I would imagine, all people in my kinds of job have been avidly reading last week’s series in the Guardian on rogue landlords and the local authority’s failure to adequately tackle the problem.
Speaking about that rogue landlord database …
Some of which I agreed with, apart from the complaint that the much-vaunted rogue landlord database has yet to see a single entry, which to my mind is a daft idea for a story. You can’t make an entry on the database for activities done before the 6th April this year, the council has to compile its evidence and case, the landlord must be warned of their intention to stick them on the list and the landlord has time to appeal, its 6 months in for chrissakes.
Given the way legal processes move, I doubt we’ll realistically see any population of the list until April 2019.
Highly organised gangs of rogue landlords have been allowed to exploit the housing benefit system unscrupulously. Wealthy investors from Britain and abroad target desperate local authorities, making millions by consuming the lion’s share of housing benefits in return for tiny rooms with shoddy and dangerous facilities. Even when landlords are found to have committed housing offences, which show them to be unfit, they continue to collect rent.
The rogue (criminal) landlord landscape is different now
Last week I was chatting with an experienced EHO of my acquaintance, herself with several years in and we were both saying how, during the past 10 years the whole rogue landlord landscape has changed, even since Shelter’s rogue landlord awareness campaign of 2012. Specialists like her and myself are increasingly out-paced by developments, where what is driving the stuff we are trained for is just the visible tip of an iceberg of fraudulent activity that we are not trained in.
We go into these properties all day, we see it, we smell a rat but the machinations are so complex, the Housing Acts are left far behind.
The number of hours I spend tracking people down on the internet, building databases and spreadsheets, connecting names of company directors and dodgy letting agents, only to find I have a plethora of information in front of me but no idea how it all connects up because I’m not a trained fraud investigator.
A fraud squad cop of my ken once called it “Prospecting in the domain of no gain”.
Prospecting in the domain of no gain
Knowing that Mr A also trades as Mr B and is secretary of X Ltd and also director of Y Ltd, while appearing simultaneously to be involved with a number of other companies, even charities, does not really advance the old-fashioned case I deal with of a woman and three kids, sitting in a homelessness unit after having her locks changed by an ill-defined person who may or may not be randomly connected to Mr B, or may not even really exist.
The referral route into a case may be an illegal eviction, an unlicensed property, overcrowding, a bed in a shed but what is underpinning all of this so often is people trafficking, forced prostitution, exploitation, housing benefit scams, property fraud and on and on and on.
The broken-nosed geezer with a baseball bat I was arguing with, in 1990 has long gone, to be replaced by a sharp suit, a flash car, a web of impenetrable aliases and fake companies.
None of the laws in place to deal with the scale and complexity of the problem are anywhere near adequate to today’s reality and I read today that government plans to get the press off of their back by introducing even more regulations through plans to overhaul health and safety standards and tighten up tenant safety.
What a great soundbite.
To be policed again by the local authorities, who have been increasingly denuded of staff in the past 4 years over austerity cuts.
Where are the staff to deal with rogue landlord issues?
I have written before about Dr Stephen Battersby’s report for Karen Buck, published in March 2018 based on the size of the PRS according to the 2011 Census, which is actually a lot bigger now, which reveals that in London there are just 2.4 EHOs for every 10,000 PRS properties.
Now they are going to have these new proposals to tackle as well. What a joke!
The amount of staff left to police the sector has been driven down at the same time that the PRS has grown exponentially and the organised criminals have been moving in.
The government are under increasing pressure to tackle the housing crisis, what better tactic than to go tub-thumping about the rogue landlord sector and win public opprobrium whilst deflecting the responsibility to the local authorities and blaming them for the lack of action, as the Guardian has been helping them to do in its recent spate of articles.
In many ways, the same problem is being experienced by the Police, where cuts in staff mean they are sorely able to deal with crime at all. The Times recently reported that MPs are concerned that the “Police are in danger of becoming irrelevant” when faced with the real world problems because they are, according to the article “So badly overstretched”.
You could write the same article about rogue landlord enforcement teams.
For example – four examples
Between 3:30pm and 5pm on Friday afternoon my crew, Safer Renting, received four referrals of illegal evictions, some in progress and some already completed.
That’s the nature and reality of the rogue landlord problem and personally I’m sick of hearing that “Most landlords are ok” and “The number of rogue landlords is small” that have to, by obligation, precede any mention of criminal activity in the PRS, as if we have to apologise before even talking about it, lest we upset people.
Whether or not these comments are true is neither here nor there for the four people who got illegally evicted late on Friday afternoon or the other four that I‘m still dealing with from the week before.
What is the point of laws if there is no proper enforcement?
Allowing local authorities to keep the penalties it registers, whilst good in theory, is no real practical alternative to a properly funded service.
You have to get the penalties in first in order to pay for the enforcement officers and just like the rogue landlord database, this is fraught with bureaucracy, appeals and the basic problem with what to do if the landlord or agent who has been awarded the penalty cannot be found or simply folds up their limited company without paying a penny.
Peter Rachman, whose actions pre-date Cathy Come Home and upon which so much of modern legislation was based, is long dead and so is his business model.
It’s not so much about thugs anymore, although they still account for a fair amount of work, its about concerted fraudulent activity. There is no point piling on more and more laws when there is nobody left to enforce the bloody things.