A new report published by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has shown MPs want to review the laws surrounding private rental sector standards, as well as strengthening council enforcement measures to tackle the 800,000 privately rented properties with a Section One hazard “such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring”. These include a specialist housing court, increased fines and more robust enforcement strategies from local councils.
Most importantly, the report recommends councils should have the right to confiscate buy to let properties from landlords “who commit the most egregious offences… whose business model relies on the exploitation of their tenants”, alongside empowering tenants to pursue complaints about repairs. This new range of recommendations comes from the consultations finding that 44% of tenants fear a retaliatory eviction from a landlord arising from making a complaint.
Consulting with lettings trade bodies and organisations such as Shelter, the committees report makes the following recommendations to tackle rogue landlords, tenants’ rights and weak enforcement measures by local authorities:
- Tenants need further protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment so they are fully empowered to pursue complaints about repairs and maintenance in their homes.
- A specialist housing court would provide a more accessible route to redress for tenants and we urge the Government to publish more detailed proposals.
- The Law Commission should undertake a review of private rented sector legislation.
- Enforcement by local authorities has been far too low and inconsistent. They also do not have sufficient resources to undertake their duties.
- A new fund and national benchmarking scheme should be introduced to support local authorities with enforcement. Councils should also publish their enforcement strategies online as well as being able to levy more substantial fines.
- Councils should have power to confiscate properties from landlords committing the most egregious offences and whose business models rely on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants.
- The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) should be replaced with a more straightforward set of quality standards.
Commenting on the new measures, committee chairman Clive Betts said: “The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes.
“Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords, and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties.
“Such powers are however meaningless if they are not enforced, and at the same time councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions.
“Stronger powers, harsher fines and a new commitment to cracking down on unscrupulous practices will go some way towards rebalancing the sector and protecting the many thousands of vulnerable residents who have been abused and harassed by a landlord.”
This government report highlights the ongoing push for greater powers and funding for local authorities, as well as regulation of the private rental sector. While the report agreed the vast majority of tenants in the private rented sector are satisfied with the quality of their homes, landlords and letting agents “there continues to be a significant minority of private rented accommodation which is shockingly inadequate”.