Following the launch of an inquiry by The Communities and Local Government Committee into whether councils have adequate powers to tackle rogue landlords, ARLA Propertymark has issued a full response.
The inquiry, which closed on 24 November, asked for evidence in relation to:
- the powers and capacity for local authorities to deal with ‘rogue landlords’
- the main obstacles to effective intervention in the private rented sector
- the effectiveness of landlord licensing schemes
- approaches taken by local authorities to promote affordable private rented sector accommodation
- the effectiveness of complaint mechanisms for tenants in the private rented sector
Speaking at the time the inquiry was launched, David Cox, Chief Executive, ARLA Propertymark, commented:
“ARLA Propertymark welcomes this inquiry. This is a great opportunity to review enforcement in the private rented sector. For years successive governments have introduced law after law with no evaluation of their effectiveness. With what appears to be a coherent strategy on the regulation of the PRS coming from the Government, it is an ideal time to review what has worked and what hasn’t.”
Ultimately, we’d like to see the Government fully regulate sales and lettings agents in order to eliminate rogue agents and landlords, which should include a requirement to be qualified.
In relation to the current situation however, a summary of some of our key points can be found below:
Resources and enforcement
We don’t believe that local authorities have the powers or capacity to tackle rogue landlords effectively, a point evidenced by the low numbers of prosecutions and that even in England’s second city, Birmingham, just five environmental health officers enforce for a population of over one million. This lack of enforcement means that some landlords are flouting the law, which in the case of regulations such as smoke and fire alarms, can lead to tenants lives being put at risk.
As well as resourcing issues, we would like to see prosecuting bodies generate more revenue from prosecutions which can be re-invested back into enforcement, but we acknowledge that some progress has been made following recent legislation. Collaborative working is also key so that the various enforcement agencies can share information and work towards a common goal, such as HomeStamp in the West Midlands.
In our response we argue that the Government should also look at establishing a Lead Enforcement Authority to oversee professional bodies and introduce a single code of practice. Revenue to run the authority would come from a fee, paid for by the professional bodies, and recouped through membership.
We put forward our case for the Government to review the current Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), and look at applying a simpler set of ‘Fit for Human Habitation’ criteria. In addition we argue that more needs to be done to ensure that local authorities comply with their statutory duties.
Licensing schemes penalise good landlords who incur additional costs, whilst allowing landlords that the scheme was designed to target, to continue to operate under the radar. Lack of enforcement is a major factor here and the schemes are expensive to run and have little real impact in improving standards for tenants.
In our response we acknowledge that some licensing schemes have worked better than others, and cite the Newham Selective Licensing scheme, which has just been granted it’s second term, as an example. However, even in Newham borough, although prosecutions have been made, the vast majority have been for immigration offences, not relating to property conditions, which leads us to question the effectiveness of such schemes.
Whilst costing landlords, and often tenants, a lot of money, schemes don’t raise enough revenue to be able to ring-fence the necessary funds to improve enforcement resources.
We believe that the majority of schemes are sending out the wrong message by not offering a discount to members of professional bodies such as ARLA Propertymark. If more local authorities were to do so, more agents and landlords would be encouraged to join professional bodies, which would help to improve standards across the sector.
Tip: If you’re an ARLA Propertymark member you can read more about Selective Licensing schemes in England by downloading our fact sheet.
Other approaches by local authorities
Approaches that work include Primary Authority, an initiative between Propertymark and Warwickshire Country Council Trading Standards Department, which ensures consistency across boundaries which helps landlords and agents know where they stand, protecting them from inconsistent interpretation of the rules.
We argue that although redress schemes work very well, further improvements could be made by giving the responsibility for enforcing the requirement to either Trading Standards or local authority housing departments, which would bring greater consistency and efficiency. At present LAs deal with letting agents, whereas Trading Standards deal with sales agents.
Redress schemes are effective and fair to all involved as there is no cost to either party, with cases usually being resolved early on in the process. Furthermore, the schemes share information about those expelled until they comply with the award.
Lessons can also be learnt from the way tenancy deposit schemes operate, which as well as offering alternative dispute resolution, have resulted in standards being raised elsewhere, such as better worded tenancy agreements and the increased use of professional inventory providers