Time to tackle rogue landlords

24 Oct 17

While there has been some progress on improving the private rented sector more needs to be done - including looking into whether local authorities have the capacity to tackle rogue landlords, says Clive Betts. 

From tenants being forced to shell out extortionate amounts of rent to families enduring cramped and crowded conditions, the problems caused by rogue landlords are as shocking as they are prevalent.

From tenants being forced to shell out extortionate amounts of rent to families enduring cramped and crowded conditions, the problems caused by rogue landlords are as shocking as they are prevalent.

Figures suggest thousands of households are falling victim to unscrupulous behaviour, with a survey by housing charity Shelter suggesting 125,000 tenants were subjected to abusive behaviour in just one year alone.

Analysis this year from a national newspaper also reveals that almost a third of homes rented from private landlords fail to meet the national Decent Homes Standard, while £2.5billion of tax payers’ money goes to such people each year in housing benefit.

The private rented sector has grown considerably over the last decade, from one in 10 households in 2004 to one in five today, meaning more people than ever before are potentially at risk from their landlord’s actions. This includes an increasingly large number of families with young children.

Earlier this month, we announced the start of our inquiry in to the sector and whether local authorities had enough powers to crack down on bad behaviour from rogue landlords.

The new investigation follows on from the wide-ranging committee investigation in 2013 which made several key recommendations to government.

We wanted ministers to take action in five key areas; reviewing and simplifying the legislation covering the sector; giving councils the tools they need to enforce the law and raise housing standards; improving regulation of lettings agents; encouraging a shift to longer tenancies; and making efforts to boost the housing supply.

Some limited progress has been made since our report.

All landlords are now required to install a smoke alarm on every storey of their properties and provisions in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 provide for the creation of a national database of the very worst landlords and also a change to the ‘fit and proper’ person test for those looking for a licence for houses in multiple occupation.

Some local authorities have already taken other actions, with the landlord licensing schemes having been implemented in Liverpool and the London Borough of Newham. A London-wide online database to name and shame criminal landlords and letting agents is due to launch this autumn and the committee is looking forward to taking up the invitation of one borough to see the housing standards enforcement team in action on a raid.

The government has announced a number of policies in recent months to provide greater protections for tenants. It was confirmed in the Queen's speech that a Tenants' Fees Bill will be brought forward to ban letting agents charging fees to tenants.

The communities secretary also announced earlier this month new policies, including redress schemes such as the creation of a specialist housing court, while a consultation was launched earlier this week into protecting consumers in the letting and managing agent market.

We will be keeping a close eye on how these proposals progress. The committee will seek to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft bill, while our inquiry will look to contribute to the debate on the wider policy proposals.

However, professional landlord bodies often tell us that it is about more than just powers and although local authorities have enough power to tackle the bad behaviour of landlords, they don’t have the capacity to actually do so. 

This will form a key part of our inquiry over the next few months along with an examination of the main obstacles to effective intervention in the sector, how licensing schemes work, complaint mechanisms for tenants and what councils are doing to promote affordable accommodation.

Despite the progress since our last report, there is still much more that needs to be done.

The committee is keen to hear from everyone involved from landlords through to tenants on how to improve the private rented sector further and help to ensure that nobody need worry about not having a safe and secure place to call home.

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