Rogue landlords who commit housing offences should be fined a minimum of £30,000 by magistrates as part of common sentencing guidelines to improve standards in the private rental sector, the Local Government Association says today.
Latest figures from the English Housing Survey show that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of privately rented homes failed to meet the decent homes standard in 2016. Eight per cent of properties also had some type of damp problem.
Under powers recently introduced, councils can enforce fines of up to £30,000 to private landlords for offences such as failing to license a property, or not complying with an improvement notice.
However, there are currently no guidelines for magistrates when sentencing for housing offences. Magistrates base their decision on how much a landlord says they can afford, rather than the seriousness of the offence or the harm caused to tenants.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says that the most serious cases such as for fire safety breaches or providing substandard housing which councils decide to take to a magistrates’ court, should lead to fines that at least match the highest level of a civil penalty. This will raise standards and provide consistency across the courts.
Council leaders are also calling for greater freedoms to introduce private housing licensing schemes to improve rental standards for tenants across entire council areas.
Under the current system, local authorities have to apply to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for permission to introduce schemes that cover more than 20 per cent of an area or 20 per cent of privately rented homes.
Successful landlord licensing schemes are already in place in:-
- Waltham Forest – this borough-wide landlord licensing scheme has seen a reduction in anti-social behaviour and better engagement with landlords. The council has issued more than 23,000 licences, carried out 86 prosecutions and has issued 25 civil penalties using the new powers introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016
- Newham has recovered more than £3.1 million in council tax since the introduction of its licensing scheme. The council, police and HMRC officers have carried out 483 multi-agency operations, supporting 1,225 prosecutions and 28 bans which have been brought against rogue landlords. Its recent application for a borough-wide scheme was however blocked by the Government.
- Salford City Council became the first in Britain to introduce a landlord licensing scheme 10 years ago. A total of 93 landlords and seven managing agents, out of more than 2,000 operating in the city, have been prosecuted.
- Liverpool City Council – More than 41,000 homes have been licensed. There have now been around 80 successful prosecutions, 1,139 cautions issued and 79 formal written warnings. Another 800 cases are currently being considered for formal enforcement action.
- Nottingham City Council had a licensing scheme for more than 30,000 privately rented homes approved by the Government earlier this month. It is estimated that 21 per cent of Nottingham’s private rented properties are likely to have hazards such as exposed wiring, a dangerous boiler, cold bedrooms, a leaking roof, mould on walls or ceilings and vermin infestation.
- Woking Borough Council launches a licensing scheme in April for landlords for an area of the borough where 44 per cent of properties are privately rented accommodation. In many cases, the accommodation breaches safety standards and is well below what is acceptable for people to live in.
Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Housing spokesman, said:
“The majority of landlords are decent, responsible law-abiding citizens who do a great job in making sure their tenants are living in safe and quality housing. Unfortunately there is a minority of rogue landlords who give those good landlords a bad name.
“Councils want to work with landlords, not against them. But with more young people and families renting privately than ever before, we need to see reforms that will maintain and improve housing standards.
“A key deterrent to rogue landlords would be for the Government to set common sentencing guidelines which delivers consistency across the courts. It is not right that the level of civil penalty could outweigh that which is handed out by magistrates.
“Many councils are already tackling issues in the private rental sector by bringing in landlord licensing schemes. But they are limited in how widely these can be introduced. We need to see these rules relaxed and councils given more freedom and flexibility in establishing schemes.
“Landlord licensing schemes allow landlords to demonstrate that they are responsible and adhere to ensuring homes are maintained to a high standard. It also protects and provides reassurance to tenants that they are living in a decent, safe and secure home.”