A bitter row has broken out between animal lovers accused of "hoarding" cats and neighbours who claim the furry creatures are making their lives a misery.

Maureen Atkinson, 72, and her son Robert, 45, share their two-bedroom flat in Kestrel Way, New Addington, with 15 felines as well as a chinchilla, a rabbit and a guinea pig.

The pair have turned their home into an animal shelter, taking in unwanted cats and looking for new owners, and fear complaints from neighbours will force them to stop.

Angry neighbours in the 12-flat block say the building is unsuitable for so many animals and claim the smell is so bad their cannot open their windows.

A group of residents wrote a letter to Croydon Council last month urging them to take action.

One, a woman who did not want to be named, said: "It is not a cat sanctuary, it is meant to be a home. All the neighbours are suffering. We can't open our windows because of the smell of cats' urine.

"We are not saying the cats are not looked after, but it is too small for that many. They are basically hoarding them. I feel sorry for the cats. It is cruel."

Another neighbour said: "They think it doesn't smell because they are immune to it. You have to think of others. It's not on."

Mrs Atkinson said the RSPCA had inspected her flat and raised no concerns. Eight of the cats are pets, with the rest either dumped at the flat or taken on because their previous owners did not want them.

The pair have been rehoming animals, using the name Furry Paws Rescue, for 30 years, and said they were looking to offload some of the cats but struggling to find new owners.

They fear the animals could be put down if they are forced to give them up.

Mrs Atkinson said: "People dump a lot of animals on us. We have had some come from this block. They just dump them on us when they move out. We have been trying to find them new homes but it seems to have dried up. It might be the recession."

Her son added: "They keep complaining that the place is dirty. It's cluttered but we do keep it clean. We love animals. We would not be doing this if we were abusing them. We have been accused of all sorts. They have no respect."

A council spokesman said: "The council is aware of the situation and has met with the tenant. While not wishing to restrict her ability to offer animals a safe existence, we must have mind of our responsibility to the neighbours.

"We're working with her to get to a compromise that means there's no nuisance caused to other residents."

Anyone interested in providing a home for a cat can contact Robert Atkinson on 07902575760.