Government creates new powers to tackle rogue landlords

by Gary Whittaker

Rogue landlords and letting agents face a potential crackdown through the actions of local authorities, after the government gave councils new powers to curb illegal activities and penalise those who commit them as part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. 

A new national blacklist

A key policy now in effect is the creation of a national database of landlords with convictions for a range of housing offences, including unlawful eviction, deliberate overcrowding, fire safety failings and other crimes. Those on it will include persons who have either received a banning order or who have been hit with at least two financial penalties. 

Their inclusion on a national list means different councils will be able to share information and rogue landlords will not be able to move to a different location and start again after being banned from one area. 

While the government will regularly update the national list, councils will have a statutory duty to add onto it anyone who it has banned, to ensure rogues are effectively tracked. 

Landlords ignoring a ban can face severe criminal penalties, including unlimited fines and up to six months in prison.  

Other penalties 

Councils can also impose heavy fines on landlords, with those letting out properties that are overcrowded now facing fines of up to £30,000. 

Another measure concerns rent repayment orders. These can be imposed in the event of an unlawful eviction, breaches of banning orders and certain other offences. 

The context of these measures is broader than simply the use of more punitive measures to root out bad landlords and agents. There is also an opportunity for good landlords and agents to shine by collaborating with efforts to raise standards and increase tenant confidence. 

In its guidance notes on the legislation, the government noted that the new steps are part of this wider "rebalancing" of the relationship between landlords and tenants, which also involves obliging landlords to join a redress scheme to provide avenues for dispute resolution. It also features regulation of letting agents, including mandatory membership of a a client money protection scheme to demonstrate they are meeting minimum standards and providing the right level of financial protection. 

There have also been measures to cap tenancy deposits and ban letting agency fees, although these have proved controversial; many agents have said this will simply lead to costs being passed on to landlords to make up the lost fees and that these in turn will translate into higher rents. 

Seeking a better future 

Minister for housing and homelessness Heather Wheeler said: "I am committed to making sure people who are renting are living in safe and good-quality properties. That’s why we’re cracking down on the small minority of landlords that are renting out unsafe and substandard accommodation.

"Landlords should be in no doubt that they must provide decent homes or face the consequences."

If all this seems like a lot of activity and legislation, that should come as no surprise. For one thing, the government has acknowledged the widespread concerns in general about the rental sector, both private and public. It has noted the fact that younger people rent more, and this group tended to vote Labour at last year's election. Grenfell added to the wider concerns.

Part of the response has been for ministers to work with backbench Labour MP Karen Buck in drawing up legislation. Many of the measures are part of her Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill 2017-19, which has now secured government support.

With a private member's bill and many other measures, landlords and letting agents have a lot of new legislation to digest. However, they may also enjoy the benefits of enhanced reputations if these measures are successful in rooting out bad landlords and highlighting the trustworthiness of those who remain. 

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12-April-18Legal News