More than a third of homes in Brighton and Hove are poorly heated, badly maintained or out-of-date.

According to the most recent figures, 36,400 households are living in standards that fall below the level the Government deems “decent”.

The total cost of bringing all those homes up to a decent standard is estimated as £138.9 million, or £3,810 per property. Housing experts say the cost of repairs is hampering some landlords.

More than 8,000 homes were found to be completely unfit for human habitation with ageing bathrooms and kitchens, poor insulation and structural problems.

Properties are considered “decent homes” if they are wind and weather tight, warm and have modern facilities.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s Private Sector House Condition Survey found three quarters of the city’s buildings were built before 1919 – and many are falling into disrepair.

Now the city must choose between holding onto its heritage and improving standards, according to a housing charity chief.

Old buildings

John Holmstrom, assistant chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, said: “This city is very attached to its old buildings.

“But the fact is many are simply not fit for purpose anymore and should probably be knocked down.

“We need to look at long-term solutions to this problem – because it is only getting worse.”

Last year the Government cut a programme of funding to renew private homes in Brighton and Hove.

More than £18 million in grants was spent between 2008 and 2011 to bring properties up to standard – but now the money has dried up.

The city has the sixth largest private rented sector in the country and Mr Holmstrom said landlords must invest to keep their houses habitable and warm.

But he said most lack the cash to make the crucial improvements needed.

Educating landlords

He said: “Landlords have got to be educated about planning for the future of their assets. They need to look long term rather than just doing patch repairs.

“But for most the money simply isn’t there.

“Part of the problem is that Brighton is such a desirable place to live – so the market is dysfunctional.

“Landlords have no difficulty letting their properties so many feel they don’t need to invest. If they really had to compete then the rate of improvement would be a lot higher.”

The survey, based on figures from 2008, show Hove had the highest proportion of non-decent homes, while Portslade was the least affected.

Unfit housing

While 8,300 homes were classified as “unfit”, 19,200 were thought to be “category one hazard dwellings” and 8,000 were in need of repair. A further 4,600 were lacking modern facilities and 17,600 had a poor degree of “thermal comfort”. Some homes fall into multiple categories.

Mike Stimpson, chairman of the Southern Landlords Association, owns around 300 tenancies in Brighton.

He said: “Because of the age of the buildings there has always been a problem keeping them warm. But landlords have worked hard in recent years to improve where they can.

“This city is absolutely full of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings where you are not allowed to put in insulation or double glazing. Most haven’t got cavity walls.

“The tenants also need to act differently because the way they maintain the properties also has a big effect.”

"Cash cows"

Phil Graves, managing director of property consultancy firm Graves and Jenkins, said many landlords faced a “never ending battle” to keep their properties in good condition.

He said: “You will get people who invest a lot of money in their properties but some landlords see their properties as a cash cow are and are understandably reluctant to pump more and more money in.

“The fact is we do have a dated housing stock.”

But Mr Graves said he was torn on the issue of heritage over housing.

He said: “There are properties that are simply past the point of being salvageable. That can be difficult when the community has a lot of affection for the building. An example of that is the Astoria. It’s such a prominent building but it would cost a fortune to fix everything that is wrong there.

“But it is important that if you are going to replace those buildings you choose something that is going to complement its surroundings.

“There are too many buildings in Brighton and Hove that went up in the ’60s and ’70s that are a blot on the landscape. We don’t want to return to that.

“But we have so many talented people in the city that if everyone puts their heads together we find the best way forward.”

Poor condition

Councillor Liz Wakefield, the council’s Cabinet member for housing, said: “The private sector plays an important role in housing in the city but unfortunately much of it is in poor condition. We run various initiatives to help improve the quality of private housing in the city such as grants for home adaptations or home insulation and also take enforcement action against the worst properties.”

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “I know from speaking to private tenants in my constituency that a shocking number of people in the private rented sector are having to live in dirty, cold and inefficient homes. There is no excuse for such poor standards.

“The Government needs to do far more to raise energy efficiency standards in private rented homes to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty and improve living conditions.”

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