Quick Justice:

Stafford Borough Council is all set to give the go-ahead to using civil penalties* as a way to punish rogue landlords more quickly than taking them to court.

The Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) reports that at a recent council meeting plans were laid to introduce new civil penalties for rogue landlords to speed up the process of bringing them to justice and cleaning up rogue landlord operations in the borough.

Previously justice was often slow and labour intensive as using the court process. However, new laws introduced recently will allow local authorities to hand out instant justice; fines ranging from £1,000 to £30,000, with a minimum of time consuming bureaucracy needed. These fines will be issued for offences ranging from excessive damp and mould to fire and electrical hazards, or indeed anything which could affect the health and safety of tenants.

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Stafford Borough Council’s community portfolio holder, Councillor Jeremy Pert, told the RLA:

“The overwhelming majority of landlords in the Borough provide a high standard of accommodation and have an excellent relationship with the Council and their tenants. However, there are a very small number that fail to engage with the Council and knowingly rent unsafe and substandard accommodation.

“In light of the generally high standard of both accommodation and landlords in the Borough it is anticipated this power will be rarely used, however, it will ensure officers have all the necessary legislative tools at their disposal to protect the health, safety and welfare of tenants in the private rented sector.”

The decision comes following a case last year which involved a Stafford landlord being found guilty of a range of charges, including the failure to fit a suitable fire detection system in his rental property.

The home was also in poor standard, and the landlord had not obtained the correct license from the borough council. The landlord in question was fined £14,000. However, under the proposal to allow the council to distribute civil penalties, the fine could be more than doubled.

Councillor Pert continued:

“The introduction of financial penalty charge notices as an additional enforcement measure allows authorised officers to choose the best course of action in regards to the behaviour and actions of non-compliant landlords. The Government’s position is clear in requiring Local Authorities to be robust in their enforcement approach.”

*Civil penalties for landlords and agents were introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016. In the act the government introduced a range of new measures available for local authorities in relation to their dealings with rogue landlords: civil penalties, rent repayments orders, banning orders and the introduction of a database for rogue landlords and letting agents. From April 6th 2017, some of these powers came into force as the civil penalties are introduced and rent repayment orders were significantly strengthened. The banning orders and database come into force from October 1st 2017.

Civil penalties are an alternative to prosecution for a variety of offences under the Housing Act 2004. Previously local authorities would have to bring a criminal prosecution against the landlord or letting agent, a time-consuming process. For any of the listed offences, local authorities will now be able to fine the landlord as an alternative to bringing a prosecution against them. The legislation includes an appeals process.

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