This won’t be the first time you’ve heard Shelter talking about rogue landlords. We’ve been calling on local authorities to take tough, visible enforcement action against these landlords for some time now. The good news is that more than 50 local authorities have already signed a statement of support, committing to do just that.
The bad news is that our new research, released today, shows that this unscrupulous minority are having a significant impact on the health of renters, particularly on the health of children.
To find out more about the work local authorities are doing to combat rogue landlords, I spent a day with one of the local authorities that have signed the statement of support: Islington.
We visited a retired tenant suffering from serious mobility issues. His bedroom had become uninhabitable because of the cold. It had been built as an extension and as a result had three external walls. These walls contained no insulation and left the tenant completely at the mercy of the elements. Both the kitchen and the bathroom also had significant damp.
His quality of life was being severely reduced because of these poor conditions. The Senior Environmental Health Officer (whose duty it is to respond when the health of a tenant is in jeopardy) was visibly appalled: enforcement action will commence immediately.
Later I joined an inspection of suspected houses of multiple occupation where we met a new landlord who had purchased his property 11 months ago. This landlord had inherited four tenants, but had scant knowledge of his legal responsibilities. The house was in need of a deep clean and a number of the fire alarms were visibly damaged. His casual disregard for the wellbeing of the renters that call his property home was staggering.
Both visits brought home just how dangerous elements of the sector are. It is unacceptable that some landlords are still able to put their tenants at risk, especially as more and more children are now growing up in rented homes.
Many are vulnerable. They have very few rights and in a high pressure market they cannot voluntarily escape their surroundings, even if they are making them ill. The dearth of available, affordable housing leaves renters with little or no control over where they live.
It is up to local authorities to take tough, high profile enforcement action that will force these landlords to clean up their act and push the worst culprits out of the sector. But the Government also has to ensure that the penalties these landlords receive are substantial and that the legislation exists to properly protect renters.
My day with Islington showed just how serious the problems are, but also how hard some councils are working to combat them. In the face of increased budgetary pressures Islington have joined forces with local charities and community groups to continue proactively rooting out rogue landlords and uncovering tenants at risk. These sort of innovative techniques, coupled with a genuine desire to protect tenants, prove that when the will is there a lot can be achieved.