Responding today to Shelter’s five point plan for tackling “rogue landlords”, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has called on local authorities to more effectively root out those who flout their obligations under the law.
The RLA says that according to the Government’s English Housing Survey 84% of the over 8 million private rented sector (PRS) tenants are satisfied with their tenancies, this is a higher satisfaction rating than tenants living in social housing.
To put Shelter’s report into context, their 86,000 complaints from tenants about their landlords amount only to 2% of all PRS tenancies.
The RLA condemns bad landlords. Those who breach regulations controlling standards are not just ‘rogue’ but are criminal, and they give a bad name to the vast majority who do offer a decent standard of housing and management. The problem, according to the RLA, is that local authorities have failed to focus on tracking down bad landlords because of seeking to meet central Government targets to licence landlords. With limited resources, they put their effort into the easy to check landlords who are the most visible and compliant and do not concentrate instead on those who deliberately seek to evade inspection. That’s why councils brought only 270 prosecutions of landlords last year.
RLA says Shelter’s five point plan is an emotional charter of clichés which can spell danger for tenants too. Instead, the RLA welcomes dialogue to produce solutions and calls for:
A culture change in town-halls to work with the PRS as a responsible supplier of housing
Wider use of landlord accreditation schemes to promote self-regulation allowing councils to focus on criminal landlords
Greater education for tenants to enable them to properly hold their landlords to account
Fair-play for landlords with faster dispute resolution over non-payment of rent and tenant choice for the receipt of housing benefits
But RLA says Shelter’s five point plan (with bullets) is an emotional charter of clichés which can spell danger for tenants too:
• Tougher sentencing for criminal landlords: increasing the maximum penalty for ignoring a court order to improve conditions from £5,000 to £20,000.
The RLA prefers the word criminal to rogue which has Del-Boy overtones of sympathy. Penalties need to be proportionate to the crime but without better prosecution they are just window-dressing.
The RLA calls for better training and resourcing of enforcement officials in council housing department without charging the good landlords through spurious regulation.
• A rogue landlord prosecution fund: earmarking money to help councils get tough on landlords blighting their area
The RLA says, throwing more money at the problem does not produce solutions. It is about priorities. The cost of successful cases can be recovered.
• New protection for brave tenants: safeguard tenants from being evicted in retaliation for whistleblowing.
Shelter must not weaken landlords’ rights to evict non-paying or anti-social tenants. Speedy resolution of tenant problems is in everyone’s interests but neither Court procedures nor Council departments work in their favour. RLA says there is scope for fast track procedures such as Alternative Dispute Resolution as used in tenancy deposit schemes.
• An online landlord conviction database: a new website listing all convicted landlords to help tenants avoid criminal landlords.
RLA says this is playing to the gallery with all the risks of “Trip Advisor” sites.
There is need for tenants to be aware of poor quality property which can often be detected on inspection of the property before signing a tenancy agreement and to examine appropriate certificates for gas and electrical safety and energy performance.
Better landlords are members of associations and local accreditation schemes which set property and management standards. Some councils and university schemes include property inspections. Tenants have little knowledge of their responsibilities for example to reduce humidity and stop condensation.
• A rogue landlord summit convened by the Housing Minister to create a clear action plan to protect tenants.
The RLA says landlords must also retain rights to defend themselves from tenants from hell – including cases of malicious damage, false allegations and anti-social behaviour.
But action to protect tenants must be proportionate to the problem.
The vast majority of good landlords must be protected from the hassle-factor just to provide statistics which look as though action is being taken.
More than 70 laws and regulations exist to control the PRS – they must be used better to protect tenants and good landlords from the criminal minority.
(1)- English survey of Housing Condition – 2009
Satisfaction and aspiration. There is evidence that owner occupiers are more satisfied with their accommodation than people living in other tenures. Only two per cent of owner occupiers described themselves as dissatisfied with their accommodation compared to ten per cent of private rented tenants and 13 per cent of social rented tenants11.
(2) Shelter – policy briefing Nov 2011. Asserting Authority.
NB : There are 348 district and unitary councils in England and Wales.
(3) Ministry of Justice – Statistics – jcs-annual-2010
As at October each year Claims paid to landlord due to more than eight weeks of arrears Total local housing allowance caseload
2010 80,000 1,070,000
2011 90,000 1,240,000