That’s the claim of campaigning group Generation Rent, which is calling on ministers to use the law to give tenants the right to back out of an agreement with a convicted landlord.
The demand comes after the publication by Environmental Health News of all landlord convictions under the Housing Act, following a legal battle with the Ministry of Justice to release the data.
It appears that only 2,006 landlords have been convicted between 2006 and 2014 for housing offenses with fines totalling nearly £3m.
Landlords’ associations have claimed for many years that local authorities are not using the powers they already have to bring rogue landlords to book and these figures appear to support these claims.
Responsible landlords want the authorities to weed out the rogues, which give all landlords a bad name, but progress in this area seem excruciatingly slow. Most local authorities don’t even know how many properties they have in their boroughs which are rented, let alone are devoting anywhere near enough resources necessary to ensure that all rented properties are providing safe, secure accommodation.
Generation Rent claim that the tiny number of landlord convictions (these are over 2m landlords in the UK) is no deterrent to the worst landlords, and most responsible landlords agree. Generation Rent is calling on the government to increase the penalties for letting out unsafe homes.
For the first time ever, the publication of these convictions data allows tenants to check if their landlord, or a prospective landlord, has previously been convicted of an offence.
Unfortunately, say Generation Rent, this may not ultimately strengthen tenants’ consumer power as house hunters often pay letting agents a holding deposit of several hundred pounds before getting a draft tenancy agreement and finding out the name of the landlord. If the landlord turns out to be a convicted criminal, and the tenant decides to walk away, they may still lose their holding deposit.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has been calling for some time for identification of rented properties on council tax registration forms, which would allow council staff to more easily keep track of rentals which fall below safe rental standards.
Consequently in June 2015 a senior member of Parliament introduced a Bill that will make it much easier for authorities to identify criminal landlords.
The measure was introduced to Parliament by the Conservative MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, Dame Angela Watkinson, which would require tenants to provide details of their landlord on council tax registration forms.
Under the law as it stands, when new occupants move into a house they are obliged to notify their local authority to establish council tax payments. Nowhere on the form does it ask the tenure of the property or, where it is rented, who the landlord is and what their contact details are.
The Draft Local Government Finance (Tenure Information) Bill 2015 brought by Dame Angela Watkinson would enable councils to request details of a property’s tenure and details of the landlord, if it is a rented property, on council tax registration forms.
Tenants are already legally entitled to know the name of the landlord when signing a new tenancy agreement. By having tenants disclose this information to the local authority, it should make it much more difficult for criminal landlords to avoid being identified.
If a tenant is unable to identify their landlord this should flag up to local authorities that there may be deliberate evasion and will enable them to take appropriate action, identifying the owner of the property through the Land Registry.
This was a key proposal made by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) in its pre-election manifesto for the private rented sector, and it is calling on government and MPs to support this measure.
Commenting, Dame Angela Watkinson MP said that “the draft Bill has already been welcomed by the Citizens Advice Bureau and has cross Party support.”
Responding, Alan Ward, Chairman of the RLA said:
“The RLA welcomes and strongly supports Dame Angela’s Bill. This Bill sends a powerful message to criminal landlords that you can run but you cannot hide.
“For too long, a minority of landlords, operating under the radar, have been able to cause misery for their tenants and have been left unchecked by local authorities whose resources are too stretched.
“It will be more effective than a landlord register, or licensing, in identifying rented properties.”
Generation Rent campaign is calling for:
- Increased fines that local authorities can impose on criminal landlords and keep, which will incentivise them to take more enforcement action
- A national landlord licensing scheme to professionalise the sector and give landlords the training and support that they need to comply with the law and to support their tenants [This is one proposal most landlords do not support]
- Expansion of the Rent Repayment Order system so tenants living in unsafe conditions can claim their rent back.
Betsy Dillner, director of Generation Rent, said:
“The private rented population has been growing over the past decade, and with rising demand the number of opportunities for unscrupulous landlords to exploit desperate tenants has grown. Although prosecutions have been rising, Citizens Advice estimate that 740,000 homes are unsafe, so it’s clear that their activities are missing thousands of landlords, and not even acting as a deterrent.
“Those landlords who do get caught are fined tiny sums compared to the rent they receive, so they’re just treated as a business expense. If the government really wants to drive the bad landlords out of the market, we need a much more robust sentencing regime.”
Convicted Landlords revealed – see article here
— LandlordZONE® (@LandlordZONE) July 28, 2015