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Rogue landlords should face stronger sentencing tougher license conditions and potential blacklisting says LGA

Councils need greater powers to tackle rogue landlords taking advantage of residents struggling to find decent housing in the private rented sector. All too often landlords found ripping off their tenants have not been flagged by pre-licence tests and have shrugged off paltry fines when councils have taken them to court.

In response to a government consultation, the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, has called for tougher sentencing guidelines for magistrates and a wider range of penalties so that the small minority of rogue landlords who exploit their tenants are properly held to account for renting out sub-standard accommodation.

Councils are also calling for support to make robust decisions around what constitutes a "fit and proper person" to hold a landlord licence and have broadly supported the idea of a blacklist of persistent rogue landlords. However they have asked that government clarify how a blacklist will be funded and where the administrative burden of maintaining it would fall.

In addition to how rogue landlords can be held to account, councils are also keen to see stronger powers put in place to allow them to release surplus public land to support large scale investment in the private rented sector.

"For the private rented sector to succeed, it needs a local response, led by councils. That means giving councils the tools to be truly effective against landlords who take advantage of tenants.

"The courts need to punish rogue landlords proportionately and there should be a consistent standard when it comes to licensing. But we also need to tackle this problem at source by finding ways to ensure there is an adequate supply of good quality housing in the private rented sector.

"We know that the majority of tenants in the private rented sector are satisfied with their accommodation, but that shouldn't distract from the fact there are far too many rogue landlords creating misery for people who often see themselves as having little choice but to put up with it.

"It is no coincidence that problems are more prevalent in areas where economic conditions and the local housing market have driven demand higher than supply and we need to recognise that the real solution is creating conditions where landlords can't afford to neglect their responsibilities and exploit their tenants.GA Housing spokesman Cllr Peter Box

In response to a Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) technical discussion paper titled, ‘Tackling rogue landlords and improving the private rental sector', the LGA has put forward a number of recommendations. These include:

The introduction of sentencing guidelines on housing act offences as a priority to ensure consistent and appropriate fines. For more serious housing offences, the Housing Act could be amended to bring in a new range of penalties from a fine up to a community order or custodial sentence.

A ‘blacklist' of persistent offenders would be useful to councils to support the issuing of licenses to landlords and other enforcement work, as long as the administrative burden and cost of compiling a list does not fall on local authorities.

The "fit and proper person" test for landlords should be strengthened to provide a clear framework to remove the uncertainty for councils and landlords and to provide a robust basis for accepting or refusing a license.

Government should amend the notice period and compensation arrangements for Article 4 planning powers so that councils can respond effectively to local concerns over concentrations of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

Councils should be given "power to direct" surplus public land to improve the quality of the private rented sector through large scale investment.

Councils work in partnership with investors and landlords of all tenures to raise standards across the private rented sector and encourage investment to meet demand through effective use of planning powers, coordinating action and investment.

Councils also invest in new and existing private rented housing and work closely with landlords, using their enforcement powers as a last resort to tackle unacceptable standards and criminal landlords.

Case studies

Wolverhampton City Council made an emergency prohibition order evacuating tenants from one house because it was so dangerous. There were 11 serious contraventions, including no electricity, gas, water; fire escapes missing so doors opened onto an outside drop of three stories; no fire alarm or fire doors. The front door could not be locked and a stranger was found sleeping on a tenant's sofa. The landlord was fined just £2,600 and the council was left out of pocket by almost £5,500 from costs.

A landlord who failed to comply with an improvement notice for a mice and cockroach-infested house was fined just £3,000. Ten tenants, including two children, were forced to share a damp and mouldy kitchen and wait 10 months for the work to carried out.

A landlord was fined just £100 for a property after six tenants were forced to live in a property for 12 months without fire alarms and a proper escape route. The landlord had failed to comply with an improvement notice.

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