Rogue letting agents and landlords could be blacklisted and forced to repay all rent, in addition to facing higher fines, if the Government goes ahead with its plans to overhaul the private rental market.
The proposals include the headline-hitting eviction of illegal immigrants but also feature many more aspects with potentially serious consequences for landlords and letting agents who fail in their duty to tenants.
Announcing its plans to transform the marketplace, The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said that existing fines faced by rogue landlords were not having a serious enough impact, with many simply writing them off as though they were a business expense.
The DCLG paper entitled ‘Tackling rogue landlords and improving the private rental sector’ includes:
– Putting rogue letting agents and landlords on a blacklist
– Rent repayment orders and minimum fines in the case of repeat offences
– Local authorities being given powers to seize private rental properties.
– A test to assess if landlords are ‘fit and proper’
– New fines and civil penalties for issues such as vermin infestations, disrepair, damp, and overcrowding.
The DCLG said that despite 84 per cent of those living in private rentals claiming to be satisfied with their properties, action is required to deal with a minority of rogue landlords who are causing ‘complex’ and ‘acute’ problems.
Local authorities have been previously given £6.7million of government money to facilitate the inspection of 40,000 private rentals. Of those checked, 3,000 were judged as being so poor that prosecution or enforcement action was needed.
In theory, magistrates are already empowered to impose fines without limits on landlords, although the average is around £1,500 as a result of the courts’ requirement to base the fine on a landlord’s means.
2004 saw the introduction of rent repayment orders but, in practice, there have been very few issued. The DCLG is proposing that the legal definition is broadened to allow landlords who ignore local authority orders to be forced to pay back all of the rent from the start of a tenancy.
At the moment, many local authorities avoid taking legal action against landlords because of the costs involved but the DCLG proposals for civil penalties would allow councils to punish landlords in a similar manner to the use of parking tickets as a penalty for drivers.
Civil penalties as high as £5,000 could be issued for problems such as disrepair, overcrowding, electrical faults, infestations, damp, and poor sanitation.