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Recent press coverage has not shown the private rented sector in a particularly good light with negative stories in almost all of the UK broadsheet newspapers.

Both The Independent and The Guardian ran stories about the recently-released results of a survey from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, which claims that around £5.6 billion of rent is being paid every year to landlords for properties that are failing to ‘meet legal standards’.

Around 25 per cent of this figure is said to come from the housing benefit coffers and CAB estimates that there are almost three quarters of a million (740,000) families living within the private rented sector in England who are housed in properties which are putting their health at risk.

The Times, meanwhile, recently ran a story claiming that over a quarter of all local authorities in England have failed to prosecute even one landlord for renting out unsafe properties over the previous five-year-period. The report also stated that a further half of all local councils in the country were prosecuting less than two landlords each year.

The Times’ report focused on data from the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) which was obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information application. The figures are said to prove that just 2006 landlords were prosecuted by local authorities in the previous eight years and that the average penalty was a £1,500 fine.

David Smith, of the RLA is quoted by the newspaper as saying that both good landlords and tenants are being failed by local authorities which, despite having ‘plenty of powers’ which could be used to ensure standards are met within the private rented sector and to crackdown on unscrupulous landlords, the enforcement performance recorded was ‘patchy’ or even ‘non-existent’.

Brandon Lewis, Housing Minister, responded by saying that the government was committed to dealing with unscrupulous landlords, adding that the housing bill was strengthening the powers of councils to crack down on poor quality within the private rented sector.

He also highlighted other measures put in place in a bid to deal with the issues, including blacklisting those landlords convicted of offences which are deemed ‘serious’ and banning orders aimed at preventing prolific offenders from renting out properties.

Meanwhile, in Plymouth, the local authority is showing that there are landlords in the country who should be concerned that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

Landlord John Mayer was forced to admit renting out sub-standard properties without being registered after being prosecuted by the city council.

The Exmouth Road man had 30 tenants and failed to adhere to improvement notices, leading around a dozen tenants without adequate heating. He was prosecuted by Plymouth City Council, which is currently waging a war on rogue landlords, and he pleaded guilty on four counts of not applying for the required HMO (house in multiple occupation) license.

The authority has its own Plan for Private Rented Housing, created after it signed the Charter for Private Rented Housing earlier this year and featuring a 12-point plan aimed at raising standards in the private rented sector.

The Charter commits to improving training for landlords, boosting the profile of superior landlords and agents and acting to enforce regulations to protect tenants.