On Monday, the government announced that they will use the Housing Bill to crack down on rogue landlords. They published a raft of new, tough measures.
Disappointingly, this was wrapped up with some pretty objectionable plans to ‘make Britain an even harder place for illegal migrants’. We have already spoken out against these plans – and many others have warned that they will lead to discrimination and homelessness.
This angle was particularly frustrating, as buried underneath the angry rhetoric are positive and radical measures that should be celebrated. Today, I am going to focus on them. This step forward should be recognised – and importantly, there is only a four week window for anyone and everyone to have their say; we want you to take advantage of this!
The government want to:
- Create a blacklist of rogue landlords and letting agents – and ban the worst offenders all together. Bad landlords will be cut out of the market, protecting tenants from their nefarious ways.
- Allow local authorities access to tenancy deposit data, helping them to better understand their local private rented sector. At the moment, short of door-to-door canvassing, local authorities have no way of accounting for all the privately rented homes in their area. This makes it difficult for them to effectively target their scant resources.
- Create a new set of civil penalties that will allow local authorities to levy on the spot fines for poor behaviour– rather than just relying on costly, lengthy court procedures.
- Introduce minimum fines for certain housing offences– ensuring landlords are not let off the hook with paltry fines that will not act as a deterrent.
- Allow tenants who have suffered poor conditions or been a victim of illegal eviction to claim back their rent. Where housing benefit has paid this rent, local authorities will be allowed to use it to help with their enforcement work.
- Introduce tougher fit and proper person tests for landlords that require a licence. The tenants most at risk of exploitation often live in shared housing. These landlords usually require a licence – and the government want landlords to pass much more stringent tests before they are awarded one.
These proposals are very exciting. Taken together, they disrupt the ‘rogue landlord business model’; for too long, exploiting renters has been a viable business pursuit. This criminal minority is putting renters at risk – as well as undercutting good, law abiding landlords. We wholeheartedly welcome the government’s attempt to take them on.
Local authorities will have additional resources to find and punish rogue landlords; the worst landlords will no longer be able to operate; and the deterrents are much greater. This should mean more renters live in a safe and decent home.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is consulting on all these measures – if you want to have a say, you can do so by following this link. Shelter will of course be scrutinising them in detail to ensure that they are robust – and that crucial opportunities won’t be missed.
The Housing Bill will be debated in the autumn – and we still think there is scope for it to go further. Letting agents should be subject to much greater regulation. And landlords should be subject to mandatory electrical safety checks. The whole sector agrees with this – landlords, letting agents bodies and tenants alike – so there is no reason to omit these vital reforms.
Of course, more broadly the sector needs even greater reform to make it affordable, stable and fit for families.
But this is a welcome step forward – and taken in conjunction with the ban on retaliatory eviction, which is coming into effect in October – it is a very significant shift from where we were just a few years ago.
Over the past couple of years, renters have finally been given a voice. Their energy – and the herculean efforts of the sector – have ensured renting is an issue that can no longer be ignored.