I’m writing this here because I’m hopeful that someone will see it and be able to give some advice.
Last night the house next door was set on fire for the third time in three weeks. My family and I were out at the time, but we received a phone call from both the police and our neighbours, informing us that my door had been breached by the fire brigade as they thought someone was in the house.
This is the culmination of over two years of issues with the house next door and each government department I’ve spoken to has passed it on to other departments effectively saying ‘there is nothing we can do’.
Just under three years ago my wife and I bought our first house. It needed a bit of work (still does) but for the first few months everything was fine. Then one day in October the neighbours next door packed up everything they had and just left. We waved them goodbye and thought nothing of it, surprised not to see a “for sale” sign.
What we were told a few weeks later is that the house was some sort of church half-way house and the people there were renting, and so the house stood empty for a few months until December. That’s when people decided to dump rubbish into the empty garden and kids decided to pay it a visit.
We phoned the police and the environmental health several times and each time we had to go through a procedure and policy to get it cleaned up. Every time the house was broken into, it would be boarded up with wooden boards and a few days later the kids would rip them off easily.
This has been our life for two years. The owner of the property, I’ve been told, lives down South and as the house has some structural issues, he’s basically given up on it.
The incidents have been minor until this year, but that’s now changed and escalated as someone has started to set fire to the house. Each time they’ve done it it’s increased in intensity. Last night I received a phone call from a police officer asking me to call him back on a phone number, that didn’t work, related to a crime reference number. My neighbour then phoned me letting me know that the house was on fire again.
That house is connected to mine and that fire is pretty close.
I rushed home and found the street blocked off by police vans and three fire engines. At the moment the only damage to our house is the door where the fire brigade entered to check for signs of life – this is totally understandable and I’m glad they did it; it was the same fire crew for the last 2 incidents and they knew we had a baby in the house and they saw a car in the drive.
(I’ll be honest, most of the mess was there before)
My frustration peaks at just the lack of anyone in any department taking control of the situation and sorting it out. Last night I pleaded with the police to give me some advice as to what we can do to get this issue sorted. My only request was to add metal frames on the access points rather than the wooden ones as they can see by the history how ineffective they are. I was given a lot of shrugs and told to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau, but then one of them said she would ask the sergeant to speak to me but he was on the phone.
45 minutes later he came and spoke to us and I explained the above and my frustrations with nobody taking an active part in sorting this out, even with two previous fires. He nodded, told me he understood, then said he would talk to CID on the phone and that I should wait in where it’s warm and after that phone call he would come and give me his details. He never came back.
One of the team mentioned my only way of getting this sorted may be to “take legal action against the property owner himself “but since he’s not done anything illegal at the moment, I don’t know what for”
My major concern is the house next door has structural issues which in the last two years have gotten worse. If they are not sorted, they will affect my house at some point.
This is on top of the issue with the front garden turning into a dumping ground. Vermin have appeared in next door’s garden and have come into our house and causing damage. The response from the council was to charge me £85 to remove them from my house, ignoring the source completely. As soon as it gets cleared up it just happens again, but it hasn’t been cleared since September now, hence the vermin.
So far we’ve dealt with
Leeds Environmental Health – Originally they were pretty good at reboarding up and cleaning the rubbish but they’ve recently have had a change of staff and it seems NO previous case history was passed on, so we’ve had to start the process again. Each time they explain the limited powers they have towards a private property but they do have some communication with the owner.
West Yorkshire Police – The police have come out to some incidents and taken notes, here is no escalation and we just are informed that there is nothing they can do as it’s a private property.
Leeds Empty Homes – Have said they are aware of the property but there is limited things they can do with an unresponsive owner
West Yorkshire Fire Brigade – Have come out to every fire and the same team as dealt with it each time. They understand the circumstances but again, are limited in what they can do. They’ve started an internal investigation to see what powers they have but have said it will take some time.
Our Local Councillor, Graham Hyde – Heather emailed him to explain the situation a few weeks ago and two days ago we got a response about the rubbish in the garden being sorted soon but no response related to the fire.
Dear Graham Hyde,
I hope you can help us. I am writing to you about a derelict property
on Orchard Road, number 33 to be exact. We live at number 35 directly
adjoining the property and for the last 2 years now it has been a
blight on our lives. The property was abandoned around October of 2014,
since then its owner seems to have made no effort to upkeep it in any
way. As a result, all the windows were smashed, the garden was allowed
to overgrow and rubbish is frequently dumped in the open front yard. We
initially contacted the council and the police about the property, and
it was boarded, but this has not discouraged the dumping or the local
youths breaking in and causing further damage including starting fires.
Another fire was started in the property yesterday, the most severe so
far, thankfully it was spotted by someone in the area and reported
before it became out of control, but had that not been the case it
could have caused significant damage to our home.
It is however costing us in other ways, youths throwing bricks into the
property once missed and smashed one of our own windows. It is also now
attracting mice / rats which have been coming through into our
property, one recently damaged our plumbing causing a bath load of
water to drain through the ceiling. To repair the pluming we have had
to destroy tiles in our bathroom, and we are now having to spend money
on measures to remove the animals from our home.
The council environmental health team are aware of the state of the
property and have occasionally sent teams to remove the rubbish and
stop the garden overgrow into the road, however, the person we usually
contact has now departed and when we have contacted their replacement
we were told for the most part “that’s not my department
, this is with
the exception of the mouse problem which they have offered to charge us
£85 to resolve in our own house, but I am not sure how this helps if
they will just keep coming back to the neighbouring property. I will
say that today we were contacted by them to let us know that the
property had been secured again and notice was about to be served again
to the owner to remove the rubbish, however because the property is
privately owned we are told there is little anyone can do and the owner
does not seem to care at all. To be honest, given the council housing
issues we seem to have in Leeds I don’t understand why the council
not, by now, compulsory purchased the house and used it to house
someone in need. I have also reported the property to the Empty homes
scheme but no action seems to have been taken there either.
With no one seeming to want to take full responsibility for this
property now, I am hoping you will be able to get our plight seen by
the right people and something can finally be done with the house which
is more than just a temporary fix. When this all started there was only
me and my husband, but we now have our baby daughter (10 months) which
makes it all the more frightening just living next door. I notice you
run surgeries at the Cross Gates Library, the property is a few minutes
from there and I would encourage, if you have not seen it already, for
you to take a few minutes to come and view the property for yourself
and see what we are living with on a daily basis. If you wish to
contact me further about the property you can reach me by email on
xxxx, by phone on xxxxor if you are going to look
at the property your welcome to knock on our door.
I called his office after the second fire for advice and was questioned by the switchboard who asked me quite sternly, “What do you want him to do about it?”.
So this is why this blog post is here mainly desperation and a lack of options. My aim is to tweet this out to a few people who might be able to take this further and get some action. I can’t even sell the house and move away from it with next door looking like this, hence the title.
Thank you for your time.