MPs slam inconsistent landlord enforcement from the DLUHC

A group of MPs have hit out at the inconsistent level of landlord enforcement across the UK, which they say poses “a serious threat to the health and safety of renters”.

The Public Accounts Committee is highly critical of the piecemeal nature of landlord licensing schemes, which typically target specific areas of cities and are limited to a five-year span.

Meanwhile the House of Commons Select Committee said it was “concerned” that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (DLUHC) “poor understanding” of the issues in the sector – including overcrowding, harassment and evictions, and the actual effect of regulation – could hamper its ability to solve problems in the upcoming White Paper due later in the year.

The committee is made up of 16 MPs: Dame Meg Hillier, Labour; Shaun Bailey, Conservative; Dan Carden, Labour; Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative; Mark Francois, Conservative; Louie French, Conservative’; Peter Grant, Scottish National Party; Kate Green, Labour; Antony Higginbotham, Conservative; Craig Mackinlay, Conservative; Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat; Kate Osamor, Labour; Angela Richardson, Conservative; Nick Smith, Labour; Helen Whately, Conservative; and James Wild, Conservative.

Problems facing tenants

The committee said 13% of rented homes pose a serious health and safety threat to renters.

Tenants face increasing rents, a rising number of low-earners and families renting long-term, and the prevalence of “no-fault” evictions leaving households at risk of homelessness

And they try to enforce their legal right to a safe and secure home private renters face an inaccessible, arduous and resource-intensive court process and the risk of retaliatory eviction.

There is also evidence of unlawful discrimination in the sector, with 25% of landlords are unwilling to let to non-British passport holders and 52% unwilling to let to tenants who receive Housing Benefit.

Calls for a ‘change in balance’

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Unsafe conditions, overcrowding, harassment, discrimination and dodgy evictions are still a huge issue in the private rented sector.

“And yet the sector is a growing provider of homes and rents keep rising meaning that safe, suitable housing is too often out of reach for renters. Renters with a problem are faced with a complex and costly redress system which is not fit for purpose and many tenants give up at the first hurdle.

“We need to see a change in balance. We expect DLUHC to produce the promised White Paper in a timely and effective fashion, and start to turn around its record on addressing the desperate housing crisis in this country.”

Lack of tenant protection

According to the Public Accounts Committee local authorities do not have the capacity and capability to properly protect renters.

For example, very few local authorities can afford to have tenancy relations officers who provide support to tenants experiencing illegal eviction or harassment.

To improve this issue MPs said there needs to be a realistic assessment of the resources needed for local authorities to regulate effectively, with consideration given to the size, types and quality of private rented properties and the demographics of renters.

They asked the DLUHC to undertake an assessment, before writing to the committee about the outcome in six months’ time.

Landlord licensing

The report criticised the nature of landlord licensing, as schemes are subject to Secretary of State approval if they cover over 20% of a council’s local area or rented housing stock.

The committee wrote: “To apply for a licensing scheme, local authorities need a good understanding of their local private rental market, which is hard to gather without already having a scheme in place.

“The time and resource needed to produce an application, and the requirement for schemes to last only five years, present further barriers to local authorities.

“The department says it offers a dialogue with local authorities to help them apply for licensing schemes, but local authorities say there is poor communication and limited feedback.

“Given regulation is managed and delivered locally, it is not clear why the Department restricts the use of larger schemes or on what basis it rejects them.”

The committee therefore recommended for the department to assess whether current arrangements for licensing schemes are working, and whether alternative arrangements could be more efficient and effective.

Inconsistent standards

The Public Accounts Committee wrote that most local authorities do not have the capacity to protect tenants and ensure landlords comply with regulations, which has created a “postcode lottery” for tenants.

Compliance with legal minimum standards is “inconsistent” across England, and the proportion of privately rented properties with category 1 hazards ranges from 9% in London to 21% in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The committee asked the DLUHC to assess the resources needed for local authorities to regulate effectively, and write to them within six months with an update on the outcome of the assessment.

Generation Rent: Councils need to step up

Responding to the committee’s findings, Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director, Generation Rent, said: “None of us should have to live in a home that could make us ill, but it can be an uphill struggle for private renters to get landlords to fix anything.

“It’s possible to take a landlord to court, or raise a complaint with your letting agent’s redress scheme, but the fact that a landlord can evict you without needing a reason puts many tenants off complaining in the first place. As he designs a new tenancy system, Michael Gove must make sure landlords cannot use threats to avoid their responsibilities.

“As well as more secure tenancies, tenants need better support from councils in dealing with negligent landlords, and a national landlord register is an essential part of this. Requiring landlords to register their properties would help to raise awareness of renters’ rights, give councils the intelligence they need to enforce the law effectively, and help the government understand what further changes are needed.”

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