RESPONDING to the publication today of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on the private rented sector, Alan Ward, Chair of the Residential Landlords Association said:
“Tenants and good landlords are being let down by local authorities unable to properly enforce the powers they already have. RLA research has found that there are over 140 Acts of Parliament and more than 400 regulations affecting the private rented sector.
“Whilst the MPs on the Committee call for greater powers to protect tenants when they raise complaints about standards in a property, the reality is that these protections already exist and as the Resolution Foundation noted earlier this week, fewer than one-in-ten tenancies are ended by the landlord.
“The problem is that over-stretched councils simply do not have the resources to properly use such powers to protect tenants from the minority of landlords who are criminals and have no place in the sector. We therefore welcome calls by the Committee for greater resources for local authorities and greater political leadership by them to root out criminal landlords.
“It is vital also that Ministers adopt the Committee’s recommendation for the speedy establishment of a new housing court. This has been a key proposal called for by the RLA which would improve the speed of and access to justice for tenants and landlords. At present the courts are not fit for purpose when seeking to uphold tenant and landlord rights.”
Last year the RLA conducted a Freedom of Information exercise across all local authorities in England and Wales to measure enforcement activity over a five year period between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Some 296 councils responded. It found that over this period, there was a three per cent fall in inspections by councils related to the regulatory standard for private rented housing, known as the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). There was also a seven per cent decrease in the number of Hazard Awareness Notices issued.
The Committee calls for:
- Greater political leadership by councils to address low standards in the private rented sector. As the report notes: “It is clearly the case that some local authorities have placed a higher priority on addressing low standards in the private rented sector than others have done. We believe this disparity in effective action can only be resolved through political leadership.” The RLA concurs whole heartedly with this assessment.
- The Government to consider new ways of informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities, in particular through social media. The RLA supports such a proposal. It is vital that both tenants and landlords understand all of their rights and responsibilities if the wide range of protections they currently have are to be used effectively.
- The Law Commission to undertake a review of the legislation relating to the private rented sector and provide guidance as to whether a new approach to regulation in the sector would bring more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities. The RLA has long been concerned with the increasing complexity of laws and regulations related to private rented housing which cause uncertainty for all those in the sector. Having pressed the Minister for the Private Rented Sector for a more strategic, cross Government approach to private renting, we support a Law Commission review but believe it is essential that the Government responds positively to what it recommends.
- The Government to “immediately update the baseline assumptions within the operating guidance for the HHSRS, which are now twelve years out-of-date.” The guidance for the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, which is the regulatory standard for private rented housing, is urgently in need of updating which the RLA has been calling on the Government to do. We welcome the Committee’s recommendation in this regard.
- A new fund “to support local authorities with this work, especially those that prioritise informal approaches to enforcement.” The RLA welcomes this as a reflection of its call to the committee for “increased and sustained resources for Environmental Health Departments” which “are crucial to improving enforcement rather than relying on small pots of money that the Government makes available from time to time.”