Lambeth Council is taking legal action against three housing associations after an internal report claimed they had failed to keep homes up to standard.
The London borough said it was looking to protect residents and demonstrate that private landlords and housing associations were not exempt from the “responsibility to make sure that people’s homes are warm, dry and safe”.
According to the council, it has had longstanding issues with the three housing associations – Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), Notting Hill Genesis and Optivo – that own the St Martin's Estate in Tulse Hill.
A BBC report, which referenced an internal council report on disrepair on the estate, claimed residents have been complaining for as long as six years.
The council’s investigation reportedly found that structural defects, poor design and deficiencies in thermal insulation had caused significant levels of damp and mould in homes on the estate.
In the report, Lambeth labelled the damp as "unacceptable" and claimed that the housing associations blamed residents' behaviours and lifestyles for the poor conditions.
Confirming the decision to take legal action, a spokesperson for Lambeth said the council started legal action “with regret".
They added: "The residents of St Martin's Estate shouldn't need to be fight so hard for their homes to be repaired, and private landlords and housing associations are not exempt from this responsibility.
"We have a good working relationship with registered providers in Lambeth, with whom we work to provide homes for homeless families; facilities to strengthen local communities and jobs for local people. But we have had to act to rectify these longstanding issues."
One of the three housing associations responsible for St Martin's, MTVH, apologised for the "unacceptable" conditions on the estate but disputed the report's findings.
A spokesperson for MTVH said: "We do not believe that the conclusions are correct or can be supported by the evidence on which the report was based".
They added: "The report does not give an accurate account of MTVH's approach to managing and addressing damp and mould on St Martin's, nor the works that have been conducted and that are planned to be carried out across the estate. We have shared our concerns with the council about this."
The housing association said in a statement: "Throughout the last year we have been fixing damp problems on the estate and we will continue to conduct works where we find issues. We have a detailed plan to further inspect and address the issues in some of our homes, which has been shared and agreed with the council and residents. This plan will see the remaining individual surveys of damp in residents' homes completed by the end of March. We have also commissioned work to review the structure of each building to understand if there are other issues that require action, and this will report by the end of April. As well as fully funding any and all damp works to our properties at St Martin's, we are also investing £3.5m in improvements over the next five years.
"Through our monthly meetings with the St Martin's TRA and the council, we welcome scrutiny of the plans for these improvement works as we want to get this right for all residents. We will continue to work together closely with residents and the council, and we take our responsibilities to provide safe, warm, and dry homes extremely seriously."
Optivo and Notting Hill Genesis have been contacted for a statement.
In a statement to the BBC, Optivo said it "strongly refuted" any allegation it had not kept its homes up to standard, adding since it took over the management of its blocks in 2017, it had invested more than £3m and was planning to spend £4.1m over the next five years on further improvements.
It said a specialist consultant carried out a full external structural survey at the end of 2019 which indicated there were no major issues.
Notting Hill Genesis said that when it took over some of the buildings in 2017, it carried out work such as mould washing, redecoration and installing de-humidistat fans in bathrooms.
A spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis said: "Some of the council-built homes on the estate date back to 1958 and all were managed by other organisations up until the time we took on management of a portion of the site in 2017.
"After taking on the management, we identified historic issues resulting from poor maintenance and design, and invested in rectifying these. However, we recognise that many other issues have arisen, with the situation exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdown, and we apologise unreservedly for the distress to residents.
"We are now working with Lambeth Council to resolve outstanding issues with the buildings and agree the situation needs further action. We have surveyed 59 homes, with 34 needing repairs. Four have been completed and a further 95 will be undertaken over the next three weeks with works being instructed right away. "