Councils need to be handed greater powers to tackle rogue landlords ‘taking advantage’ and ‘ripping off’ tenants.
This is the call from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.
In response to a government consultation, the LGA has called for tougher sentencing guidelines and a wider range of penalties to be introduced to rid the Private Rented Sector of the minority of landlords who exploit their tenants.
It suggests that the Housing Act is amended so that for more serious housing offences, landlords could be handed a community order or prison sentence rather than just a fine.
Of those offending landlords who are taken to court, too many are given ‘paltry’ fines which are ‘shrugged off’ and do not deter them from cleaning up their act, the LGA says.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, vice chairman of the LGA, called for higher fines which are relative to the landlords’ income.
“It's like fining a premiership footballer £1000 when he's earning £200,000 a week - he is not going to notice," he said.
The LGA has drawn attention to several recent examples where punishments for rogue landlords could be deemed too lenient.
In Coventry a landlord was fined just £100 after six tenants were forced to live in a property for 12 months without fire alarms and a proper escape route.
Meanwhile, a landlord who failed to comply with an improvement notice for a mice and cockroach-infested house in Redbridge was fined just £3,000.
Ten tenants, including two children, were forced to share a damp and mouldy kitchen, waiting ten months for the improvement work to be carried out.
The LGA also wants to see a robust decision about what constitutes a ‘fit and proper’ person to have a landlord licence.
It says that all too often pre-licence tests in their current form have not flagged up landlords who end up ‘ripping off’ their tenants.
The organisation says it broadly supports the government’s idea of a blacklist for landlords who persistently offend but has questioned how it would be funded.
"The courts need to punish rogue landlords proportionately and there should be a consistent standard when it comes to licensing,” says Councillor Peter Box, LGA housing spokesman.
"We know that the majority of tenants are satisfied with their accommodation, but that shouldn't distract from the fact there are far too many rogue landlords creating misery for people who often see themselves as having little choice but to put up with it.”
"It is no coincidence that problems are more prevalent in areas where economic conditions and the local housing market have driven demand higher than supply and we need to recognise that the real solution is creating conditions where landlords can't afford to neglect their responsibilities."