AT the corner of two rubbish-strewn streets, which are dotted with boarded-up houses, sits a two-bedroom apartment which is currently on sale for just £1,000.
Locals will tell you it’s overpriced.
This is Hartlepool, the North East town which has been confirmed as Britain’s bargain basement rental capital.
According to new figures from estate agency Zoopla, the average monthly rent being paid by tenants in the town is just £496, placing it just ahead of Burnley, Lancs, at £504 and East Ayrshire in Scotland at £512.
This is in comparison to London where the average rent is reckoned to be £26,316 a year, or £2,193 a month.
To those squeezed renters in the capital abandoning hope of ever saving money for their own property, Hartlepool’s rental market must seem like the stuff of dreams.
But in the County Durham town, where unemployment is around 8 per cent compared to a national average of 3.7 per cent, tenants say that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The low rental rates have brought people from major cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester in droves, according to locals.
They hope to start a new life with the rent they can afford after being priced out of their more fashionable hometowns.
But after a few months in Hartlepool, many are ready to pack up and leave.
The £1,000 apartment has become the subject of jokes in the Stranton area of the town, which is plagued by litter, drug dealing and anti-social behaviour.
Alleyways are piled high with rubbish – in one backstreet there was an abandoned boat among the detritus.
The apartment is situated in a former glazier’s shop and is wrapped with a printed sheet to give the illusion it has windows and a door.
It is only on closer inspection that the white frames are revealed to be fake.
‘Desperate to get out’
Dylan Hall, 26, a cable fitter, lives in an adjoining street to the
apartment and laughs when told that it is about to go up for auction with a guide price of £1,000.
“It’s overpriced,” he chuckles. “You’d have to be mad to buy a
property around here.
“I work away for five days a week and am only usually here at
weekends, but by the time Sunday night comes I’m normally desperate to get out of town.
“This part of Hartlepool is plagued by drugs; crack, cocaine, heroin, pretty much anything you can think of is being openly dealt on the streets.
“Around here all the houses are owned by private landlords and they might be cheaper than some parts of the country, but they’re cheap for a reason – nobody wants to live here.
“My partner and I have recently been burgled, which is common for these streets, but the landlord still hasn’t fixed the front door. It has a hole in it so we’re feeling pretty vulnerable.
“We are going to move but only to a neighbouring street so it won’t be any better. If anyone thinks Hartlepool is a great place to live because it’s so cheap they should give it a try and will sharp change their minds.”
Directly across the road from the town’s paltry penthouse is the terraced home of Ty Thomas, 26.
Jobless Ty, who is in receipt of Universal Credit, says his house is barely fit for habitation.
Beneath the bay window in the front room is a spreading stain of black mould and the ceiling in the kitchen looks as though it is ready to crash to the floor.
Ty said: “I have only lived here six months but I know the problems with the landlord have been going on for some time.
“The black mould is very worrying as it’s in the living room where I spent most of the time and the kitchen ceiling is badly bowed because of water leaks, it will fall down at some point and I hope I’m not in there when it does.
“We’ve been told by a handyman that the house needs to be completely rewired and water pours in when it rains because there are slates missing from the roof.
“The bath isn’t sealed properly so when water spills it comes dropping through the light sockets and shorts the electricity.
“We’ve only just had the internet restored after it crashed for
precisely that reason.
“I don’t think this house is unusual. They are often owned by
landlords from out of town who buy them cheap and put tenants in but then never visit them again.”
A few doors down Kate, 43, who declines to give her full name, has similar issues with the same landlord.
She’s still waiting for a frame to be fitted on the inside of her door, so the wind howls through and makes the house freeze.
The single mum claims the landlord is aware of the infestation of mice making their way through holes in the wall, the missing roof tiles and the ruined bathroom ceiling.
Kate, who has sons aged 24 and seven, said: “This place isn’t really fit for human habitation, but I have no choice but to live here.
“The rent of £524 per month is met by my benefits payments but I’m being crippled by the heating bills.
“They have been coming in at £565 per quarter, which is barely covered by my universal credit, which has left us with no money for food.
“We’ve had to visit foodbanks, I’m not afraid to say it. We had no option or my boys would have gone hungry and as a mother, nothing is worse than that.
“On Christmas Day we came downstairs and it was -1 inside the house because neither the front nor back doors were properly fitted and sealed.
“We need the heating on full blast all the time to keep warm and I’ve had to shell out to do repairs myself because the landlord just isn’t interested.
“I’d love to be able to move us to social housing but you’re
automatically disqualified from that if you owe any arrears, from a previous tenancy.
“Mine goes all the way back to 1998 when I lived with an ex-partner and they were his debts, not mine, but it means I’m now stuck in privately rented homes. I’d do anything to get out of this town.”
Barber Al Devon, 45, took up the cause of the town’s poorest residents just before Christmas.
He’d just been told his landlord wanted to put his rented home on the market and he had to look for new accommodation.
Al said: “The uncertainty that created put me in a thoughtful mood. Every morning as I walked to work I’d be walking past homeless people sleeping rough on the streets.
“I started offering free haircuts to the homeless and listened to their stories, which were heartbreaking.
“I discovered there is a hidden homelessness problem in Hartlepool with so many people sleeping on friends’ sofas. It means they feel obliged to leave the house early in the morning and walk the streets so as not to be in the way.
“One family of five were living in a caravan on the drive of a
relative’s home and felt ashamed to be in that situation, but they had no option.
“There are social problems, drugs, unemployment and poverty everywhere you look here.
“What I’ve also noticed is that the town is now a destination for people from bigger cities like London and Manchester who can’t afford to rent there.
“So they come here and think that their money will go further. But what they don’t realise is that when they arrive here their benefits will be cut.
“The rates here are among the lowest in the country and those people end up in the same predicament as the locals.”
Al is currently in talks with charities and Hartlepool Council with a view to setting up a warm, safe space as emergency accommodation for people who are sofa surfing or find themselves on the street.
He said: “The survey may say that Hartlepool has the cheapest rent but it’s still totally unaffordable to many people in this town, especially the single and jobless who haven’t a prayer of getting into cheaper social housing.
“Those who have any criminal record are automatically disqualified and sadly homeless people will commit crimes of desperation like shoplifting just to survive.”
The cheap rents have also brought another scourge to the town – Albanian organised crime gangs.
One house in York Road has been rented out to cannabis farmers from the country more than once, resulting in convictions last year.
Ferbent Hoxha, 22, was jailed for five years, which was his second custodial sentence for farming cannabis.
A neighbour, who declined to be named, said: “That property has been raided nine times since we moved into the street in 2015 and each time cannabis plants have been brought out.
“I don’t know what’s going on but it can’t be a coincidence that every tenant whoever rents the place is a cannabis farmer
“I don’t know anything about the people who are renting the place other than that if you try to speak to them they just shrug and say “no English.”
“They’ve made the place into a full-time cannabis factory but whoever owns it must take some of the blame.
“They buy the properties cheaply and rent them to anyone who has a deposit. It’s the decent neighbours who are left to pick up the pieces after the police raids.”
Another neighbour said: “These are big old houses but the area is run down so they’re cheap to buy and rent. It makes them a target for these people.
“We have enough criminals in Hartlepool, we don’t need them coming in from abroad as well.
“The smell of cannabis is in the air all the time, so you don’t notice it that much. There have been a few houses on this stretch of the road used as cannabis farms, it’s something you have to learn to live with.”
Back in Stranton, Gavin Scott, 35, said: “I feel sorry for the people who used to have homes worth £100,000 and have had them for 30 years and now can’t sell them because they’re going for £20K.
“That’s how bad things have become around here, they’re pretty much giving the property away and people still don’t want to live here.”
The Sun has approached Hartlepool Borough Council and Thirteen, the town’s largest provider of social housing, for comment.