Rogue landlords enjoy an easy ride as councils fail to prosecute

Most local authorities have not secured a single prosecution, figures released under Freedom of Information Act reveal

Councils across Britain have been accused of letting rogue landlords off the hook, after new figures revealed that most have failed to secure a single prosecution.

Almost six in 10 councils had not prosecuted any landlords in the last year, with more than 80% prosecuting fewer than five.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, have prompted suggestions that private renters face a “postcode lottery” when it comes to having their rights upheld.

It comes with councils complaining that the unprecedented budget pressures they are facing mean that they are struggling to cope.

Nearly 30% said they had carried out fewer than 100 inspections in their area in the last year. It has led to calls for councils to be handed more power and resources to tackle the problem.

More than 180 councils responded to a survey on inspections of private rented housing and prosecutions.

The London borough of Newham stood out, having prosecuted 331 landlords. The council has a mandatory licensing scheme for landlords, which it is currently waiting for the government to renew.

Brent council was next with 65 prosecutions, followed by Waltham Forest with 58, Doncaster with 49, Barking and Dagenham with 35, and Wirral with 29. However, most reported that they had not secured any.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath who uncovered the information, said: “These figures expose a stark postcode lottery when it comes to tackling rogue landlords. Thousands of tenants across the country are having to endure horrendous and unsafe living conditions, while unscrupulous landlords are breaking the rules with impunity.

“Cash-strapped councils need more funding to inspect rented homes and bring rogue landlords to justice. Tenants should also be able to check whether their landlords have previously broken the rules through a public database. Rogue landlords have been allowed to exploit the housing crisis for too long. It’s time the government stopped dragging its feet and clamped down on them.”

Martin Tett, a Conservative councillor and the housing spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), said the majority of tenants are happy with their accommodation. He added that councils had a number of tools at their disposal short of prosecuting, designed to ensure any disputes “are settled in a way that is satisfactory to both sides”.

“Enforcement would usually be a last resort for councils, who have to weigh up whether or not the fines available would be a significant deterrent to rogue landlords, or whether expensive prosecutions are a cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money, at a time when councils face a £5.8bn shortfall in funding by 2020,” he said.

“There are things that central government can do to help – bringing forward a national database of rogue landlords, or granting councils further banning powers for the minority of landlords not prepared to offer up-to-standard accommodation, would be powerful incentives to bring the best out of the private rented sector and ensure it delivers quality accommodation for our residents and communities.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “This government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords, either forcing them to improve and raise their standards or to leave the sector entirely. We expect all councils to use the strong powers and funding we’ve given them to improve property conditions and tackle poor quality rental homes in their area. Civil penalties and extended rent repayment orders were introduced this April meaning councils can now impose fines of up to £30,000 to tackle those landlords who flout the rules and shirk their responsibilities.”

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Oxford landlord convicted of repeat HMO offences

An Oxford landlord has been convicted for the second time in 12 months for operating an unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and ordered to pay a total of £6,146 in fines and costs. The investigation followed a fire in the house which had a faulty fire detection system.

Mr Zahid Ali Rana, 58, of Boundary Brook Road, Oxford, was prosecuted after environmental health staff from Oxford City Council visited his home in March 2017. As three lodgers were living in the property with him, the house should have been licensed as an HMO. The central heating did not work and there was refuse in the garden.

When the case was heard before Oxford Magistrates’ Court on 16 October 2017 Mr Rana pleaded guilty to the offence of failing to licence the property and was fined £1,600. He was also fined £2,800 in total for three HMO management offences and ordered to pay surcharges and council costs of £1,746. Rana had previously been convicted on 4 October 2016 of managing an unlicensed HMO at Freelands Road that was also unsafe.

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Board Member for Planning and Regulatory Services, said: “The City Council is committed to protecting private tenants from rogue landlords who fail to license their properties or manage them to acceptable standards. As this case involves a repeat offender, we expected a higher fine to reflect the seriousness of the offence and the appalling conditions we found the property in. This case is also one of the few remaining prosecutions in the system. Going forward, the Council will be regularly using financial penalties to deal with unlicensed HMOs and to secure compliance with HMO licence conditions where landlords have failed to improve their properties.”

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 allows councils to impose civil fines of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for housing offences. The City Council will use these new powers to improve conditions in the poorest quality private rented housing in the city.

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Bath pair fined £16k for holding wrong HMO licenses

Two landlords in Bath have been ordered to more than £16,000 for failing to hold the correct HMO licences.

Elizabeth Vowles, 48, and Hayley Book, 55, from Weston pleaded guilty at Bath Magistrates’ Court to the offence under the Housing Act 2004.

The court was informed that the pair were caught operating two HMOs in the Additional Licensing Area without a licence in January 2017, despite the fact that it has been a legal requirement in certain areas of Bath since 2014.

The landlords had another HMO in the Additional Licensing Area so should have been aware of the additional licences required, the court was told.

Vowles and Book were both fined £4,000 for each property and ordered them to each to pay prosecution costs of £550 and a victim surcharge of £170.

Cllr Paul Myers said: “Our Housing Services will try to work in partnership with landlords to improve housing standards wherever possible.

“Additional licensing helps to ensure that occupants of HMOs are able to live in safe and well managed properties. Where landlords fail to licence their properties such as the case here, they are undermining the objectives of the additional licensing scheme.”

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