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16.06.14

Councils want tougher powers to tackle rogue landlords

Local government chiefs are calling for tougher fines and a more streamlined prosecution system to take on ‘rogue’ landlords who exploit tenants by letting sub-standard properties.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says most landlords are reputable, but a “criminal minority” view fines as ‘operating costs', to be offset against their profits.

New LGA research has revealed that it can take up to 16 months to prosecute a rogue operator. And, in almost three-quarters of cases, the average fine for a criminal landlord – many of whom are accruing large profits every year while tenants live in dangerous conditions – was £5,000 or less.

An example of one such ‘rogue landlord’, highlighted by Redbridge Council to the LGA, was a landlord who failed to comply with an improvement notice for a mice and cockroach-infested house. The landlord was fined just £3,000 while 10 tenants, including two children, were forced to share a damp and mouldy kitchen – waiting 10 months for the work to be carried out.

A streamlined prosecution system, the LGA said, would be fairer, faster, simpler, and would award proportionate fines to criminal landlords and the full costs of bringing the prosecutions to councils.

Cllr Mike Jones, chairman of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said: “The current system for prosecuting rogue landlords is not fit for the 21st century. Criminal landlords are exploiting this and endangering tenants' lives.

“Councils are doing everything they can to tackle the rising levels of rogue landlords caused by the housing crisis. However, they are being hamstrung by a system wracked by delays, bureaucracy and feeble fines.”

Under the current system, local authorities can only claim costs in court from when the offence is discovered. And councils have stated that they will do everything they can to try and work with landlords to improve an ‘unfit' property with prosecution seen as a last resort.

The LGA, however, supports government proposals to raise the limit of fines magistrates can impose, but it wants to see them applied consistently, and proportionate to the crime and threat to life from dangerous properties.

Housing minister Kris Hopkins MP said: “We are determined to tackle the minority of landlords who offer tenants a poor service.

“That's why we have given £6.7m to councils to use their range of powers to confront rogue behaviour, and why we're changing the law to increase fines.

“Our new How to Rent Guide makes tenants aware of their rental rights and puts pressure on those who are not playing by the rules.”

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