The Government has announced that local authorities in England are to receive additional cash, to help them root out criminal landlords.
Under the proposals announced on Thursday by Housing Minister Heather Wheeler, up to £2 million worth of funding will be give to Councils.
The Government say that the additional funding will help to ‘ramp up action’ against the minority of landlords who wrongly force tenants to live in squalid conditions.
While additional funding for enforcement is something that the RLA has long campaigned for and is welcome, the RLA believes that this must be part of a long term, sustainable settlement.
Commenting on Thursday’s announcement, RLA Policy Director David Smith said:
“We welcome news of new funding for enforcement which we have long campaigned for, but believe it must be part of a long term and sustainable settlement that provides the resources needed to support good landlords and root out the criminals.
“The vast majority of landlords do a good job and provide decent housing for their tenants. That’s why 84 per cent of private tenants are satisfied with their accommodation, a higher proportion than the social rented sector.
“Poor enforcement of the wide range of powers already available means that the minority of landlords who bring the sector into disrepute undercut the majority of good landlords and bring misery to the lives of their tenants. This is what the funding needs to tackle.”
What exactly will the funding be used for?
The Government say that the new funding will be used to support a range of projects that councils have said will help them to ramp up action against criminal landlords.
- Building relationships with external organisations such as the emergency services, legal services and local housing advocates.
- Some councils was chose to support tenants take action against poor standards, for example through rent repayment orders, and develop digital solutions which will help officers to report back and make decisions quicker.
- The new funding will also be used to encourage councils to share best practice of enforcement action and examples of innovative approaches that are self-sustaining and can be easily adapted to other parts of the country.
What powers are already available for councils to use to root out criminal landlords?
The latest English Housing Survey report has found that most private sector tenants (84%) are happy with their accommodation, with satisfaction rates being higher in the private rented than the social rented sector where the same report found that 81% of tenants are satisfied with their housing.
Councils in England and Wales already have a number of powers available to them to help root criminal landlords out of the sector.
- Civil Penalties In England, civil penalties are an alternative to prosecution for a variety of offences under the Housing Act 2004. Previously local authorities would have to bring a criminal prosecution against the landlord or letting agent, a time-consuming process. For any of the listed offences, local authorities will now be able to fine the landlord as an alternative to bringing a prosecution against them. Landlords can be fined £30,000 per Civil penalties can be issued to landlords for a range of reasons, including failure to comply with an improvement notice and offences in relation to the licensing of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)
- Banning orders. Introduced in April this year, banning orders mean that the landlords who are convicted of offences, may now also be banned from renting out accommodation for a period of time. This could range from 12 months to life, with those landlords who receive a banning order being recorded on a database. If a landlord ignores a banning order, they will face criminal sanctions, from six months in prison to an unlimited fine. Offences that could lead to a banning order include immigration offences, a range fraud offences as well as housing offences such as overcrowding.
- Rent Repayment Orders Rent repayment orders are a means by which a tenant or local authority can seek to have up to 12 months of rent, Housing Benefit, or Universal Credit repaid, usually in addition to other fines. This method is available to the local authority or tenants, where they can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the landlord is guilty of one of the qualifying offences. It is limited to money paid by the body or person making the application. You can learn more about this here , and read about a landlord who last month became the first to receive a rent repayment order from Rent Smart Wales.
- Rogue landlord database. In April, the Government launched its rogue landlord database. This nationwide database is separate to the rogue landlord database which has also be introduced in all 33 boroughs of London,