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Taking landlords to court stops council’s ‘real’ work, it admits

A leading officer in a Labour council which has in the past taken landlords to court says this process is so complex it actually gets in the way of improving housing standards.

A report written by Bristol city council officers looks at the web of national laws governing HMPs in particular and says they need to be  “simplified dramatically” to help local authorities improve the lot of private tenants. 

“We regularly take landlords to court. We have a number of enforcement opportunities available and we had an HMO in Sea Mills that was fined more than £60,000” according to Bristol council’s private housing and accessible homes manager Tom Gilchrist.

He was speaking at a meeting debating the report.


However he continued: “But the reality is that taking a landlord to court, using the complex legislation that housing is, takes officers out from doing what property licensing is which is around improving standards. Property licensing is about improving conditions for tenants, it’s not just about the big stick approach of prosecuting landlords.”

The report suggests the council’s enforcement team is too small to combat any but the most serious breaches of rules in the city’s 14,000 HMOs. This meant that many complaints about noise, rubbish and parking were not dealt with adequately. 

The report to councillors said three rent repayment orders had been issued so far in 2020 and around 20 landlord licenses had been refused.

However, the Bristol Post newspaper - reporting on the debate - says that one councillor claimed landlords were dealt with by the authority too leniently with “every possible mitigation and ways out are given to landlords”.

Housing manager Gilchrist told the councillors: “The existing legislative framework needs to be simplified dramatically to enable us to easily take action against somebody quickly.

“At the moment the legislative framework is really complicated, it’s difficult to pinpoint responsibility for certain overarching offences and then having sufficient power to ensure the person who is causing the problem is taken to court and properly punished.

“At the moment that is quite difficult to do across all of our workstreams.”

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  • icon

    I'm not sure what the article is suggesting. Is it that landlords have a free 'Never will be taken to court' card? Of course landlords should be subject to the courts if they commit major offences and ignore housing officers' demands. Because everyone has to keep to the law in this country. If a softly/softly approach doesn't work, then court enforcement is necessary. Isn't it? Even if this is time-consuming.


    I don't want rogues, whether landlords or tenants, let off the hook - but priority should be on improving the housing stock and if that means doing things in a different order then so be it.

    However I don't believe Councils can't do more with the resources available currently. What did most of them do when lounging at home on full pay during lockdown? Did we notice they weren't at work then?

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    I agree David, landlords that break the law should face court action, and so should tenants.

  • girish mehta

    Councils have enough powers.before article 4 came into effect.They are trying to do the job on cheap. Government and councils do not want to spend money and invest in this sector. It is easy for the
    To project landlords as money grabbing rouges. Then bring laws and penalties to follow gaps in their finances.
    They need to move away from set up.
    The simple way forward would be for landlords to sign a declaration of minimum standards or for landlords to have a licence every 3 years.
    This can be carried by council trained inspectors or body.
    Like gas or electrical tes
    Any issues then can me ministered by the councils and work with the landlords to improve the housing stock.
    Most landlords are law abiding and run as a business. And willing to invest.
    They are not going to invest if on the other hand tenant come and destroy the property.
    Or do not pay rent.
    you need to have fair and balanced laws .
    Fining landlords and encouraging tenants no to keep. Their side of agreement is a recipie for disaster.
    And most of the money for fines takes money out of improving properties to enforcement with no real benefit to sector .
    It only address the short term issues and seen to be money making exercise and creates a mistrust and division for all.
    It may suit short term policies to raise revenues and primary design for central government to invest or cut cost but looks good for political their vote.
    They project a climate where the are seen to be addressing the issues with out having any real difference on the ground.
    Councils need to work with landlords and government needs to proper funds and councils to invest in their teams to do a decent job using existing powers and scrap or review recent licensing laws.
    Councils have enough powers via HHRS. LACORS And other legislation to prosecute rough land loaded and new legislation noir to be brought in for tenants. If the proper checks are carried before the tenancy and tenants damages or misuse the property then they should be made accountable for it and make a criminal offence for serious issues . Those who receive housing benefit should have sanctions if they misuse benefits should be made accountable.

    It takes lot of time and energy to do the job and will to do a proper job

    Easiest option is to divide society and misinform for their political ontrest


    Rather than fining landlords with poor quality housing councils could carry out the improvements themselves then bankrupt the landlords if they don't pay up and taking ownership of the property if needed.

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    It is not the councils' responsibility to improve poor quality private tenanted properties themselves by sending in their own workers. It is and must remain the owner's responsibility, enforceable by court, fines, and in extreme cases jail. Andrew's suggestion sounds really draconian to me - not the way we generally do things in the UK.


    More's the pity!

    Andrew's suggestion would actually work, unlike many of your suggestions.

    We need to focus on improving the quality of poor housing no matter who owns it or whose responsibility it is.

    Let's not forget no prs property has caused the death of over 70 people - but imagine the uproar from the left if that had happened.


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