Council uses drone to identify illegal rental ‘beds in sheds’

A council has used a drone with a thermal imaging camera to identify illegal ‘sheds’ where tenants are being rented beds in cramped and unsafe conditions.

Oxford council began proactively targeting these structures in January 2018 following a grant of £274,942 from central government – the cash has also funded three full-time members of staff for two years.

The government funding has enabled the team to visit over 1,000 suspected beds in sheds in 18 months and the council says it expects to visit another 400 suspected beds in sheds by the end of the year.

The drone and thermal imaging camera enable council officers 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 but occasionally they uncover what the council calls “criminal exploitation of vulnerable people.”

So far 21 beds have been regarded as illegal in the past 18 months and 31 enforcement notices have been served on landlords – and now the council wants local residents to report any sheds being erected if they could be used for illegal lettings.

The inspections have further revealed over 70 privately rented properties requiring inspection and a number of unlicensed houses in multiple occupation which are to be investigated further.

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.

“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” says a council spokeswoman.

And she says in an appeal to the public: “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.”

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