Two thirds of councils in England have prosecuted no landlords for offences related to standards in or the management of private rented housing over the last three years.
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is warning that this failure to take action against the criminal minority brings the sector into disrepute and risks undermining further reform of the sector.
The NRLA obtained the data via Freedom of Information Act requests from 283 local authorities across England. In the three years between 2018/2019 and 2020/21, 67% had not successfully prosecuted a landlord for offences related to standards in or the management of private rented housing. A further 10% had secured just one successful prosecution.
Overall, just 20 local authorities were responsible for 77% of all successful prosecutions. The three local authorities with the highest number of prosecutions (Southwark, Birmingham and Hull) were responsible for 38% of all such action across England. Of these, Birmingham and Hull had no local landlord licensing scheme in place.
Among those councils responding, just 937 successful prosecutions of criminal landlords had taken place over the past three years. This is despite government estimates in 2015 that there may be around 10,500 rogue landlords in operation.
The new data follows research published earlier this year by the NRLA which showed that over the same three years, 53% of English councils had issued no civil penalties against private landlords.
Whilst the Government has pledged to publish a white paper on reform of the private rented sector next year, the NRLA is warning that a failure to enforce the wide range of powers already available to tackle criminal and rogue landlords will critically undermine further reform.
The NRLA is calling on the Government to provide councils with the multi-year funding needed to ensure they are properly resourced to take action against criminal landlords. According to research by Unchecked UK, the amount spent on housing standards by local authorities in England fell by 45% between 2009 and 2019.
The NRLA argues that this must happen alongside a requirement for councils to publish details of formal and informal enforcement activity against private landlords on an annual basis. This is vital to ensuring that they can be held to account for efforts to tackle criminal and rogue landlords.
Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the NRLA, comments: “The vast majority of responsible landlords are sick and tired of a failure to root out the minority who bring the sector into disrepute. The problem is not a lack of powers, but a failure by councils to enforce them properly.
“Whilst ensuring councils have the resources, they need is vital, so too is the need for them to be more transparent about the levels of enforcement they are taking. In short, local authorities need to prioritise activity to find and root out criminal landlords, ensuring it is they who meet the costs of such efforts.
“Our research illustrates also that there is no clear link between the existence of a landlord licensing scheme and levels of prosecutions. Councils again need to be open with tenants and landlords about how such schemes are ensuring standards are met in rental housing.”