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07.04.17

LGA demands jail sentences for worst rogue landlords

Councils have today called on the government to crack down on rogue landlords by closing a legal loophole that allows landlords to exploit the system and put tenants at risk.

The LGA warned that landlords are using the loophole to convert properties into multiple tiny “units” which are marketed as self-contained flats and therefore secure the maximum level of housing benefit payments which are paid on behalf of tenants direct to landlords.

This is something which leaves tenants with poor and often dangerous accommodation and is, according to the LGA, rarely detected and punished by the government.

The organisation also stated that prison sentences should be imposed for the worst landlords rather than imposing small fines which are often as low as £1,000 for serious safety offences, and can be easily paid off by the money landlords take in from rent and extra housing benefit payments.

Analysis by the National Housing Federation claims that private landlords were found to have pocketed £9.3bn nationwide in housing benefit in 2015, almost double the rate in 2006 – at £4.6bn.

Today’s announcement follows steps by the government to punish rogue landlords more harshly, as councils were given the power to fine landlords as much as £30,000 yesterday for malpractice such as not fixing serious property issues or using violence to intimidate and harass tenants.

Housing minister Gavin Barwell said the measures would ensure councils had the powers they needed to tackle poor-quality rental homes in their areas.

“By driving out of business those rogue landlords that continue to flout the rules, we can raise standards, improve affordability and give tenants the protections they need,” he said.

Another measure the government announced to create a fairer rental market was to ban unfair letting agent fees, as Barwell stated that tenants should “only be required to pay their rent alongside a refundable deposit and not face hidden fees”.

Cllr Judith Blake, housing spokesperson for the LGA, said that no landlord should be able to act outside the law, and councils will do everything in their power to ensure tenants can live in rented properties safe in the knowledge that local authorities are there to protect them.

“The reputations of all good landlords are being tarnished by the bad ones and councils are being let down by the current system,” she warned. “Legislation is not keeping pace with the ingenuity of landlords to exploit loopholes which need to be closed as soon as possible.”

The LGA spokesperson also called for legislation to be more joined-up to prevent landlords taking advantage of people at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

“Giving councils powers to be able to build more affordable homes is likely to be more successful at meeting necessary standards than the private rental sector, and help reduce the risk of tenants falling victim to potentially tragic and preventable consequences due to unscrupulous landlords,” she said.

“Councils won’t hesitate to take irresponsible landlords to court for blatantly failing to comply with housing laws and any tenants who suspect their landlord of criminal behaviour or who have been evicted illegally should contact the housing team at their local council.”

Last year, the government also put in place new legislation to allow councils to ban rogue landlords from letting properties if they were found to be shirking their responsibilities to the people living in their property.

“The LGA is rightly highlighting that the system can be gamed by those who seek to maximise their profits at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in society. However, the bad and dangerous practices described by the LGA in this warning are already illegal.

Chris Norris, head of policy, public affairs and research at the National Landlords Association said: “If landlords are inappropriately, and unsafely converting buildings into multiple dwellings, councils should be using the powers they already have under building regulations, the planning system and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to ensure household and community safety.

"We have every sympathy with local authorities struggling to cope with financial constraints, but it is unclear how adding another layer of regulation will improve the situation.

“The priority must be on rooting out those who currently break the law, and we think the LGA would be better off lobbying government for the appropriate funding and resources that would enable their members to better tackle the criminals that already blight the sector." 

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