The government is taking action to protect private renters (part 1)

The government is taking action to protect private renters (part 1)

The government’s drive to improve private renting has got a spring in its step. Not only has the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published its next steps for bringing in letting agent regulation and mandatory client money protection, but banning orders and the rogue landlord and letting agent database, as promised in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, come into force this week.

Over two blogs we’ll look at how, together with the ban on letting agent fees, these proposals should help improve the experience of millions of private renters, who up until this point have been all too open to exploitation by unscrupulous landlords and letting agents. In the first of our two blogs, we’ll look at the introduction of banning orders and the rogue landlord and letting agent database.

What these changes mean

Banning orders and the rogue landlord and letting agents’ database – two of the new powers arising from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 – come into force today, 6 April 2018.

These changes mean that landlords and lettings agents who are convicted of housing, immigration and other serious offences can be banned from letting out their properties, earning an income from lettings or working as part of managing agents while the banning order is in force, which will be a minimum of 12 months.

Offences that can result in banning orders include:

  • illegally evicting or harassing a tenant
  • using violence to enter a property
  • failing to comply with improvement notice/prohibition order
  • failing to adhere to HMO (houses in multiple occupation) rules or management regulations
  • providing false or misleading information
  • failing to adhere to an overcrowding notice

The rogue landlords and letting agent’s database will record details of any landlord or letting agent who is the subject of a banning order. It can also include anyone convicted of a banning order offence, or someone who has received two civil penalties as an alternative to prosecution, in a 12-month period. Councils can decide whether to apply for a banning order for any landlord or agent convicted of a banning order offence. The database will help local authorities to share intelligence across their boundaries about landlords or agents who pose a risk to tenants.

Disappointingly, access to the database will be limited to central government and local authorities. There are no current plans to make it available to the public or to other bodies who could benefit from knowing who is a rogue landlord, for example letting agents.

The case for public access

Local authority environmental health and trading standards teams are responsible for enforcement against negligent landlords and letting agents and will be responsible for updating and maintaining their rogue landlord databases.  To be added to the database, landlords or agents must have been through the prosecution process or received a banning order. This information is already publicly accessible, but with considerable difficulty – individuals would have to search through media and court reports to establish if their landlord or agent has a conviction.

Allowing the public access to this database would support the government’s moves towards greater transparency and accessibility to information for the public, as well as enabling other organisations (e.g. buy-to-let mortgage providers; landlord and agent professional bodies) to provide education for, and support enforcement against, negligent landlords and agents. It would enable tenants to easily check if a potential landlord or letting agent is on the database, before choosing to rent a property from them. This will help tenants to make more informed choices about who they rent from and could prevent them from ending up living in poor conditions.

Tenants could also support enforcement by reporting their landlord or letting agent to the relevant local authority, if they discover their landlord/agent is on the database and should not be operating. However, tenants may be reluctant to do this for fear that they could lose their home and may find it difficult to find another affordable home.

Ahead of the England-wide database, the London Mayor launched a rogue landlord and letting agent database in London. This has a public facing rogue landlord and agent checker, a more in-depth database for local authorities and enforcement agents and a reporting tool for tenants. Landlords and agents can appeal if they believe that they should not have been added. The non-public database contains more detailed information and, whilst most information is kept on the public database for only a year, the private database will keep it for 10 years.

As we have set out before, the introduction of banning orders and the database, alongside increased fixed penalty notices and rent repayment orders introduced since April last year, do give local councils significant additional tools with which to identify and tackle negligent landlords and letting agents. But we will need to understand how local councils are using these powers and what difference they actually make to improving private renting.

Part 2 of this blog will look in more detail at improvements to letting agent regulation and client money protection.

The government is clearly taking action to increase regulation in the private rented sector. However, it is unclear whether this regulation is always leading to better outcomes for renters. The private rented landscape is still characterised by imperfect policy and legislative solutions, inadequate enforcement resources and a lack of empowerment and consumer rights for tenants.

We are going to be looking more closely at this in the coming months to see what more needs to happen to ensure that all renters have a safe and decent place to call home.