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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Positive developments taking shape in the private rented sector

17/04/2019


CIH policy and practice officer David Pipe blogs on the scrapping of section 21 and publication of the rogue landlords guidance for local authorities in the context of broader reforms taking shape in the private rented sector.

There has been much discussion of the future of the private rented sector this week with the announcement that government intends to end so called ‘no fault’ evictions and instead give tenants open ended tenancies. This announcement has understandably captured headlines as potentially the biggest change to the sector for more than 20 years.

It is worth remembering though that greater security for renters is only one element of the government’s strategy to reform private renting. We should think of it as part of a package of measures that also includes the introduction of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, a ban on letting agent fees (due to come into force in June), plans to regulate letting agents (announced some time ago but with detail still to follow) and renewed efforts to crack down on rogue landlords.

The last of these has also been in the news this week with The Guardian revealing that 12 months after the introduction of Banning Orders for the very worst offenders, none have yet been issued and only four individuals have had their details added to the new rogue landlords database. To some extent this is understandable. Both Banning Orders and the accompanying database are intended mainly for repeat or very serious offenders, so the numbers may never be all that big. They can also only be used for offences committed since April 2018 and with lengthy court processes to navigate, it could simply take some time for more cases to filter through.

But that is unlikely to be the whole story. Feedback from councils suggests that some are making good use of their new powers, particularly the option to issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 to landlords who break the law as an alternative to criminal prosecution. These were introduced in April 2017 and are ‘game changing’ for some councils. They are less onerous than pursuing a prosecution and at the end of the process councils can retain the money from the fine paid by the landlord to help cover the costs of enforcement work.

However, other councils are not yet using their new powers at all, often because resources are scarce. Years of cuts to local authority funding mean that many councils simply don’t have the officers available to proactively enforce standards in their local area. The result is therefore a very mixed picture.

We all want to see more action being taken to enforce minimum standards and in particular to deal with the very worst offenders who operate at the bottom end of the market. Local authorities now have the tools and powers to do that, what they need is a little bit more support. We’ve previously called for government to provide ‘seed funding’ to enable them to take on additional officers (with the proceeds from civil penalties helping to get these teams onto a more sustainable footing over the longer term) and to provide good practice guidance to support them to make better use of the legal powers that they have at their disposal.

So it is good news that the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have now published fresh guidance for local authorities on tackling rogue landlords. The document pulls together guidance covering all of the different approaches available to council officers who need to take enforcement action against private landlords in their area, including both new and existing powers. It is essential reading for anyone working in this area.

It may take some time for government to nail down the detail of its plans for open ended tenancies. There will need to be a consultation on the detail (expected to be published shortly) and then presumably legislation will need to be passed. It could be several years before any actual change comes into effect. However, in the meantime, with the new guidance following the introduction of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act and coming shortly before the ban on letting agent fees takes effect, it is positive that some other elements of the government’s plans for the sector are now beginning to come to fruition.

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