Election 2024 – We need proper enforcement of housing standards in the Private Rented Sector

Election 2024Although tenants complain about the lack of standards in their rented property – rightly, in many cases, this is not due to lack of legislation and regulation.

We have plenty of laws already on this:

  • The repairing covenants in section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
  • The Fitness for Human Habitation Rules in sections 9 and 10 of the same act
  • The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) used by Local Authorities to assess the condition of properties
  • The gas safety and electricity regulations which require regular inspections

To name just a few.  Many landlord organisations regularly cite up to 400 pieces of legislation that landlords must comply with (although I have yet to see a list).

The problem is not that we don’t have legislation outlawing poor property standards. The problem is that this legislation is not properly enforced.

The problem of enforcement – Local Authorities

Some of this legislation creates a criminal offence if the rules are not followed. For example, failure to comply with an improvement notice after a HHSRS inspection has found a category 1 hazard.

However, the enforcement body is not the police – they know little about housing law as it does not normally form part of their training.

The main enforcement organisations for housing law are Local Authorities/Councils.

The problem with this is that they rarely take proper enforcement action.

The reasons are not far to seek. Local Authorities have seen their funding severely cut under the Tories, particularly during austerity. Many of them have had to let their housing teams go and are left with ‘one man and his dog’.

It is increasingly difficult for them to deal with their statutory rehousing responsibilities, let alone enforce housing standards.

Its all a question of allocation of resources. Some Local Authorities have taken the decision to prioritise housing issues and so tenants there have more protection.

However, others simply do not have the staff to deal with this and cannot afford to take on new staff or the training that would be required.

Indeed, many Local Authorities are on the point of issuing section 114 notices (the Local Authority equivalent of going bankrupt). Some have already done so.

The problem of enforcement – Tenants

Other laws create obligations under the civil law, which can be enforced by tenants. For example the repairing covenants and fitness for human habitation rules found in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

The problem with this is that tenants who try to enforce their rights are at risk of retaliatory eviction.

Admittedly, some legislation has been passed to prevent this problem, but it has not really worked. The protection only applies if a Local Authority improvement notice is served (and as discussed above, this is increasingly unlikely to happen) and anyway, the protection only lasts for six months.

The main problem here, though, is the shortage of available properties to rent.  Which means that if tenants are evicted, they are unlikely to find anywhere else to live.

Most tenants, particularly those on a low income (who are those most likely to be affected by poor standards) do not want to risk this.

If we had more housing available in the private rented sector, tenants living in poor conditions would just be able to move somewhere else.

The problem of criminal landlords in the private rented sector

Where there is a lack of enforcement of the law, we are more likely to see criminals taking advantage of this.

In many areas, landlords are able to provide poor standard accommodation with impunity.

  • Local Authorities struggling to avoid the need to issue a Section 114 notice are unable to take action against them.
  • Tenants, terrified of being made homeless, feel unable to challenge them

And so it goes on.

What about the good landlords?

Contrary to what you might assume from reading the press, there are many excellent landlords who provide decent properties for their tenants and look after them.

They are also adversely affected by this:

– They are ‘tainted’ by all the negative reporting.

To the extent that many no longer want to be called landlords!

It is also one reason why many landlords are selling up and leaving the sector

– It is not a level playing field.

Bad landlords charge high rents but spend little or nothing maintaining them or complying with their other statutory duties.

Compliance with the rules, which all good landlords do, is not cheap.  It is unfair that some landlords comply with their obligations, while others seem able to ignore them with impunity.

– Enforcement sometimes tends to focus on the good landlords rather than the criminals.

For example, if there is a licensing scheme, good landlords will apply for a license and will then be penalised if they fail to do the upgrade work required as a condition of being granted a license. Whereas the bad and criminal landlords will just ignore any licensing obligations.  Thus avoiding inspections and requirements to upgrade.

Generally, good landlords feel ‘disrespected’ by the authorities and the media when all they are trying to do is provide a good service for their tenants. This is causing many to leave the sector. Which will only make things worse for tenants.

What needs to be done:

– Criminal liability

So far as criminal liability is concerned, there is no point in creating more criminal offences if the enforcing body is not in a position to enforce them.

Local Authorities need to be properly funded so they can emply the staff and have them properly training. Once this is done, they can supplement their funding by issuing penalty charge notices.

But they cannot do this unless they have the staff.

– Civil penalties

As regards the civil penalties, tenants will only feel empowered to do this if:

  • They are not at risk of eviction, and
  • They are able to obtain legal help

All parties have committed to abolish section 21, and if Labour gets in, as is likely, this will probably happen within months. So this should enable tenants to contemplate legal action against their bad landlords without the fear of eviction.

So far as legal help is concerned, the best way to provide this is to give decent funding to Law Centres and CABx to allow them to employ suitably qualified legal staff.

This is not something that has been mentioned in the tenant press. However, it is important as disrepair and similar claims are not easy claims to bring. Even if the law is simplified, most tenants will need professional help.

The best solution

However, the best way to deal with the problem is to build more housing. Something promised by all parties but which I suspect is more likley to happen with a Labour government.

If rented homes were plentiful, no-one would live in the poor accommodation – they would naturally choose better quality homes provided by the good landlords.

Best of all, if we could have more council housing, this would make it easier for low-income families. I will be looking at this in a future post.

The post Election 2024 – We need proper enforcement of housing standards in the Private Rented Sector appeared first on The Landlord Law Blog.





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