware of residents complaints about repairs and maintenance service, and is looking into taking over the management of services from the council.

They said: “The situation with maintaining the doors, locks and security fobs last year resulted in long delays before residents’ concerns were resolved and we would like to apologise to residents for this.

“We have agreed with the council to look at how best to transfer responsibility from the council to Reside so that we can support residents more directly.

“Where we have been able to do this elsewhere in the borough, residents have been pleased with the improved service levels. We will keep residents updated about the progress of this proposed change.”

The spokesperson added it takes the concerns about CCTV seriously and “would like to discuss possible improvements with residents”.

They added: “We are also liaising with the Met Police’s crime prevention team. We expect to provide an update on progress by the summer. We will, of course, be contacting residents in the meantime to understand their concerns.”

The spokesperson said the council is aware services to residents at Challingsworth House could have been managed “more efficiently” and residents should have been better informed about the repairs and the time needed to complete them.

On allegations of subletting, Mr Key from the council said: “Although tenancy fraud which includes short term subletting on online platforms, is often perceived by the public as a ‘victimless’ crime, the severe shortage of social housing and affordable housing means that it is the most vulnerable in our society – those on waiting lists for social housing – who suffer as a result.

“We urge anyone with information about a potential fraud to report it to us.”

He said residents can report to the council confidentially by emailing caft@lbbd.gov.uk or can speak with the team on 020 8227 2666.

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Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter

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