Simon Gordon is Policy Adviser to the Residential Landlords Association.
Criminal landlords have no place in the private rented sector. To guard against this, regulation, when applied properly, provides confidence to landlords and tenants whilst clamping down on the minority of criminal landlords. With over 100 acts of Parliament and 400 regulations covering the sector, it’s wrong to argue that the private rented sector is under-regulated; the issue is one of enforcement.
Harry Phibbs’ excellent piece on this website outlined the role that local authorities should play in cracking down on those operating outside of the law. The question is, with so many measures in place, why can’t they catch more criminals?
In 2013 the Communities and Local Government Select Committee reported on the private rented sector and said that it was: “concerned about reports of reductions in staff that have responsibility for enforcement.” Perhaps more alarmingly the report went on to say that: “the police are sometimes unaware of their responsibilities in dealing with reports of illegal eviction.” Those with the power to act seemingly don’t even know that they have it.
Some have argued that the answer is a national register of landlords. All this will do is create a list of all the good landlords who willingly identify themselves. No criminal landlord would voluntarily sign up to such a register. They would merely continue to operate under the radar and carry on unfettered.
Instead, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) proposes a pragmatic series of reforms that would boost enforcement efforts with no extra cost to the taxpayer.
Firstly, we need to identify the landlords of rental property in a way that does not impose sizeable costs on them and ultimately on tenants.
The RLA is therefore supporting the Private Members Bill proposed by Dame Angela Watkinson MP which would compel local authorities to ask, as part of council tax registration, for a property’s tenure and, where rented, details of the landlord. Where a tenant is unable to identify their landlord this would immediately set alarm bells ringing and indicate to local authorities that there may be a problem and that action should be taken.
Secondly, local enforcement teams need the resources to do their job. That means adopting the polluter pays principle. Local authorities should be able to keep all the fines from successful prosecution of those who breach their legal obligations and these funds should be re-invested in enforcement.
The vast majority of landlords, many of whom are natural Conservative supporters, operate within the law and provide a good service to their tenants. They should not be made to feel they are somehow paying the price for enforcement on bad landlords.
Thirdly, we need better models of regulation. Local authorities cannot be everywhere. Instead we need to create a system that better focuses time and energy on catching criminal landlords.
The RLA proposes a system of co-regulation, whereby landlords would be given the chance to join an industry-run self-regulation scheme, taking them out of the purview of local authority control. This would then free up local authorities to investigate those who do not join the scheme which will include those who know that they do not meet the required standards.
But can it work? Is it robust enough?
The short answer is, yes. Such a scheme is in operation in places such as Leeds and is similar to how building regulations are administered.
According to PwC the private rented sector is likely to account for a quarter of all households by 2025 and as demand exceeds supply, tenants deserve the full protection of the law to ensure that they are not being exploited.