Cllr Philip Glanville, Cabinet Member for Housing at Hackney Council has called for the next government to reform the private-rented housing system and renting laws to improve standards and reign in rogue landlords, rent hikes and letting agency fees, and protect struggling families.
However, landlord bodies argue there are already adequate and more than enough laws and regulations for councils to deal with problems in private renting and rogue landlords.
Following the publication of a report by the “Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission” the authority has laid out a 10-point plan which it believes would be straightforward to implement and of great benefit to the nine million private renters across the country.
The ten recommendations are:
- Inflation-capped rent rises to ensure greater security for tenants, particularly for families with children
- Longer tenancies – for years, not months
- Stopping retaliatory evictions, by changing the law over notices seeking possession for assured shorthold tenancies
- Fast-tracking licensing schemes, by cutting red tape for councils setting up licensing schemes to ensure high quality standards of accommodation and service
- Exploring further incentives for responsible landlords, including the choice for tenants for direct payments of housing benefit to accredited landlords who offer longer tenancies and stable rents
- Creating a national quality kitemark, so tenants can identify good quality accommodation
- Establishing a public register of landlords and properties, to enable tenants to find out directly who they pay rent to and enable the Council to provide information and support to landlords who need it
- A national ban on rogue landlords, as with disgraced company directors, plus bigger fines and more consistent sentencing
- Costs transparency: making it mandatory for landlords to publish related costs of a property, such as utility bills, and for lettings agents to explain their fees
- Improving safety: mandatory installation of fire and carbon monoxide detectors and mandatory annual electrical tests
The petition follows a review by the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission which found that the number of privately-renting households in Hackney had doubled in the past decade, up to 32,000.
However, following a dramatic increase in the accommodation of former social tenants and families in private rented accommodation, as evidenced in the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission report, questions are now being asked as to the effectiveness of measures taken and the resources being applied by some local authorities to control their own housing problems and rogue landlords.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) which represents around 20,000 private landlords has pointed out that there are over 100 laws and 400 regulations affecting the private rented sector (PRS), including existing and adequate measures needed to tackle the problem of revenge evictions.
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has shown that over the course of the current Parliament, the budgets of local authority enforcement departments (Environmental Health Departments) have been cut by an average of over 37% per head of population in England.
This is supported by Local Government Information Unit research showing 54% of councils fear that they will be unable to meet their statutory duties.
It also follows a spate of local authorities using legislation set out in the 2004 Housing Act which allows councils to use “selective licensing” as a blanket borough-wide strategy, enabling them to charge all private landlords an average of £500 per letting.
Manchester City Council, one of the first to run a selective licensing scheme for five years has recently concluded the scheme was not worth the time and money and did not achieve its objectives.
This experience has led Manchester City councillors to consider alternatives to traditional licensing. Some proposals include providing tax breaks to good landlords, while ‘zero tolerance’ sanctions on criminal landlords will send a clear message to the rogues.
The RLA said: “The problem is not a lack of regulation, but poor enforcement of the powers already available and no party is promising to reverse the current cuts faced by local authorities.”
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) March 11, 2015