SHOCKED housing officials were forced to take immediate action after discovering a Sheffield flat was being let – when the only access was a rickety ladder outside.
The tenant was immediately asked to leave the second-floor property in Fir Vale for their own safety and rehoused, while the landlord was banned from renting it out again.
However, Sheffield Council was unable to prosecute because having an unsafe property is not in itself a crime – and landlords can only be guilty of an offence if they breach a notice to make improvements.
The case was one of the worst of hundreds dealt with by Sheffield Council officials on the trail of rogue landlords who let properties which are unsafe or in poor repair.
In total, 557 complaints have been investigated over the last 12 months, compared with 844 in 2010/11, but the council said the number of cases fluctuates.
Of the cases in the last year, the bulk concerned poor repair of properties which were dealt with informally.
Letters were sent to landlords in a further 226 cases and four cases resulted in prosecution.
Chris Champion, council manager for private households, said: “We take action where there are five hazards – danger of falling on stairs, excess cold, risk of falls, fire and entry by intruders.
“We can issue an improvement notice or, if conditions are such that people shouldn’t live at a property, a prohibition notice, as at Fir Vale.
“That was a shocking case. The tenant had been living at that property for months.”
The council is also one of the best in the country at prosecuting landlords for illegal evictions, with four cases having gone before the courts in the past year out of 40 in the country.
There are 10 more prosecutions for breach of improvement notices and illegal evictions in the pipeline.