The tiny number of landlord convictions is no deterrent to the worst landlords, Generation Rent has said, as it calls on the government to increase the penalties for letting out unsafe homes.
The call follows the publication by Environmental Health News of all landlord convictions under the Housing Act, following a legal battle with the Ministry of Justice to release the data.
Only 2,006 landlords have been convicted, when Citizens Advice estimate that there are 740,000 unsafe homes in the private rented sector.
For the first time, the publication of the convictions data allows renters to check if their landlord – or a prospective landlord – has been convicted of an offence.
However Generation Rent said that this may not strengthen their consumer power, as flathunters often need to pay letting agents a holding deposit of several hundred pounds before getting a draft tenancy agreement and thus seeing who their landlord will be. If the landlord turns out to be a convicted criminal, and the tenant decides to walk away, they may still lose their holding deposit.
Generation Rent is calling on ministers to use the forthcoming Housing Bill to give tenants the right to back out of an agreement with a convicted landlord.
The campaign also calls for:
Increased fines that local authorities can impose on criminal landlords and keep, which will incentivise them to take more enforcement action.
A national landlord licensing scheme to professionalise the sector and give landlords the training and support that they need to comply with the law and to support their tenants.
Expansion of the Rent Repayment Order system so tenants living in unsafe conditions can claim back rent.
Betsy Dillner, director of Generation Rent, said: “The private rented population has been growing over the past decade, and with rising demand the number of opportunities for unscrupulous landlords to exploit desperate tenants has grown. Although prosecutions have been rising, Citizens Advice estimate that 740,000 homes are unsafe, so it’s clear that their activities are missing thousands of landlords, and not even acting as a deterrent.
“Those landlords who do get caught are fined tiny sums compared to the rent they receive, so they’re just treated as a business expense. If the government really wants to drive the bad landlords out of the market, we need a much more robust sentencing regime.”