Councils and rogue landlord provisions
The Housing and Planning Bill has made House of Lords stage and is pretty much a done deal, so I thought it would be a good time to take a race through the main provisions.
The national press tends, quite understandably to focus on the increased right to buy provisions and the equally controversial starter homes initiative. I however, equally understandably am interested in the increased provisions for tackling rogue landlords.
I attended a consultation meeting at the Home Office back in August on this and there have been quite a few changes since that time following the comments made by the attendees from different interest groups.
So what do serial offenders and enforcement officers have to look forward to?
Banning orders are first out of the trap. This new provision applies to landlords and letting agents, both as individuals or companies and can result in a landlord being banned from renting property or a letting agent being banned from operating in the lettings industry.
The order would be in place for at least 12 months and breaches of the order would be a prison-worthy offence and a financial penalty of not more than £30,000..
Now the more cynical among you would probably spot numerous get-rounds to this for the seriously committed rogue operator. I am one of the cynical, having seen how prevalent alias’s and fake companies are. but at least the Bill is ahead of the game, Clause 26 dealing with transfers of interests to avoid prosecution. The clause stating, “This is designed to prevent persons from getting around a banning order by transferring their property to family members or to a company that they own.”
Rogue Landlord Database
Sitting alongside the banning order is a rogue landlord database. Again this applies to landlords and letting agents. Anyone finding themselves subject to a banning order would go on it for a period of 2 years.
The government is to develop the database which will then be maintained and populated by local councils. There are, as you would expect appeal processes and strict rules on notice and placing on the list to avoid landlord accidentally ending up on it merely because a fat finger on the computer keyboard.
At the Home Office meeting there was discussion about who would be able to access the database, with Shelter and myself arguing that the public should have access so that tenants could check out a landlord or agent before signing on the dotted, but unsurprisingly they opted to just allow council enforcement officer to have access to it, and even then only for specified purposes, investigating contraventions of the Housing Act 2004 (HMO licensing) and breaches of landlord and tenant law.
Rent Repayment Orders
These are to be widened out beyond rent recovery for unlicensed HMOs to include the following:-
- S6 Criminal law Act 1977 – violence to secure entry
- Protection from Eviction Act 1977 – illegal eviction and harassment
The widening of the offences that an RRO can be used for would encourage even me to be more proactive about Protection from Eviction Act prosecutions, carrying the potential for a far greater penalty than a measly fine and community service as we currently see for harassment and illegal eviction.
What about letting Councils keep the Money?
The thing that will really make the difference is something I cant find anywhere in the explanatory notes (doesn’t mean it isn’t in there) but it is the proposal that was the big hot topic back in August of allowing councils to keep all penalties levied without sending most back to government.
Much is made of licensing schemes as cash cows for councils but in fact you can’t use money raised from licensing to do anything other than run the licensing scheme. You can’t use it for enforcement and this is why so many councils are reluctant to enforce.
They currently have to employ people to do work with nothing coming back the other way. Allowing councils to keep the penalties would allow them to employ people to do the job.
If, as we see with the new banning order breach penalty of £30,000, penalties of this level would be harvested then one penalty would be enough to employ one enforcement officer, with na bit of top up from the authority itself.
The devil is in the detail of course and there is a lot more detail in the notes than I have presented with this 100 yard dash version.
In my experience, for every law there is in housing the committed rogue landlord will bust a gut to find a way around it. I sometimes think it is merely on a point of professional pride, but at least it represents a sea change in the attitude of government towards the worst in what has been up to now a pretty thinly regulated industry.
The first thing I shall be looking at when it comes in is how quick local authorities are to see the value in it. As a provider of training on these sorts of things to councils I’m a good barometer. Usually I get requests for training on a law about a year after it has actually gets enacted.
My fears with this one is most councils are so myopically focussed on cuts at the moment that any new initiative coming in is equivalent to grabbing their heads and forcing it in the opposite direction. And it makes your arms ache, trust me.