Some landlords in the North West are ‘cashing in’ on the misery of people made effectively homeless by last week’s flooding by bumping up the price of rental properties amid the increased demand, a DUP councillor has claimed.
Councillor Graham Warke has spent the past week in one of the worst flood-affected areas in Northern Ireland, the plantation village of Eglinton just outside Londonderry.
The News Letter visited the Eglinton area this week and spoke to distraught householders, many of whom say they have lost everything.
One man, 61-year-old Alwyn Morrow, provided a tour of the now gutted home where he has spent most of his life.
There is little left of Mr Morrow’s house but the brick walls. He has no electricity or running water. His furniture and his possessions are destroyed. Even his fireplace was destroyed by the floodwater, along with his floorboards – even the plumbing.
Mr Morrow owns his home and has no insurance. He told the News Letter he couldn’t afford to pay the premiums.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ve got nothing. I’ve been sleeping on a sofa, me and my wife. Where can I go? What can I do? My house is destroyed. I’m going to have to do the work myself.”
Mr Warke has spent the past few days helping residents such as Mr Morrow clean out their houses, intervening with government agencies on their behalf and giving them lifts in and around the village.
He said flooding-displaced residents have encountered a new problem – increased prices on rental properties.
“Housing is like gold dust right now,” Mr Warke said. “You are looking at as many as 100 homes just in Eglinton who have been hit by the floods.
“Some are worse off than others and some are really bad. People who are with the Housing Executive are starting to get accommodation secured but you have a lot of people who were renting privately or who owned their own homes who are in a difficult position.
“People are looking to rent out houses and they’re telling me the prices are way up since last week. I’ve noticed the difference myself. I saw one house that was for rent at less than £500 per month before and it’s up to over £700 now.”
He added: “I would appeal to landlords to stop doing this. They are cashing in on people’s misery. These are people who have nothing left and they are trying to squeeze cash out of them. Maybe some of the landlords think people have all got insurance and that’s who is going to be paying the money, but that’s not the case.”
Relief efforts are being co-ordinated at Eglinton Community Hall, which opened its doors immediately after the floods for displaced residents and will stay open over the weekend from 10am to 2pm.
Debbie Caulfield, manager at the community centre, said: “It will be months before people get back into their houses. You know, this is not a quick fix. They have nothing left.”
Two estate agents contacted by the News Letter each said the rental prices charged by their clients had not increased. A Housing Executive spokesperson said its contracts were negotiated more than a week ago so no price increase had become evident.