A leading letting agent has cautiously welcomed government plans for higher fines for rogue landlords and the forced repayment of rent – but fears the proposals may end up on a “long and lengthening list of ignored laws”.
A Department for Communities and Local Government paper titled “Tackling rogue landlords and improving the private rental sector” outlines a number of proposals for a shake-up of rented housing, including:
- A blacklist of rogue landlords and letting agents and “fit and proper” test for landlords.
- Fines as high as £5000 for offences like overcrowding, disrepair, electrical faults and damp.
- Greater use of rent repayment orders for landlords and agents failing to comply with the law or local authority orders.
- Allowing local authorities to issue on-the-spot civil penalty notices and fines against landlords rather than having to prosecute offenders through the courts.
The study concluded that not only are 84% of private renters satisfied with their accommodation but that 92.5% of privately rented properties are of a satisfactory standard – but acknowledged that a tiny minority of landlords are causing “acute and complex problems”.
Property expert Ajay Jagota of sales and lettings firm KIS cautiously welcomed the proposals, but voiced concerns about their implementation.
The property firm is famous for being the first letting agents in the UK to abolish deposits, replacing them with a one-of-a-kind landlord insurance policy offering guaranteed rent, deposit replacement, legal assistance and round the clock third party emergency home repairs.
A KIS investigation earlier in the year into the government’s mandatory Letting Agent Redress Scheme, which launched last year, found that not a single agent had been prosecuted under the scheme in the North East – with at least one local authority seemingly unaware that enforcing the scheme was their responsibility.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these proposals in principle – in fact I think they’re great – it’s the practice I worry about.
“The private rented sector is in dire need of reform – and with research from PWC this week suggesting that the number of renters could exceed the number of homeowners within 10 years, it can’t come soon enough.
“Current punishments are clearly doing next to nothing to put off rogue landlords. When people get fined just £1500 for renting out properties described as “severely overcrowded and in extremely poor condition” and then go back to business as usual, it’s clear they’re happy just write it off as a business expense.
“The question I always ask, however, is this: Who is going to enforce these rules? Just look at the Letting Agent Redress scheme. Many agents have simply failed to sign up, and our research showed that not a single North East local authority has undertaken any enforcement action using the powers whatsoever.
“We’ve also seen in recent days about how only 0.2% of landlords were taking part in the landlord accreditation scheme launched with great fanfare last year in London.
“The industry needs change. The last thing it needs is another entry on the long and lengthening list of ignored laws”