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Local authorities should have the power to seize homes from rogue or criminal landlords who are letting their tenants live in dangerous, damp or freezing conditions, a powerful parliamentary committee has proposed. The MPs said that better protection should be given to vulnerable tenants. They said these tenants are too scared to speak out about living in unsafe or squalid conditions because they feared they would be the victim of revenge evictions, harassed or see their rent put up.

A Housing, Communities and Local Government committee report give examples of properties having more than 25 people living in three rooms, and tenants being charged as much as £500 for a shared room with four bunks. The committee is, therefore, calling for landlords to face tougher penalties and even to allow local councils to confiscate homes from landlords who are exploiting vulnerable tenants. They want to shift the imbalance of power, as they see it, so tenants have more rights. Also, according to the English Housing Survey, there are more than 800,000 privately-rented properties which have one or more major hazards such as vermin, dangerously exposed wiring or being excessively cold. Furthermore, 41% of tenants said they had to wait a long time for their landlord to carry out repairs which he was legally required to do.

Committee chairman, Clive Betts MP, said vulnerable tenants are often unprotected from rogue landlords who can make threats of eviction or rent rises if they dare to complain about the conditions in which they are forced to live. Whilst calling for local authorities to be given greater powers, the Labour MP also recognised that these would be meaningless if they did not have the resources to enforce them or to prosecute offenders. He said that greater powers, bigger fines and a commitment to crack down on unscrupulous landlord practices will help to rebalance the sector and protect tenants who have been abused or harassed by their landlord. However, it seems that the existing powers may not be put to their best use. The committee felt that enforcement of existing legislation which protects tenants was too low. Six out of 10 councils had failed to prosecute any landlords in 2016, so it looks as though councils are unable to enforce existing laws. Residential Landlords Association chair, Alan Ward, said the system is already letting down tenants and professional landlords because local councils cannot enforce the legislation which already exists.

With more people looking to the private-rental sector for accommodation, including one in four children, there needs to be a system in place where local authorities are able to enforce legislation which already exists to protect tenants. The government can bring in as much legislation as it wishes, but it will be ineffective if councils do not have the resources to enforce it. Once they have these resources, they can take action against the small minority of rogue or criminal landlords and get rid of them.

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