Just two councils in Surrey fined or prosecuted landlords for issues such as poor living conditions
Councils in Surrey received more than 600 complaints from tenants in a year, but there have been just four rogue landlords prosecuted.
Owning a home is becoming less affordable. In 2001, 9% of homes in Surrey were private rented, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In 2011, the proportion was 13.5%. As more and more people turn to renting, the issue of holding landlords to account has become more prominent.
Often, it is district and borough councils in Surrey that deal with complaints about private landlords and have powers to prosecute.
But a Freedom of Information request by Surrey Live found just five landlords in the county were prosecuted between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 – four prosecutions were by Woking Borough Council and one was by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council.
Two of 11 councils – Tandridge and Guildford – said they could not or would not provide details of how they dealt with private landlords who have been complained about.
Mole Valley District Council claimed it received zero complaints during the 12 month period.
Five other councils – Spelthorne, Runnymede, Reigate and Banstead, Waverley, Elmbridge and Surrey Heath – revealed they took action against landlords using a range of orders, notices and warnings.
Here, we summarise how each borough or district council responded when we tried to find out how they dealt with landlords reported to them.
Woking – 163 complaints
Woking Borough Council appears to have been the most active when it came to dealing with rogue landlords.
In the 12 month period, the council said it received 163 complaints – 44 of these were for shared houses or houses in multiple occupation (HMO), and 119 were for single households.
The council also revealed it prosecuted three people (a total of six times), leading to fines totalling more than £34,000.
The details of the prosecutions are as follows:
Mrs Prickard received a £8,870 fine for management regulation issues in relation to a property in Ash Road, Woking
Mr Fowler was prosecuted three times for non compliance of three improvement notices and a prohibition order in relation to a property in Bainton Mead, Woking. He received a £13,379 fine.
Manda Malu Johnson
Ms Johnson was prosecuted twice, for properties in Kingfield Road, Kingfield (£3,106) and Station Approach in West Byfleet (£9,056). Both were related to management regulation issues.
Guildford – 163 complaints
Guildford Borough Council also received 163 complaints from tenants.
It would not reveal how it dealt with the complaints on the grounds that retrieving the data would involve “a considerable amount of manual collation” and exceed the cost limits provided by Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act.
The data it chose to present to Surrey Live shows many of the complaints (79) were about living conditions, 45 were about damp and mould, 24 were about tenancy issues, 10 were licensing enquiries and five were about eviction and/or harrassment.
137 of the 163 complaints had outcomes, while 26 were still open, according to the council’s records.
As of November 8, 14 of these unresolved complaints were older than six months (they were made to the council in or before May 2018).
Surrey Heath – 95 complaints
Surrey Heath Borough Council did not prosecute any landlords but it issued notices to five properties in Camberley and Frimley – four hazard awareness notices and one improvement notice.
Landlords complied to the hazard awareness notices within weeks while a landlord issued with an improvement notice was able to comply within six months.
No landlords were prosecuted by Elmbridge Borough Council during the 12-month period.
It also revealed it handed out three improvement notices to three properties in Walton and Weybridge due to “failure to address disrepair”. Landlords complied to the notices in six to seven months, according to the council’s records.
Reigate and Banstead – 89 complaints
In the Reigate and Banstead borough, the council revealed that just seven of the complaints were about conditions in shared homes.
It also provided details of one formal warning it issued in the 12-month period:
Rohini Persand received a formal written warning in relation to her property in Redhill after a complaint was received in January 2017.
The council said she had failed to license a shared house (HMO) of a prescribed description and she had breached the The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006.
While it did not disclose details of other complaints, an information officer said: “This is our investigation process – all complaints received are asked to confirm if they have already contacted their landlord about the issues being complained of, as we have to ensure that the landlord has had the opportunity to resolve matters first.
“Once this is confirmed, we would usually schedule a visit to make an initial assessment of conditions. An assessment under the Housing Health and Safety Rating Scheme would be made, to determine and categorise any hazards found.”
They added: “The course of action taken would be determined in line with our Housing Enforcement Policy, but may include serving an Improvement Notice to formally require improvements to be made within a defined period of time.”
The information officer assured Surrey Live none of the complaints had been shelved with no action taken.
Waverley – 85 complaints
In Waverley, an Emergency Remedial Action Notice was served at a property in Godalming. The issue, Waverley Borough Council said, was “falling between levels”, which includes people or items falling to a lower level of the house, or falling out of the house.
Emergency works were carried out by the council and the issue was resolved in eight days, according to records.
Another property in Farncombe was served an improvement notice for a hazard with the electrics. Works were undertaken and the issue was resolved after two months.
Runnymede – 57 complaints
Runnymede Borough Council provided information on how it dealt with 17 of its complaints.
It acted on these complaints by issuing letters and notices in relation to problems with landlords failing to follow rules for shared homes, fire safety, things or people falling out of the house or to bottom floors, entry by intruders, damp and mould, structural collapse, excess cold, lack of space, overcrowding, personal hygiene, and sanitation and drainage.
Prohibition orders – which forbid anyone from living in the home because of a serious safety risk – were issued three times to homes with fire hazards, excess cold and crowding and space problems.
In February 2018, an emergency prohibition order was given due to issues with fire safety.
Of the 17 complaints the council chose to give details about, 15 were resolved and as of November 5, two were ongoing.
The ongoing complaints were made earlier this year in April and July and include issues with damp and mould, personal hygiene, fire safety and overcrowding.
Spelthorne – 42 complaints
Of the 42 complaints received by Spelthorne Borough Council, 33 were closed and nine remain open – as of November 27.
There were no prosecutions but the council said it visits every property and all inspections are followed up with a letter of any defects fofund.
Mole Valley – 0 complaints
Mole Valley District Council said: “Please be advised that Mole Valley District Council have received 0 reports regarding rogue landlords from tenants during the period specified. There has therefore been no action taken.”
Epsom and Ewell – number of complaints unknown
While Epsom and Ewell Borough Council did not disclose the number of complaints it received, it revealed it had prosecuted one landlord and fined another.
Mr Sagar, 64, who rented out his own home in Middle Lane, Epsom, was prosecuted by the council for 13 counts of breaching regulations for shared (HMO) homes, continuing to live and use the home despite a prohibition order, and failing to comply with an improvement notice.
Documents from Guildford Magistrates court indicate some of the issues included unsafe windows with mould and rot, a window with cracked glazing, a cooker that could not work, heating controls which were locked in a cupboard where occupiers could not access and an inadequate fire detection and alarm system.
Mr Sagar was given a fine of £1,190 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs, according to the council.
The first complaint was made in December 2016, according to council records, and he was sentenced at Guildford Crown Court on October 5.
Martin Philip Miles
Mr Miles, from Walton, was not prosecuted but was given a £5,500 civil penalty fine by the borough council for not complying with an improvement notice.
A complaint was first made in December 2017 and an outcome was made about 10 months later in September 2018.
Tandridge – no record of complaints
Tandridge District Council said it did not have a record of all the landlords who have been reported to the council over the specified 12 month period, but said it receives “about 100 complaints a year”.
The information officer said: “We often receive complains from tenants about issues and we are able to contact the landlord to resolve the situation.
“In the main this is successful as we do not have landlords who I would classify as ‘rogue’. We have not prosecuted any landlords in the last year.
“The majority of complaints relate to issues such as damp and mould and lack of adequate heating, both of which are related.
“We would typically receive an enquiry relating to a housing topic a few times a week; these issues are dealt with initially by letter which invariably resolves the problem.”