The fourth key ask of the RLA’s General Election manifesto is for more effective enforcement, not more regulation. This would be through guaranteed long-term funding for local authorities, backed by a system of co-regulation for the majority of law-abiding landlords.
With over 150 Acts of Parliament and 400 regulations, the private rented sector is not unregulated. Instead, due to a lack of resources or lack of will, too many local councils fail to take effective enforcement action. Regulation without enforcement lets down tenants and good landlords.
Evidence shows that enforcement against rogue or criminal landlords varies widely across the country. Our research with Freedom of Information responses from 241 councils in England and Wales, has shown that between 2010 and 2015:
- 126 Local Authorities brought no prosecutions;
- 109 Local Authorities brought between 1 and 25 prosecutions; and
- Just 6 Local Authorities brought more than 26 prosecutions.
At the heart of the problem is that the responsible bodies do not have the resources to properly enforce the powers they already have to find and root out the minority of criminal landlords who have no place in the sector.
The most recent data from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health found that the average budget for environmental health services fell in real terms by 6.8% between 2013-14 and 2014-15 and that those authorities that were able to estimate their budget for 2015-16 expected a further fall in real terms of 30%. This survey identified an almost 11% reduction in qualified environmental health professionals with an overall reduction of 12% in all environmental health staff.
Recently, the Housing and Planning Act has introduced new powers for local authorities, including civil penalties for certain housing offences, with councils able to keep the fines to fund enforcement. While this is welcome, long-term action to drive the criminals out of private renting should not be dependent on ad-hoc funding, or on councils being able to issue enough fines to employ staff.
We are calling for guaranteed long term funding of housing enforcement, that will allow councils to plan ahead and take effective action against those who exploit tenants through dangerous, overcrowded or unhealthy properties.
We argue that there should be a clear commitment to the ‘polluter pays’ principles. Those who break the law should also pay for its enforcement.
The majority of landlords providing a good service to their tenants should not, as happens at present, be subsiding action against the rogues through costly and ineffective licensing schemes.
We believe that the private rented sector is mature enough to implement a regime of self-regulation, taking pressure off hard-pressed local authorities, freeing up further resources to target the criminals operating in the sector.
There is little evidence that licensing delivers the outcomes that local authorities want. As an example, an analysis of the period between 2011 and 2014 by London Property Licensing found that of the 10 boroughs with the highest rates of prosecutions against landlords, just two operated any form of licensing scheme.
Therefore, we favour co-regulation, whereby compliant landlords could join an approved scheme with a code of practice and alternative dispute resolution for tenants with complaints about their accommodation or landlord. Landlords who did not join a co-regulation scheme would continue to be subject to local authority regulation and enforcement. Overall, we believe this would be a much better system than the currently costly landlord licensing schemes in operation.
For more information:
- RLA Regulation and Enforcement Campaigns
- RLA General Election 2017 Manifesto
- RLA General Election – Contact Your Candidate
- RLA Manifesto: Boosting Housing Supply
- RLA Manifesto: Security for Tenants and Landlords
- RLA Manifesto: A fairer approach to Welfare Reform
- David Smith on Banning Letting Agent Fees
- New Powers for Councils come into effect
- The Housing and Planning Act Starts to Bite
- David Smith on Right to Rent
- Government faces legal challenge over ‘discriminatory’ Right to Rent checks