Friday, 26 May 2017

Rogue state

From: Inside edge

There is good news and bad news in a Shelter survey about rogue landlords out today but neither is quite what it appears at first glance. 

The bad news is that complaints by tenants to their local authority about their private landlord are up 27 per cent in the last three years.

Worse, of 85,000 complaints in the last 12 months, 62 per cent related to category I and II hazards – things like dangerous electrics and damp that are serious or life-threatening, And there were 781 cases where health services had to get involved because of the behaviour or neglect of private landlords.

However, the 27 per cent increase in complaints may not be quite as large as it appears when you take into account the rapid increase in the number of private tenants. Over the last three years for which figures are available, the stock of private rented homes in England has increased by 20 per cent.

The good news is that successful prosecutions against private landlords are up 77 per cent in the last year. The figures are based on freedom of information requests to 326 English local authorities, with responses received from 310.

Successful enforcement is not just good news for tenants but for good landlords too because otherwise they are left paying the costs of compliance with the leglislation while others ignore it and undercut them.

However, the sheen is slightly taken off that increase in enforcement by the fact that it comes from such a low base. The actual total of successful prosecutions last year was just 487, and Shelter says most of them were carried out by a handful of authorities such as Newham, Leeds, Salford and Manchester.

When Shelter asked local authorities about rogue landlords in their area, they identified 1,449 who had given them continued cause for concern over the last year. Again, on the face of it, that ought to make it easier to target enforcement action but it’s unclear whether that represents the true scale of the problem or is just the total from councils who have got their act together on the private rented sector.

Put the good news and the bad news together and the picture is more blurred but it is still undoubtedly evidence that Shelter’s Evict Rogue Landlords campaign is paying off.

And despite fears that public spending cuts would render local authorities less able to enforce the law, there have been several high-profile legal cases recently:

  • A landlord in Brent in London was ordered to pay a fine of £1.4 million last week for illegally converting a house in Willesden into 12 flats. The fine is believed to be the highest confiscation order ever granted for a planning offence and is based on the assumed benefit that Salah Ali gained from breaching planning regulations. According to Brent council, he had continuously flouted them over the last ten years. Its planning enforcement team used powers that enable councils to recover the ‘proceeds of crime’.
  • In Sheffield last week, a bullying landlord who unlawfully evicted a tenant was jailed for nine months and a friend who helped him got a six-month suspended sentence. The landlord, Jay Allen, forcibly evicted Chris Blades after he ran up £900 in rent arrears and arrived with a friend to push him out of the door. According to the Sheffield Star, Allen has previous convictions for assault and affray and when Blades protested that he was breaking the laws he replied: ‘Do I look like I care?’ Judge Roger Keen told Allen: ‘You decided that because the rent had not been paid you were going to evict the tenant unless he came up with the money immediately, which was impossible. Using your considerable presence, together with that of your co-accused, you went to dominate, frighten and overwhelm Mr Blades.’
  • In Birmingham in August, a trainee BBC presenter was ordered to pay damages of £26,000 for attempting to unlawfully evict a tenant after her housing benefit stopped for a month. Nearly Legal reports that, despite being warned about her conduct by a council tenancy relations officer, Samina Amreen turned up with several members of her family including an uncle, Raja Amin, who was a magistrate. The tenant, Beckie Webb, had called the police and the TRO. However, under the pressure of a stand-off in which Amin refused to leave and threatened the police with TV coverage if they arrested him, she decided to leave with her children and the belongings she could carry.

Those are three tales from the rogue landlord frontline that actually made it to court. Good news, you might think, except when you bear in mind that the Birmingham case happened over four years ago in June 2008 and that Beckie Webb sofa surfed while her children stayed with her family until November 2008 when she was given temporary accommodation.

In ten years of rapid growth in the private rented sector and burgeoning housing need, the suspicion has been that rogue landlords have been free to do pretty much as they please regardless of the impact on their tenants and on good landlords who play by the rules. Today’s survey confirms that local authorities (or at least some of them) are getting their act together at last but there is still a long way to go. 

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