One former Tenancy Relations Officer for a London council, Ben Reeve-Lewis, says that rogue landlords have “little to fear from cash-strapped councils”.
Councils have always had considerable powers to tackle the rogues, but as landlords and landlord associations have long argued, it’s the will and the ability to enforce the rules that really matter.
Given that the time and effort needed to bring a rogue landlord to court takes up so much of a council’s often paltry resources, those devoted to housing matters, even those councils with licensing schemes in place to partly fund this, most rogues escape justice.
It’s not like slapping a parking ticket on a windscreen writes Reeve-Lewis in The Guardian newspaper. The act of serving notices starts a long and complex legal process and appeal procedures that can drag on for months or well over a year swallowing up councils officer’s time and resources in the process.
Frustratingly, many of the fines handed out at the end of all this have been so lenient, some rogue landlords just build the cost into their operations and gladly pay the fines instead of spending money on making their properties fit to rent. They don’t care about getting a criminal record and simply carry on letting unsafe and overcrowded properties.
But councils will soon be given swinging new powers in the battle against rogue landlords, allowing them to fine the rogues and keep the money instead of passing most of it back to Westminster, as is currently the case. In addition, a blacklist of rogue landlords is also suggested for repeat and serious offenders, with bad landlords eventually being banned from the letting industry.
At first sight that would seem to be sufficient to do the trick, but as a rogue landlord enforcement officer for 25 years Ben Reeve-Lewis has grave reservations.
He cites the speed of this legislative fast-track to introduce the legislation in the housing bill in October. Such a rush is not a good sign for a new law Reeve-Lewis says in The Guardian newspaper.
Money made by councils from landlord licensing schemes can only be used to run that scheme itself, it can’t be used for enforcement, so keeping the money in the council would enable them to employ people to run the scheme.
However, some councils have cut their resources in the housing enforcement areas and that would mean they need to re-hire in areas where many of the housing enforcement officers’ skills have been lost.
“The more penalty charges you levy, the greater the mountain of paperwork. And all of this has to be done by people who know what they are doing if the pursuit of the penalties is to survive various legal challenges.
“The creation of a blacklist sounds good on paper but in practice would be a major headache. The truly committed rogue landlords use aliases as a matter of routine forcing councils to prove that John Smith isn’t John Smythe in order to get the court to accept the legal proceedings…
“…David Cameron is right that his government is going further than previous governments in dealing with rogue landlords. But these new plans presuppose that local authorities have a well-funded crew of trained people able to use this legislation to tackle rogue landlords – but most don’t.”
See the Discussing Paper, now closed: “Tackling rogue landlords and improving the private rental sector”, here
Will the New Rules to Tackle Rogue Landlords Work? – http://t.co/eu3mR5ffqa
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) September 17, 2015