Leaks, mould, broken alarms, duct-taped windows: Residents on Hackney estate plagued with issues put criticisms directly to council chief executive

A broken window has simply been duct-taped and left like that for years. Photograph: Maya Sall

Residents on a council estate beset by leaks and a mountain of other problems put their accusations of “negligence” directly to Hackney’s chief executive this week.

Dawn Carter-McDonald visited Pitcairn House – just a few minutes’ walk from the Town Hall in central Hackney – on Wednesday morning to be shown around by people living there.

Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley was also in attendance.

Their tour was arranged after residents submitted a formal letter of complaint to the council over its management of the building.

One of the most prevalent issues is leaks in flats and communal areas that residents say have been going on for “decades”.

Dawn Carter-McDonald

Town Hall chief executive Dawn Carter-McDonald. Photograph: Hackney Council

The Citizen was also invited by residents to attend the tour, but Carter-McDonald insisted she did not want journalists present.

Instead, the newspaper was shown around after Carter-McDonald had left the premises.

Residents said the chief executive was “receptive” to their concerns. During an almost two-hour tour, she was shown several flats and communal areas of the building.

In one of these flats lives Andree Marie, her partner and her three young children.

The ‘temporary fix’ in Andree Marie’s shower. Photograph: Maya Sall

Two years ago, the council came to repair leaks in her bathroom. A couple of large holes were created in the wall of her shower, and tarpaulin sheets were put up “as a temporary fix” to cover the holes.

These holes, and the tarpaulin that covers them, are still there.

In the bathroom, the air is stale. On the mirror, affirmations are posted for Marie’s children to read.

She says her extractor fan is also broken, and that the leaks have since returned.

“That smell – that’s coming from the other side of the holes, which is just an empty area of the building,” she said.

“So what happens is the dirty water particles from everyone else’s flats drip into that building space and just waft into my bathroom.

“I have three children, all under five. They’ve spent their life thinking this is a normal way to live.”

The Citizen asked the council how it defines “temporary” and why the holes in the bathroom wall have not been repaired. It declined to answer.

“Living here, it just feels like the council are waiting for the building to collapse,” Marie added.

Mould in a kitchen cabinet, which the council’s repairs team left broken and doorless. Photograph: Maya Sall

In another family home, tenants and their young children have been living with black mould since it was discovered in January.

That same month, the government launched a consultation on the introduction of strict time limits for social housing providers, requiring them to take swift action in addressing dangerous hazards such as damp and mould.

The move is part of plans to deliver ‘Awaab’s Law’, which is named after Awaab Ishak, who died at two years old from a respiratory condition caused by extensive mould in his family’s housing association flat in Rochdale.

The proposals in the consultation include new legal requirements for social landlords to investigate hazards within 14 days, begin fixing the issue within a further seven days, and make emergency repairs within 24 hours.

At Pitcairn House, the Citizen also saw evidence of broken fire alarms, damaged windows and window locks, broken extractor fans and intercoms, cracked or missing ceiling panels with exposed wiring, and heard a persistent humming noise in some areas of the building.

Two flats have been without heating and hot water since October.

Residents say they have reported all these issues, but the council said it has no record of these complaints.

Pitcairn House is just a few minutes’ walk from the Town Hall. Image: Google

The Citizen asked the council for a history of communication between it and any residents who have lodged complaints, and for an explanation about the discrepancy between the two versions of events.

It declined to answer directly, and said: “If anyone has an issue with a repair, they should contact the Repairs Contact Centre on 020 8356 3691 or report the issue online at https://hackney.gov.uk/repairs/#online so that we can investigate it as soon as possible.”

In cases where the council has undertaken repair work, residents have been less than impressed.

Holes in broken windows have been covered by strips of duct tape, and a fix for a concave floor has left residents with messy grouting and mismatched tiles in a communal area.

“A toddler could have done a better job,” said one resident.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the Pitcairn House account said the mismatched tiles are emblematic of the “contempt that Hackney Council has for residents”.

The Citizen asked the council who carries out repairs at Pitcairn House, and if the service there will be reviewed given the quality of work on show. It declined to respond.

The repair job carried out on tiling in a communal area. Photograph: Maya Sall

Dawn Carter-McDonald was approached for comment by the Citizen when her tour ended. She attempted to ignore the questions and walk away.

However, when Carter-McDonald, her assistant, and Mayor Woodley got trapped in an exit way, Carter-McDonald agreed to send a written statement.

It reads: “I met the residents of Pitcairn House to hear their issues first-hand and to reassure them that we are taking their concerns extremely seriously.

“While we have fixed some of the issues reported to us, we know some repairs will take longer than we would hope, and for that we have apologised.

“Like the residents, we want to fix the remaining issues as soon as we can and will be writing to all the residents in the block detailing the work that will be done. This includes carrying out a thorough survey to assess the condition of the building.

“We want to continue working with the residents of Pitcairn House to resolve their concerns and will work as quickly as we can to achieve this.

“While we do, I would urge any residents with repair issues to contact our Repairs Contact Centre on 020 8356 3691 or report the issue online so that we can investigate it as soon as possible.”

Broken ceiling tiles and exposed electrics outside one flat. Photograph: Maya Sall

At the end of the Citizen’s separate tour of the building, one resident said: “It’s 2024, we’re in London, and this is how people are living.”

Staring up at some exposed wiring visible through broken ceiling panels, she added: “I do a lot of work in Kenya and this is far worse than anything I’ve seen there.”

According to the resident, who did not want to be named, leaseholders in the block pay a monthly £400 service charge.

The Citizen asked the council for a breakdown of how this money is spent, but it again declined to respond.

Before the resident turned to head back down the eighth-floor corridor, she stopped to look out across East London. Her view was obscured by a duct-taped window.

“I don’t know how long that’s been like that,” she said, “but it’s longer than I’ve lived here.

“People have been reporting leaks, maintenance, and repairs issues to the council for years, if not decades. They have been ignored, and many feel like the block has been abandoned.”

She added: “I fear for what it will take for the council to stand up and do something.”

If you live on a council estate in Hackney, Islington or Camden and have experienced similar issues, please get in touch at maya.sall@hackneycitizen.co.uk.