A block of council flats in south London that is covered in thick layers of black mould, suffers from severe damp and has constantly leaking ceilings have been branded “unlivable” by experts.
ITV News on Monday exposed the “dangerous squalor” that families living in the Regina Road tower block in South Norwood are forced to put up with.
The conditions, in an 11-storey building owned by Croydon Council, have been described by the chief executive of housing charity Shelter and the former head of the Health and Safety Executive as the worst they have ever seen.
Fransoy Hewitt lives on the ground floor of the block with her two young sons. The floors of their flat are soaking wet, and black mould has enveloped the kitchen, making it unusable. The fridge has been unplugged for three months to to avoid being electrocuted. The only undamaged room is the small bedroom, where the family now cooks, eats and sleeps.
Fransoy, who says she first noticed damp and mould 18 months ago and has contacted the council at least 20 times, says the way she has been treated “makes me feel like I am not even human”. Because of the mould, she he gets constant headaches and her youngest son struggles to breathe at night.
She told ITV News: “I’m not coping. There is only so much I can get angry about and pull my hair out – I just feel like I’m going to kill myself if I continue like that.”
Leroy McNally, who lives a floor above, is faced with similarly distressing conditions. The mould on his walls and ceilings is so thick it has the appearance of fire damage. Despite four buckets in his living room to collect the water dripping from above, the leaks are still uncontrollable.
“Every night I go to bed at twelve, and I wake up at 6am to empty the buckets,” Leroy told ITV News.
Leroy says he’s called Croydon Council at least 10 times since September. Repair teams have been in to look at the flat, but repairs have not been made.
ITV News says it spoke to several residents in the building experiencing the same problems.
Jeff Charlton, an independent environmental hygienist with more than 30 years experience, carried out a professional assessment of Fransoy’s flat.
He told ITV News: “This is the kind of property I would expect to see in a run-down area in the 1970s. It’s hard to believe this is Britain in 2021.”
Dame Judith Hackitt, former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, who led the government’s independent inquiry into building safety following the Grenfell Tower fire, said: “When I talked to residents in the wake of Grenfell, when I talked to residents in other tower blocks as part of my review, one of the common complaints from residents was ’nobody listens to us – we express our concerns and nobody acts on it’.
“That, I’m afraid, is typical. That is one of the fundamental cultural issues we’ve got to get over – where someone actually feels responsible and takes responsibility for fixing things.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “This is really bad. It’s definitely the worst I’ve seen, just in terms of the sheer unlivability of it. I mean, there really isn’t any possible way, that those properties are fit for human habitation.
“Can you even imagine having to live like that…in lockdown? There’s absolutely no excuse for it at all.”
In a statement, Croydon Council said: “We were very concerned to learn of these issues at these properties, and the photographs we have seen show conditions that are clearly not acceptable.
“Although we have fixed leaks and electrical issues as recently as February at these properties and have had no complaints since, things have clearly got worse for these residents and we are taking immediate action to put things right.
“We are sorry that these residents have not had the level of care for their homes that they rightly expect, and we will be looking into what has happened as a matter of urgency.”