UK govt to crackdown further on rogue landlords

A new £5 million fund for councils is being made available by the UK government to stop rogue landlords who let out substandard homes and make tenants’ lives a misery, it has been announced.

The worst affected councils which have a large proportion of private rented stock in their areas and significant problems will be able to bid for a share of the fund to tackle irresponsible landlords who provide unsafe living conditions, exploit innocent tenants and blight communities.

The fund will also target ‘beds in sheds’ which are often rented to vulnerable migrants by ruthless landlords who charge them extortionate rents to live in cramped conditions.

Councils can use the money to increase inspections of property, carry out more raids, initiate more enforcement action and prosecutions, and demolish sheds and buildings that are prohibited.

‘We’re determined to keep the country building and increase the supply of good quality homes that families want, both to buy and for rent. Key to this is rooting out the minority of landlords in the private rented sector that let out poorly maintained and unsafe properties to vulnerable tenants, making their lives a misery,’ said Communities Secretary Greg Clark.

‘Council led efforts mean more than 3,000 landlords have faced enforcement action and even prosecution in the last two years. This £5 million funding, combined with the extra powers we’re bringing forward, will help them go even further,’ he added.

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis pointed out that while the majority of tenants are happy with their home, the private rental sector is still afflicted by too many rogues who rent dangerous, dirty and overcrowded properties without a thought for the welfare of their tenants.

‘That’s why we are inviting the worst affected councils to come forward and apply for extra funding, so they can root out the cowboys and rogue operators. The government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and this funding, alongside measures in the Housing and Planning Bill, will further strengthen councils’ powers to tackle poor quality privately rented homes in their area,’ he explained.

There are more than 4.4 million households renting privately and since 2013 nearly 40,000 inspections have taken place in properties, with more than 3,000 landlords now facing further enforcement action or prosecution.

‘The measures will not hamper the vast majority of landlords who are diligent and responsible. They avoid strangling the industry in red tape which would deter investment, increase rent and reduce choice for tenants,’ added Lewis.

Additional measures being taken forward in the Housing and Planning Bill include seeking banning orders for the most prolific and serious rogue landlords, issuing penalty notices of up to £5,000 for breaches, a new process for abandoned tenancies, which would allow a landlord to recover the home without the need to go to court and creating a database of rogue landlords and letting agents.

According to Landlord Action, which has been part of Government think tank on buy to let legislation, is backing the move. Founder Paul Shamplina said that in particular landlords who carve up properties to creative multiple sub-standard sized rooms in a bid to maximise their rental income need to be dealt with.

He believes imposing a minimum square footage per room as a legal requirement will help reduce the number of overcrowded, unsafe properties. However, he warns it will not prevent sub-letting scams, which are often the lead cause of rabbit hutch rooms, and will require greater enforcement resources to be effective.

‘There is in fact only a small proportion of landlords who abuse the system in this way. Nevertheless, they are guilty of exploiting the vulnerable whilst profiting from the housing crisis, particularly in the capital. Therefore, anything which helps to eliminate this problem and impose proper sanctions in the case of violation, is a positive step forward,’ he explained.

But he warned that one of the biggest problems with implementing any new legislation is enforcement. ‘Local councils do not have enough resources as it is, with Environmental Health Officers (EHO) already responsible for monitoring overcrowding, sub-letting, poor conditions, and most recently retaliation eviction. There is no room in our sector for rogue landlords, but to tackle the problem properly, legislation needs to be backed up by more boots on the ground,’ he said.

He also pointed out that the leading culprits of setting up uninhabitable rooms are not just rogue landlords, but in fact tenants posing as landlords and sub-letting properties to unaware tenants. ‘Landlord Action has never seen so many sub-letting cases as it has over the last two years, with an 18% increase. This has been fuelled by sky high rents preventing some tenants from being able to afford even single-unit accommodation, forcing many to resort to bedsits or shared accommodation,’ he added.

In a recent North London sub-letting case handled by Landlord Action, partition walls were erected to create more bedrooms, most were barely large enough to fit a single mattress in, and the rogue tenant was sub-letting each space or £750 per month.

‘Cases like this are not only damaging to the property and financially devastating for landlords, but are also extremely unsafe, creating untold health and safety issues, particularly relating to fire safety and sanitation issues. They should also act as a reminder to landlords of the importance of carrying out thorough tenant referencing checks, as well as regular property inspections,’ Shamplina concluded.