Two thirds of councils in England and Wales responding to a FOI request by the Residential Landlords Association brought no prosecutions against private landlords in 2017/18.
Nearly a fifth of the 290 councils that replied didn’t even issue any Improvement Notices which order a landlord to carry out certain repairs or improvements to a property.
Following the introduction in April 2017 of new powers for councils to issue civil penalties against landlords failing to provide acceptable housing, in 2017/18 89% of local authorities did not use these new powers. Half reported that they did not even have a policy in place to use them.
Across the country good landlords providing quality homes and a decent service to their tenants are being let down by a minority of criminals.
Those who bring the sector into disrepute should have no place in it and do not represent the actions of the law abiding majority.
Government figures show that 84% of private sector tenants are satisfied with their accommodation; this compares with 81% in the social rented sector.
As a sector though, we must not be complacent. The reality is that it is the small minority of criminal landlords who generate media coverage, not all the rest who provide decent homes to a growing number of tenants. Aside from the misery poor landlords cause for their tenants, they undercut good landlords who abide by all the rules and regulations. That is why rooting out the criminals is every bit in the interests of landlords as it is for tenants.
With over 140 Acts of Parliament, containing well over 400 regulations affecting the sector the powers available to councils to tackle poor practices in the sector are more than sufficient. Rather than creating more laws what is needed is better enforcement of the ones already in place.
That is why recent research from the RLA is very worrying for both landlords and tenants.
What was revealing was that there is no evidence of better levels of enforcement by councils with licensing schemes compared to those without. This demonstrates what we have always argued, that licenses simply leave good landlords facing the extra costs whilst the criminals continue operating under the radar.
Councils need to focus their efforts on finding and rooting out the crooks rather than using up valuable time and resources policing licensing schemes signed up to by the good landlords. Our blueprint for enforcement includes:
- Ensuring councils are better able to use the extensive powers they already have to enable tenants to identify their landlords on council tax registration forms rather than resorting to costly and ineffective licensing schemes. This would prevent the criminals evading identification.
- Providing local authority enforcement departments with the sustainable funding needed for quality enforcement against those landlords bringing the sector into disrepute. We welcome the recent announcement by the government of £2m of new funding for such activity but this needs to go much further.
- The development of a properly funded and fully fledged housing court to speed up access to justice in the minority of cases where things go wrong.
- A full review of all powers and regulations affecting the sector to understand what is and what is not working to ensure we have a legal framework that is fit for the significant growth in the sector over recent years.
There are too many people who are only too ready to have a pop at landlords based on the publicity gained by those who treat their tenants badly. Instead of calling for simplistic solutions which impose yet more bureaucracy and costs on responsible landlords, local authorities should use the powers they already have to root out and shut down criminal landlords.
*David Smith is policy director for the Residential Landlords Association. It tweets @RLA_News.
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