A Brighton woman is afraid her house could crumble when a student landlord starts extending into the basements, lofts and gardens either side of her home.
Ms Lopez, who has already suffered years of noise, damage and disruption from the Co-Op being converted to student housing, has now been served party wall notices and told the work will start in two weeks.
Her surveyor has told her this will lead to inevitable damage, and to expect her loft walls to crumble, her garden wall to fall down and a tree to die.
And when it’s complete, she fears all four houses will be let out to students, despite the fact this will probably breach the council’s rule that there should be no new houses of multiple occupation where there are more than 10% such homes within a 50m radius.
Ms Lopez said: “They are going to dig below the foundations on both sides of my house and put massive RSJs through the walls on both sides of my loft and put two huge dormers on, which is going to do huge damage to my house.”
And it’s not just the lofts – earlier this year, a house in Over Street in the North Laine collapsed halfway through a basement excavation, which was rumoured to be caused by a previously unidentified sewer.
“I’m honestly quite scared that my house will be seriously damaged. Before my neighbour moved out last month, his ceiling came down because they’re just so old, and that was just his kids jumping out of bed.
“I’ve barely had the chance to recover from the hell of the last three years and I don’t know how I am going to cope with the stress of another long period of loud building noise and my house being damaged yet again.”
Then when the extensions are finished, Ms Lopez believes that Mr and Mrs Barrett, who live in Faversham, will lease them out to students. Of the six houses in the street, two already have an HMO licence in the Barrett’s name and are managed by student lettings agency G4 Lets.
She said: “They’re making it into a massive student development. Why is the owner extending them into six or seven bedroom houses and getting G4 Lets to manage them if they don’t intend to put students in them?
“I’m facing the prospect of being the only resident homeowner in the street.”
Ms Lopez says that when the Co-Op was developed, it caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to her house, which she had to enlist Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas’s help to get put right.
And now, she fears there’s little she can do to stop it happening all over again. She said: “I’m overwhelmed really. It seems like I’m completely powerless. They just have an answer for everything.
“And I can’t sell as all the estate agents have said there’s no way you will sell at the moment for market value.”
A proper study would have to be done for each application to convert a family home into an HMO, but of the 113 houses in London Terrace and neighbouring Kingsbury Road and Rose Hill Terrace, 11 already have HMO licences.
And while the council has shown it is keen to enforce planning breaches, it is not illegal for a developer to proceed without planning permission at their own risk, and the planning process can take months or even years to catch up with unauthorised changes.
Ian Brown of the Rosehill Residents’ Association said that with an estimated 700 students living in the Co-Op building and nearby HMOs, the area was becoming unbalanced.
He said: “Families with children move out of the area into the suburbs leaving houses that tend to become unofficial HMO’s exacerbating the problem.
“Instead of a community of families, working people and the old living together in a space they share and care about, you now have a shifting population of young people who have no stake in the community, probably feel ripped off by their landlords, and finding themselves away from home and parental influence for the first time, simply want to live a life free of constraints.
“They grow up mature and change, but for us time stands still. Each year a fresh cohort with the same agenda falls into our environment.
“Essentially we feel as though our homes have found themselves in a student campus where the clock is set for ever at Freshers’ Week.”
Caroline Lucas said: “It’s no wonder that Ros is so concerned about the potential damage to her house. This development is likely to lead to damage to her home, which has already been affected by the Co-op development next door.
“Having worked with Ros for more than three years, I’m aware of just how distressing the noise and disruption has been. The prospect of facing further structural damage to her home because of this new development is understandably worrying.
“If this development is indeed inevitable I can only urge those working on the project to do so in a way which causes as little disruption and damage as possible. Furthermore the council must look very closely at the potential breach of HMO planning rules.”
Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning department is currently investigating up to 50 possible unauthorised HMOs, and has issued four enforcement notices in the past month.
It has also reduced the period owners are given to put right a breach of planning from six months to three.
However, by appealing decisions, developers can give themselves another few months before these become enforceable, and with typical rents for HMOs totalling several thousand a month, it seems worth their while doing so.
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