Councils Not Doing Enough to Tackle Rogue Landlords
By |Published On: 19th January 2016|

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Councils Not Doing Enough to Tackle Rogue Landlords

By |Published On: 19th January 2016|

This article is an external press release originally published on the Landlord News website, which has now been migrated to the Just Landlords blog.

A new report claims that councils are not doing enough to tackle rogue landlords, with only around a quarter of complaints about substandard rental homes leading to inspections.

Last week, Conservative MPs rejected an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill that would have forced landlords to ensure properties were fit for human habitation. They argued that councils already have adequate powers to tackle rogue landlords. Read more here: /conservatives-reject-move-to-ensure-rental-homes-are-safe/

However, research conducted on behalf of Labour MP Karen Buck found that councils are not using the powers they have.

Poor living conditions

A survey of 120 local authorities in England revealed that although councils received 51,916 complaints about poor living conditions in 2013, housing officers only inspected 14,043 properties.

The data shows that housing officers were four times more likely to respond informally to complaints, by letter or phone call, rather than issuing a legal notice. On average, each council prosecuted less than one landlord per year.

The report highlights a difference between the amount of potentially life-threatening hazards that councils recorded during inspections and the number of notices that they served; inspectors identified 4,301 category one hazards – such as excess cold or fire risks – but councils only took enforcement action on 3,550 cases.

The growing private rental sector

The private rental sector is now the second largest tenure in the country – about 4.4m households rent from a private landlord, more than double the number recorded in 1996. However, the growing sector is leading to more concerns over the standard of properties being let.

Buck says that it is alarming that there is such a low level of enforcement in the private rental sector: “Far too few of the landlords that let grossly substandard properties can expect to have tough enforcement against them.”

She adds that as the sector grows, it is increasingly being used to house low-income families and homeless people, but that housing officers lack the resources to protect vulnerable tenants.

Councils Not Doing Enough to Tackle Rogue Landlords

Councils Not Doing Enough to Tackle Rogue Landlords

She insists: “The more vulnerable people that go into the private rented sector, the more urgent the need for more resources to protect them.”

The author of the report, Stephen Battersby – a housing consultant – acknowledges that resources are a factor, but believes that councils are too cautious.

“Taking a softly, softly approach to landlords does nothing to discourage those who are undermining the more responsible landlords,” he says. “It is a strategy that has failed.”

He adds: “If a council finds a category one hazard, then the very least they should do is serve a hazard awareness notice. If they don’t then it is a breach of their statutory duties under the Housing Act.”

Enforcement action

In October, new laws were introduced to stop landlords making revenge evictions when a tenant complains about the state of their property. However, tenants are only protected if councils serve improvement notices.

Battersby explains: “Just a letter from the local authority will not stop these evictions. If councils continue their softly, softly approach, it won’t do anything to prevent retaliatory evictions.”

Similarly, local authorities will not be able to use new powers in the Housing and Planning Bill to ban rogue landlords unless they take more enforcement action. Find out more about the banning orders here: /rogue-landlords-to-be-banned-under-the-housing-bill/

Battersby has conducted the survey for the past three years. He observes that enforcement activity has remained at around the same level since 2011.

“While it is a good thing that this report indicates no great drop off in enforcement activity, that still remains very low by comparison with the scale of the problems in the private rented sector,”1 he says.

The Local Government Association claims that councils take complaints seriously, but that enforcement is a last resort.

A spokesperson states: “The private rented sector is growing, and, with limited resources and competing funding pressures, councils are working hard to ensure that complaints from tenants are prioritised and dealt with appropriately.

“Some may be resolved without the need for inspection, and enforcement is a last resort when all other options fail.”1

Cracking down

In July last year, The Guardian and Environmental Health News released a list of convicted landlords, of which there were 2,006 convictions between 2006-14, resulting in fines of just £3m – less than £1,500 for each conviction. 

Data from the Building Research Establishment in 2015 found that 8.4m homes in England have a significant hazard. The annual cost to the NHS of these issues is around £2 billion in England and £2.5 billion for the whole of the UK.

Buck believes that tenants should have the right to sue landlords over uninhabitable conditions, as enforcement levels are too low overall.

“Some local authorities do this very well, but there is a lack of consistency,” she notes. “We need to complement what local authorities do with a power for tenants.”1

There are reports that amendments may be tabled to the Housing and Planning Bill that give tenants the right to sue, when the law passes through the House of Lords.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government insists that the Government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords: “We have brought in legislation to protect tenants from being evicted, provided £6.7m of funding, and introduced selective licensing so councils can target the areas with the worst problems.

“Furthermore, the housing bill strengthens councils’ powers, including enabling them to blacklist landlords who have been convicted of serious offences and seeking banning orders for the most prolific offenders.”1







About the Author: Em Morley (she/they)

Em is the Content Marketing Manager for Just Landlords, with over five years of experience writing for insurance and property websites. Together with the knowledge and expertise of the Just Landlords underwriting team, Em aims to provide those in the property industry with helpful resources. When she’s not at her computer researching and writing property and insurance guides, you’ll find her exploring the British countryside, searching for geocaches.

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