A new strategy has been launched today by Westminster City Council to help raise standards for tenants who rent privately.
Westminster, which has the largest number of private rented sector (PRS) properties in England with around 52,700 properties rented privately, is determined to ensure renters live in good quality and well managed properties.
Privately rented properties make up 43% of all of Westminster’s housing stock and the number has grown significantly in the past decade.
Recent analysis of the sector carried out by the council found that 13% of PRS properties in Westminster, equivalent to almost 6,800 homes, have at least one serious hazard which could endanger tenants such as faulty electrical wiring, severe damp or mould, excessive cold or fire safety breaches.
According to the analysis, almost half of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are likely to have serious hazards.
The council already receives about 1,600 complaints a year about poor housing conditions in the private sector and the impact of poor-quality housing on residents’ safety, health and wellbeing is significant.
To ensure every private rented home in Westminster is of good quality, the new Private Rented Sector strategy aims to:
Improve conditions in the PRS including consulting on a discretionary licencing scheme for all houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), which are more likely to be in poor condition. The council also aims to review its Enforcement Policy and work with the sector to increase the number of landlords and letting agents signing up to the London Landlords Accreditation Scheme (LLAS).
Provide support for tenants, landlords and letting agents e.g. ensuring that all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities, assisting tenants taking legal action against rogue landlords, setting up a dedicated forum for anyone letting a property privately and investigating energy efficiency grants for landlords housing vulnerable people.
Set up a private rented sector forum that brings together all landlords and letting agents so knowledge and best practice can be shared.
Westminster also wants to see the government introduce a national register of landlords and letting agencies and is also pushing for the existing ‘rogue landlord database ‘to be extended, and for tenants’ rights to be simply explained as part of their licence or agreement.
Cllr Heather Acton, Westminster City Council cabinet member for public protection and licensing, commented: “The safety and protection of our communities will always be our primary concern. Most privately rented properties are high quality with landlords that play by the rules, but we know that a minority let properties that do not meet the required safety standards, and put residents’ lives, health and wellbeing at risk.
“We want tenants, landlords and letting agents to be aware of their rights and responsibilities so we can raise standards in the sector as high as possible.
“Our new policy sets measures designed to ensure Westminster’s private rented sector is well managed, operating within the law and above all else, safe for the people living here.”
The council already operates a Housing Standards Taskforce which comprises officers with enforcement skills in environmental health, trading standards, and analysts to provide intelligence necessary to take cases forward.
The team was set up to protect vulnerable residents by investigating landlords and letting agents who flout the rules or provide tenants with sub-standard homes.
The taskforce has already resulted in around £80,000 in civil penalty fines and £200,000 in fines for landlords who let HMO properties without a legal licence.