The Residential Landlords Association is calling for radical action to protect tenants after Freedom of Information (FOI) data revealed a shockingly low level of enforcement of rented housing regulations by many local authorities.
The data, collected from 255 councils which responded to requests for information by the RLA, shows that only 827 prosecutions had occurred during the last five years after notices to improve a property were issued.
The RLA noted that it would be naïve to think such a minuscule proportion of landlords were the only ones to breach their obligations over that length of time, especially given that there are more than 140 Acts of Parliament with more than 400 regulations affecting the sector.
Newham Borough Council, however, is in a class of its own. It has published figures which show that it alone has prosecuted hundreds of landlords since January 2013, through a scheme funded by licensing more than 33,000 landlords in the borough.
Since that time they have collaborated with HMRC and the UK Border Agency to tackle criminal landlords and help those living in sub-par properties.
However, given the apparent lack of progress around the UK, the RLA are calling for a “radical national overhaul of the way regulations are enforced”.
Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said: “Tenants and good landlords are being let down by a system unable to cope with the powers already available to root out the crooks.”
And he is right. All we ever hear about is landlords and letting agents being blamed for the problems in the PRS. However, the real blame, in my view, lies with successive governments:
Not building enough social homes
Refusing to regulate agents
Allowing individual local authorities to introduce different licensing schemes across England.
The result is an unregulated and – as the RLA has proved – poorly enforced PRS sector which is having to house people on benefits who, in the past, would normally be safely placed in the social sector. The fact that landlords are then being ‘blamed’ for increasing housing benefit costs is astonishing!
It’s no wonder there are criminals operating in this area, playing on the housing difficulties of vulnerable and low paid workers, but I am surprised that so many reports focus on blaming landlords and letting agents rather than two crucial root causes:
Successive governments failure to deliver enough homes for our growing population
Local authorities not enforcing existing regulations.
When you consider local authorities issue and enforce up to 10 million parking tickets a year in England and Wales alone*, surely we can find a way to make sure the 5-6 million rented homes are providing safe roofs over people’s heads?
And, as a case in point, Newham Council are proving where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The RLA research goes on to say: “Newham Council shows that with the will and resources councils already have the powers needed to protect tenants from bad landlords. Rather than tinkering around the edges, we need a radical overhaul of the way the sector is regulated, freeing councils to find the crooks. The message should be clear to those renting out substandard housing – get it sorted or face the full force of the law.”
This type of enforcement is so important that we can’t have more than 400 different principal authorities’ schemes trying to be implemented and enforced. We need a single scheme that not simply imposed but tried, tested and developed by the industry and a group of local authorities. Once proven, it can be rolled out across the country, so the rules are clear, wherever a landlord buys and lets.
I wholly support the RLA view that “Unsafe and insanitary housing has no place in the 21st century – those responsible put the lives of their tenants in jeopardy. It angers the majority of decent landlords who enjoy good relations with their tenants.”.
However, we won’t solve the problems in the PRS unless everyone in it works together. Just pointing the finger at those on the ‘front line’ – especially the self-regulating landlords and letting agents who are doing a good job and are often ignored – is not going to fix a horrendous supply and enforcement issue that are the biggest contributors to the situation