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“The term 'rogue landlord' is widely understood in the lettings industry to describe a landlord who knowingly flout their obligations by renting out unsafe and substandard accommodation to tenants, many of whom may be vulnerable.”
(Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in response to a parliamentary question asking what the Government’s technical or legal definition of a ‘rogue landlord’ is).
The private rented sector has rapidly grown in recent years: the number of private rented homes more than doubled from 2.0 to 4.1 million between 1996 and 2012, compared to a total of 3.8 million homes in the social housing sector.
There are a small minority of landlords who ignore their obligations and knowingly rent out unsafe and overcrowded accommodation. Issues can include overcrowding, poor sanitation, electrical faults, damp, vermin infestation, hazardous living conditions, unsafe/unsuitable accommodation (‘beds in sheds’). In extreme cases, criminal landlords have links to organised crime, gangmaster activity and human trafficking.
In recent years the Government has taken a number of steps to tackle the issue of rogue landlords.
In December 2016 the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation seeking views on which offences should constitute ‘banning order offences’.
The Immigration Act 2016 created new criminal offences for rogue landlords who repeatedly fail to carry out right to rent checks or fail to take steps to remove illegal immigrants from their property.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 contains new provisions to deal with rogue landlords, which will be enacted in stages from April 2017.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
The Act introduced a package of measures which aim to enable local authorities to effectively tackle rogue or criminal landlords. The new Act introduces:
- Extension of Rent Repayment Orders (requiring a landlord to repay rent paid by a tenant, or to repay to a local housing authority housing benefit or universal credit which had been paid in respect of rent) to cover a wider range of situations. Councils can now impose rent repayments on landlords guilty of offences including illegal eviction, harassment of a property’s occupier, and using violence to secure entry. (Into force 6th April 2017). Accompanying statutory guidance has been issued: Rent Repayment Orders under the Housing and Planning Act 2016: Statutory Guidance for Local Housing Authorities on the Extension of Rent Repayment Orders (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rent-repayment-orders-under-the-housing-and-planning-act-2016);
- Banning Orders - local authorities can apply to the first-tier tribunal for a Banning Order to prevent a particular landlord/letting agent from continuing to operate in the private rental sector where they have committed certain housing offences. (Scheduled to come into force on 1st October 2017));
- Provision for the creation of a central database of rogue landlords and letting agents, who have been convicted of banning order offences. (Scheduled to come into force on 1st October 2017). Requires local authorities to establish and maintain a database of rogue landlords and property agents, and to submit this intelligence for scrutiny at a national level;
- Civil penalties of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for certain specified offences. (Into force 6th April 2017). Councils will be able to retain all this income, to be used for private sector housing enforcement. Being able to issue civil penalties will allow local authorities to take action against rogue landlords for certain offences without having to seek prosecution, which can often be a costly and lengthy process. If a person fails to pay all or part of the financial penalty, the local authority may recover the penalty by County Court enforcement;
- Local housing authorities will be able to impose a civil penalty as an alternative to prosecution for the following offences under the Housing Act 2004:
- Failure to comply with an Improvement Notice;
- Offences in relation to licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation;
- Offences in relation to licensing of houses under Part 3 of the Act;
- Offences of contravention of an overcrowding notice;
- Failure to comply with management regulations in respect of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
Accompanying statutory guidance has been issued: Civil Penalties under the Housing and Planning Act 2016: Guidance for Local Housing Authorities (https://www.gov.uk
The maximum penalty is £30,000. The amount of penalty is to be determined by the local housing authority in each case. In determining an appropriate level of penalty, local housing authorities should have regard to the guidance at paragraph 3.5 which sets out the factors to take into account when deciding on the appropriate level of penalty.
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