Channel Four’s long running ‘Dispatches’ programme took an in-depth look at a subject very close to the NLA’s heart this week, the private-rented sector.
Entitled ‘Landlords from Hell’ and presented by veteran journalist Jon Snow, the programme sought to expose the sorry state of the private-rented sector and the shocking actions of those operating below the water-line at the murky bottom of the PRS.
The two cases highlighted were indeed shocking examples of how poorly one human being can treat his fellows in the name of business. The two individuals showed no respect for their responsibilities as landlords and displayed utter contempt for their unfortunate tenants –seemingly without facing any considerable sanctions in return.
Above all these people showed that they do not deserve to be described as landlords.
The term ‘landlord’ may not necessarily conjure up an image of noble ideals for the majority, but so far as we are concerned it does mean something.
Being a landlord means that you have agreed to:
- provide your tenants with a home in exchange for regular rental payments,
- repair and maintain your tenant’s home for the duration of their tenancy,
- to allow your tenants to live in a property free from harassment,
- forfeit possession of a property until such time that a tenancy legally ends,
- show your tenants the same degree of respect that you expect to receive.
These ‘landlords from hell’ appeared to display none of the above, choosing instead, to flout the law.
In any other walk of life these people would be considered criminals and dealt with appropriately. The private-rented sector should be no different, the continued existence of these criminal rogue operators makes us all look bad.
There is no defence for these offenders, but it does beg the question; Why so few prosecutions?
There will, no doubt, be much debate following this programme about the need for more regulation of the PRS. However, is more the right response? This is not a new problem, and successive governments have introduced legislation, extended local powers, and modified the various standards regimes.
The problem is that regulation only works when it is implemented and enforced appropriately. The NLA works with such organisations to give guidance on this.
Far from being powerless, enforcement agencies have quite an arsenal at their disposal to target rogue, criminal landlords for example:
- Environmental health officers are able to serve prohibition or improvement notices in respect of poorly maintained, or dangerous property under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) requiring emergency repairs or even closing down sufficiently poor properties. In severe cases emergency repairs can even be carried out without the landlord’s involvement (although at his expense).
- HHSRS allows agencies to inspect any property – regardless of tenure – allowing them to identify those landlords known to operate below the radar.
- A local housing authority may use a management order to take control of the management of a poorly managed property, either temporarily or permanently, in circumstances where a landlord has neglected his responsibilities.
- Landlords who fail to appropriately license their properties can also be fined up to £20,000 and find themselves subject to a rent repayment order of many thousands more.
Not to mention the many criminal sanctions which a landlord may face if there is any allegation of harassment or illegal eviction, up to and including a custodial sentence.
The real discussion must surely be about why there is such limited enforcement of these existing powers and why instead there is an ongoing clamour for more licensing and arbitrary restrictions of accommodation when demand has never been higher.
No doubt the answer lies in funding.
We all know that enforcement against the bad guys is more expensive than blanket restrictions, but surely it would make sense for everyone if local authorities were able to used the extensive powers they already have to make an example of the very worst criminals masquerading as landlords, abusing their position, their tenants, and devaluing the term ‘landlord’.