Wednesday, March 22

UK rental market: The government must do more to combat rogue landlords



Today Brandon Lewis MP announced £5m in government funding to combat the scourge of rogue landlords.

Councils are in desperate need of additional funding to help them fix the problems associated with rogue landlords and there’s no doubt that this public money be put to good use.

They will be better able to target notorious ‘beds in sheds’, cramped hellholes rented out for extortionate sums often to the most vulnerable in society.Alongside these extreme examples, the money will also be used to increase property inspections, carry out more raids, initiate more enforcement actions and (hopefully!) bring about more prosecutions. This is all, of course, tremendously positive.

However, a back-of-an-envelope calculation on how this works makes this much less of a cause for celebration. The government’s £5m fund will be shared between 65 councils – roughly equivalent to £80,000 per council.

Now I’m sure that this money is welcome. But given the size and scale of the private rental sector in this country, and the huge problems it faces, will this be enough to bring about the changes we so desperately need? I fear not.

According to Shelter, almost 500,000 renters had the misfortune to deal with a rogue landlord last year, yet only 487 rogue landlords were successfully prosecuted. This simply does not add up.

The UK suffers from a paucity of legislation to protect tenants and complete resistance among policymakers to bring about the kind of root-and-branch reform the private rental sector needs.

Only last week, MPs voted down proposed new rules that would have compelled private landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation. We are repeatedly told that robust legislation to protect renters is unnecessary, despite the fact we know the current system is failing renters.

The Residential Landlord Association (RLA) is calling on the government to use the Housing and Planning Bill, which is making its way through Parliament right now, to oblige tenants to provide details of their landlord on council tax registration forms.

They believe this would make it easier for councils to identify criminal landlords. I completely agree – it would be a step in the right direction and is exactly the kind of thoughtful policy we need to see more of.

I’d be the last person to complain about the government making public money available to fight for the needs of tenants. But the problems we face are now so deeply entrenched, and are causing so many problems across society, that we need a lot more money, a lot more protection in law and a lot more pragmatic, common sense policy making if we are truly make a difference.