'More specific powers' needed to deal with problem areas

A report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has suggested that the best way for local authorities to get a handle on dealing with rogue landlords is to provide additional assistance, in the form of a new housing court and property confiscation for the most serious offences.

The report revealed that 20% of the UK population now live in private rented sector accommodation, so ensuring that this huge sector of the population is happy is of utmost importance! The positive news was that most private sector tenants are more than happy with their landlord, and the quality of their homes, however, there are 800,000 reported homes across the UK that have one Category One hazard under HHSRS, which is the section that the report focused on.

A category one hazard could be something such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.

The report also found that out of these privately rented homes, 44% of tenants said a fear of retaliatory eviction would stop them making a complaint to their landlord, with a quarter (200,000) tenants having reportedly been abused or harassed by a landlord. The report commented on this as ‘a clear power imbalance in parts of the sector… Where consumer rights are meaningless without the ability to use them in practice’.

The committees report makes the following recommendations:

  • Tenants need further protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment so they are fully empowered to pursue complaints about repairs and maintenance in their homes.
  • A specialist housing court would provide a more accessible route to redress for tenants and we urge the Government to publish more detailed proposals.• The Law Commission should undertake a review of private rented sector legislation.
  • Enforcement by local authorities has been far too low and inconsistent. They also do not have sufficient resources to undertake their duties.• A new fund and national benchmarking scheme should be introduced to support local authorities with enforcement. Councils should also publish their enforcement strategies online as well as being able to levy more substantial fines.
  • Councils should have power to confiscate properties from landlords committing the most egregious offences and whose business models rely on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants.• The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) should be replaced with a more straightforward set of quality standards.

These measures are part of a broader government push to give local councils more powers in dealing with rogue landlords, with many councils informing the committee that there was often a financial disincentive to pursue prosecutions against criminal landlords, as the costs of investigations were rarely recovered through the courts. The report argued that this inability to recoup costs has highlighted the ‘lack of political will to address low standards in the sector’.

The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes. Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords, and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties. Such powers are however meaningless if they are not enforced, and at the same time councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions. Stronger powers, harsher fines and a new commitment to cracking down on unscrupulous practices will go some way towards rebalancing the sector and protecting the many thousands of vulnerable residents who have been abused and harassed by a landlord.

Committee chairman, Clive Betts

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