Criminal landlords should have their properties confiscated, says a new report by MPs.
The report also calls for greater powers to be handed to local authorities to crack down on landlords who exploit vulnerable tenants.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee – made up of both Labour and Conservative MPs, including estate agent Kevin Hollinrake and former housing minister Mark Prisk – has issued its report into the private rented sector today.
It says while most tenants are happy with their homes, a “significant minority” of rental properties are “shockingly inadequate”. While the proportion of poor homes has declined over the last decade, the actual number has increased with the growth of the sector.
The report says there are 800,000 private rental homes that have at least one Category One hazard; however, 44% feared they would be kicked out if they complained.
The committee also says that enforcement of existing legislation has been far too low and inconsistent, with six out of ten councils not prosecuting a landlord in 2016.
The committee said that local authorities have insufficient resources to undertake their enforcement duties.
While it welcomed new powers introduced in recent years, it said these were “meaningless if local authorities do not, or cannot, enforce them”.
The report, which says there is a “clear imbalance” of power between landlords and tenants, calls for:
- Greater legal protection for tenants against retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment;
- A new fund to support local councils undertaking enforcement activities;
- Informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities;
- Requiring local authorities to publish their enforcement strategies online;
- A new housing court;
- A review of existing legislation relating to the private rented sector to see whether it can be simplified.
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.”
Among those giving evidence to the inquiry were ARLA Propertymark; NALS: Countrywide; Hunters Property Group – co-founded by Kevin Hollinrake MP; the National Landlords Association; and the Residential Landlords Association.
Alan Ward, chair of the RLA, said in response to today’s report: “Tenants and good landlords are being let down by local authorities unable to properly enforce the powers they already have.
“Whilst the MPs call for greater powers to protect tenants when they raise complaints about standards in a property, the reality is that these protections already exist.
“The problem is that over-stretched councils simply do not have the resources to properly use such powers to protect tenants from the minority of landlords who are criminals and have no place in the sector.
“It is vital also that ministers adopt the committee’s recommendation for the speedy establishment of a new housing court.
“At present the courts are not fit for purpose when seeking to uphold tenant and landlord rights.”
NALS CEO Isobel Thomson said: “NALS believes the majority of tenants enjoy safe and secure tenancies, but there are those – whether agents or landlords – who consistently flout the law with no penalty. We are pleased to see that the report underlines what consumers need most – proper, effective enforcement.
“The proposal for a Law Commission review of legislation is an interesting one, but we would be concerned that it may take some time to deliver. For those in the PRS who are facing difficulties now they need a solution sooner rather than later.”