HOUSING activists shared horror stories of "disgusting" living conditions in Brighton as they called for official checks to be made on private landlords.

Dozens of people gathered outside Hove Town Hall this morning to call on Brighton and Hove City Council to introduce Selective Landlord Licensing in the city - a scheme where the local authority can regulate the private rental market to ensure properties are fit for purpose.

Acorn Tenants Union, which organised the rally as part of its Landlord Licensing Now! campaign, has been collecting evidence of poor quality housing from tenants across the city and called on councillors to take action.

The Argus:

Aisling Murray, founding member of the Brighton branch, said she was inspired to join Acorn after her own experience of living in a damp property in the city three years ago, when her landlord would not fix the problem.

The mould in her rented home was so bad that Aisling, 26, developed pleurisy - an inflammation of the lining around the lungs which causes sharp chest pains.

She said: "I was off sick for three months and it took me a long time to fully recover.

"To top it all off , I still had to pay rent on a room I was no longer living in.

"We are out here today as we know there is overwhelming evidence of low-quality housing in Brighton and Hove.

"Stories like mine are not unusual, but landlords and councillors would not put up with these conditions.

The Argus: Aisling Murray, founding member of the Brighton Acorn union branchAisling Murray, founding member of the Brighton Acorn union branch

"I don't think it's too much to ask that the councillors we elect act in our interests."

The rally also heard evidence submitted by Acorn members who described their experiences of renting in the city.

One statement read: "I feel like I'm treated like dirt when it comes to housing because I don't have a professional job" while another reported living with a broken window since last winter.

According to Acorn, 92 per cent of its own survey respondents said they had experienced bad quality housing in Brighton and Hove and needed repair work done - and of these, 69 per cent reported a negative response from landlords when they alerted them to the problems.

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Speaking at the rally, Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle slammed the government and the council for the failure to bring in checks on landlords.

He said: "Landlords should not have to fear licensing.

"It's a system that should be implemented - and the evidence is out there. We need to get this council to stand up, but also this government - to ensure we have landlord licensing everywhere."

This morning's rally comes ahead of the council's housing committee meeting on Wednesday, when councillors will decide whether to introduce Selective Landlord Licensing in four wards in the city.

Under Selective Landlord Licensing, landlords must meet certain criteria to prove they are safe and reliable and must declare whether they have a criminal record - as well as requirements to ensure their property is fit for purpose, and meets fire, electric and gas safety standards.

The council has the authority to enforce the scheme on 20 per cent of its constituency initially, and would then need approval from the Secretary of State for further action.

The Argus: Kemptown Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle speaking at today's rallyKemptown Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle speaking at today's rally

Acorn has been negotiating with the local authority for over a year on the issue.

Today Labour councillor Gill Williams, who represents East Brighton, and Green councillor Martin Osborne, who represents Hollingdean and Stanmer, both signed a pledge to say they would commit to bringing in Selective Landlord Licensing in the city before the end of the year.

The council told the Argus this week it is committed to improving private rented homes and to make sure they are safe and well managed.

Councillor Martin Osborne, lead member for the private sector rented housing, said: “We agree entirely with their view that urgent improvements are needed to some private sector rented accommodation in the city.

The Argus: Councillors Gill Williams and Martin Osbourne signed the pledge to commit to getting landlord licensing in Brighton and Hove before the end of the yearCouncillors Gill Williams and Martin Osbourne signed the pledge to commit to getting landlord licensing in Brighton and Hove before the end of the year

“We also agree some landlords need to do a lot more to address this issue.

“This is why we have over 4,000 houses in multiple occupation licensed or awaiting a licence.

“The council has already driven up fire safety, thermal comfort and housing conditions through existing HMO licensing.

“We are also developing a not for profit ethical lettings agency, looking to expand and promote a good landlord scheme. As part of this we are working with Acorn to adopt an ethical landlord charter.

“With regards to selective licensing, the big problem is not any lack of desire on our part to improve things – or a lack of belief that licensing can help improve private rented housing.

“The problem is that the thresholds the government has set for allowing such schemes are very high.

“The government withdrew approval for our previously proposed selective licensing scheme, citing a lack of specific evidence showing these thresholds have been met.

"While we do not yet have the evidence we need, we are continuing to collect evidence and work towards being able to apply for such a scheme.

“We are committed to working with groups in the city, such as Acorn, who may have evidence that could support a selective licensing scheme that is not currently available to the council.”