Southern Housing has told residents in two Margate blocks they must move out by May next year due to structural issues and the company will then demolish their homes.
The formal process to end tenancies for those living in Weymouth House and Stratford House in Eaton Place will begin in the new year due, says Southern Housing, to the ‘significant structural repairs’ that are needed.
The landlord says all tenants of the 78 flat site must be out by May 2024.
Stratford House has 36 one and two-bed flats that are rented as social housing. It is expected that Southern Housing will rehome these residents.
However, Weymouth House, which has 42 one and two-bed flats, is market rental and Southern Housing will not be relocating these residents to new properties.
Lucy Potter has been at her flat in Weymouth House for some seven years after a change in circumstances meant she could not longer afford to live in Canterbury.
She says tenants have been trying to get answers about the structural issues for many months.
The 52-year-old said: “Rumours have been flying around for months that the buildings have subsidence and are leaning and there are definitely a lot of cracks and movement in Stratford House.
“Balconies have been condemned for three years plus, windows are falling out, the car park flooding, fire doors have dropped and are now not meeting fire regulations.
“When some of the tenants asked the men inspecting the door what the problem was, they said it’s because of the subsidence. However, Southern Housing have said there is no subsidence and the building is not leaning.”
Lucy says there is now a waking watch at the blocks since the fire alarm buttons were removed and there are properties which have remained empty since last year. In March some flats were flooded and tenants were moved to hotels until insurance work was carried out but Lucy says work appears to have stopped.
She added: “We have been trying to get straight answers from Southern Housing for a long time now, sending emails and making phone calls, however they have been very reluctant to give us much information.
“We felt we had no choice but to contact MP Sir Roger Gale to see if he was able to assist us. Since he contacted them we have started to get snippets of information however it’s all very “on a need to know basis ” and they really don’t seem to think we need to know.”
The mum-of-three, who works as a soft furnishings maker, says the stress has been so bad that she has started to suffer from hair loss.
She added: “We just want to be informed and not treated like idiots, we are paying our rent and we have rights as tenants.
“Southern Housing is meant to be a non-profit charitable organisation ..this is not very charitable to say the least.”
In communication with the housing group North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said the company proposals had “caused considerable alarm and concern among residents” and he asked “what provision Southern Housing will be making to ensure that all of those currently housed in potentially defective properties will be rehomed.”
The Isle of Thanet News contacted Southern Housing and was told: “We are due to speak to our residents about the future of Eaton Place and it would be inappropriate to publicly share details about any decision before we’ve spoken to them.”
However, just hours after sending that response today (November 24), residents at Weymouth and Stratford houses received letters telling them a decision had been made to close down both blocks and eventually demolish them.
The buildings on the boundary of Dreamland have been standing for less than a decade.
The letter to residents in Weymouth House says: “We have been carefully considering the future of Weymouth House and Stratford House. You’ll be aware there are significant structural repairs needed to both blocks.
“We’ve now made the difficult decision to close both blocks for safety reasons. This means we’ll start moving residents out of their home and end existing tenancies.”
The letter adds: “The formal process to end tenancies will start early in the new year.”
Southern Housing says it will help people to look for new homes but tells Weymouth House residents that their tenancies are the same as a private landlord agreement and “we simply don’t have enough homes to rehouse everyone that will need to move.”
Southern Housing says it has met with Thanet council which has advised tenants who need help to register via Kent Homechoice. But, the letter adds: “However, there is a long wait for social housing in Thanet. Therefore Thanet council encourages you to actively look for your own housing solutions.”
Southern Housing says that issues with the blocks are “complex and wide-ranging” and “repairing the blocks has been deemed an unsuitable option.”
The housing group says: “Our plan is to demolish the vacant blocks. We are looking at a range of options for the site but we don’t intend to replace these homes.”
Residents of Stratford House, whose properties are let as social housing, have been told: “We are already looking at our existing available homes in Margate and the Thanet area and we will shortly start the process of matching residents to homes based on housing need and making formal offers.
“We don’t have enough available homes to rehouse everyone straight away so it may take time.”
Stratford House residents qualify for £8,100 for home loss and disturbance payment for expenses incurred during moving, including disconnection and reconnection of appliances, redirecting mail, replacement curtains/blinds and school uniforms if youngster have to change school.
Weymouth tenants have been told they will be helped by having their deposit released when they find new accommodation, a landlord reference being provided, an offer to keep white goods within the flat and moving expenses provided of up to £1000.
Lucy said the letter has come “as no shock” and queried whether the land would be sold to the next door amusement park. She added: “We apparently are allowed to keep the white goods, lucky us, they are nearly 10 years old.”
An updated statement from Southern Housing, received on November 27, said: “Following the advice of fire engineers, we’ve been carefully considering the future of Stratford House and Weymouth House. We’ve taken the time to thoroughly investigate both blocks, looking at all the options for its long term future.
“There are significant structural and fire safety repairs needed to both blocks and we’ve made the difficult decision to close these buildings for safety reasons. The costs and technical complexity of repairs needed made these buildings unviable. This means we’ll start moving residents out of their home and ending existing tenancies.
“Our number one priority remains keeping our residents safe in their home. We’ll continue to maintain interim fire safety measures to ensure their safety. However, this is not sustainable in the long-term and is one of the reasons why we’ve reached our decision.
“We know moving home under these circumstances is rarely easy, but we’ll be doing all we can to support our residents. We’ve a dedicated team who are reaching out to help them through this process.”
Cllr Helen Whitehead, Cabinet Member for Housing at Thanet District Council, said: “We are aware of the extremely difficult situation many Southern Housing residents currently find themselves in Eaton Place, Margate. We have met with Southern Housing and understand that they are also working with their fire engineer and with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service and that interim measures are in place for the two buildings.
“Southern Housing has asked residents to move out by May 2024, and we are doing everything that we can to support residents and ensure that they are receiving the necessary help, in what is an incredibly challenging time for them.
“I contacted Southern Housing as soon as I was aware of the situation, as did Thanet District Council officers, to seek assurances from them that they would be offering support to all of their tenants to help them find accommodation.
“The council has no direct control over Southern Housing, but we will continue to meet with them to ensure that they do provide support and advice to their tenants. We are liaising with Sir Roger Gale MP to keep contact with all affected residents, and we will communicate with the Regulator for Social Housing if we need to.
“If any residents would like additional advice, guidance or support, they can contact the council’s Housing Options Service. Residents can apply to the council’s housing register if they would like to, and we will do everything we can to help.
“If residents raise any concerns with us about the situation, we would be happy to raise these directly with Southern Housing on their behalf, and we will continue to meet to ensure we are regularly updated and in the best possible position to support anyone affected.”
Southern Housing, which was formed from a merger between Southern Housing Group and Optivo in December last year, also has a situation in Woking where this week it moved residents out of a 60-home block due to worries over ‘structural safety.’
In June it was announced that the 78,000-home association would also be the subject of a special investigation by the Housing Ombudsman after the landlord’s complaint handling maladministration rate rose from 56% to 81% in the past year.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “The sharp increase in maladministration rate, combined with number of high or medium risks cases we’re seeing from this landlord, is of concern. Other cases with us relate to similar issues and may indicate a repeated failing.
“Following our investigation, we will publish a learning report highlighting any issues we have identified in the cases investigated and make recommendations to the landlord to support learning and improvement.”