Around half of councils in England and Wales haven’t prosecuted a single landlord in the past three years, signalling that there’s big inconsistencies in terms of enforcement.
This is despite there being an increase in the number of complaints from tenants, as local authorities received more than 314,000 complaints about private landlords and letting agents between 2018 and 2021, research from openDemocracy found.
Some of the issues can be traced to a lack of funding for councils, as some authorities say they have been advised to only bring cases to court as a last resort.
Martin Osborne, Brighton and Hove’s lead councillor for the private rented sector, told openDemocracy: “We would welcome extra funding to create more enforcement capacity as government funding has so far failed to address the issue of rogue landlords to date.”
Of the 314,000 complaints around 1,000 cases have led to prosecution.
Councils have the power to fine landlords up to £30,000 and provide banning orders, but few seem to be using these powers.
Previous research from the National Audit Office found that only ten landlords in the whole of England have been barred from renting property since new banning orders were introduced in 2016.
Hammersmith and Fulham has only prosecuted two landlords in three years, despite talk of taking a tough approach to rogue landlords on Facebook. However the council said it has used other measures to get landlords to comply with the rules.
In some cases the system seems stacked against tenants, as a single mother in Nottingham was served an eviction notice despite the property having dozens of safety hazards which the landlord failed to resolve.
She complained to the council about damp, loose wiring, broken doors and rotten windows – but the council failed to issue the landlord with an improvement notice, which would have meant she couldn’t be evicted.
According to the tenant the council officer said they wanted to “give the landlord a chance” instead of taking legal action.
In another occasion it took one landlord three prosecutions by York Council before they were finally banned from renting properties.
Of course, you get rogue tenants as well as landlords, with a case in Manchester being a recent high-profile example.