ANYONE who has ever rented a house will know will know how vital it is for it to be safe and in good condition.
Most landlords are responsible people, providing good, safe accommodation. Yet, across the country, many tenants in private housing suffer problems such as damp and mould, inadequate heating and ventilation, overcrowding and disrepair, which can affect their health, safety and quality of life.
Bradford Council’s housing standards team receive around 1500 requests every year to inspect homes about which that tenants have concerns. Fire safety, inadequate kitchen or bathroom facilities and unsafe gas and electrical fixtures are also key areas that can warrant attention.
Officers from the team inspect properties and contact landlords to make sure they address any problems. As well as reacting to tenants complaints, the team is proactive, carrying out checks focusing on an area or type of property based on risk.
Recently, the Council received funding from the Government’s department of Housing, Communities and Local Government to target accommodation above shops.
“We focus upon the main arterial routes into the city,” says housing standards manager Liam Jowett, “We know from experience that this type of accommodation is high risk for fire safety. We give advice and take action where necessary.”
Routes covered to date include Manchester Road, Leeds Road, part of Great Horton Road, Manningham Lane and Carlisle Road.
“We assess for 29 hazards including fire safety, damp and mould and excess cold” adds Liam. “We look at the defects and assess how serious a hazard it is. If there are concerns we advise what is needed to remedy a situation,” says Liam.
If no action is taken, the Council can enforce using its statutory powers, many contained within the Housing Act 2004.
In the year 2017/18 the team received 1581 service requests, with 794 enforcement notices served. In that period there were nine prosecutions, with a further three since April 1 this year.
In April two landlords, one in Bradford, the other in Keighley were prosecuted and fined. The Bradford landlord was fined in excess of £6500 for failing to comply with an improvement notice. Defects at the house, in Girlington, included rotten window frames, a mouse infestation, a lack of working smoke alarms, electrical defects and penetrating damp.
The landlord in Keighley failed to manage his property, which contained six flats, and was fined a similar amount . He continually failed to manage the property allowing his tenants to live in flats which were not covered by a working fire alarm system, allowed a prohibited bedroomed to be used and did not attend to other repairs.
“We approach the landlord and give them to opportunity to put things right,” says Julie Rhodes, the department’s principal operations manager. “We find that a lot of properties do come up to standard.”
Those who do not comply can now be subject to a recently introduced Civil Penalty Notice (CPN), which can carry a hefty fine.
“We have an agreed framework across all five West Yorkshire authorities, with a maximum £30,000 fine,” says Julie.
The lowest level of CPN that can be charged is £2000, which equates to low culpability and low harm and includes legal costs. Since CPNs were introduced the Council has issued four final notices with five more pending.
The Council is working hard to alert landlords as to an important change within the privately rented housing sector. Previously, certain Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – three storey properties rented out by at least five people who form more than two households but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen – required a licence from the local authority.
From October, the rules will apply both to these and to any home, however many storeys, that is occupied by at least five people who form more than two households and who share facilities. Affected landlords must apply for a licence to lawfully continue renting out the property.
“Officers have been carrying out a survey , trying to identify properties that need a licence so we can advise the landlords,” says Liam. “We are trying to raise awareness and have been putting information on social media and on our Stay Connected bulletin service. We’ve also written out to all our HMO landlords.”
Says Julie: “A good quality private rented sector is a priority, locally and nationally. We will always encourage tenants to approach their landlord first with any concerns but will use our enforcement powers when we need to”.
She adds: “We want to do more proactive work such as the accommodation above shops initiative so that we can target the properties that are highest risk.”
Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “We take the safety of homes extremely seriously and will not hesitate to take action where we find evidence that landlords are not ensuring their properties are safe and meeting the proper standards.
“It is vitally important landlords register HMO properties to ensure they meet the required standards.
“If you own a property occupied by five or more tenants making two or more households, please get in touch with our housing team so they can help you comply with the new law. There are no excuses for unsafe or substandard accommodation.”
One sector of accommodation that has improved markedly over the years is student accommodation. “There is a lot more purpose-built student housing,” says Liam, “Students are now more demanding and landlords have to keep in line with their requirements.”
The University of Bradford works closely with Unipol, a charity which helps students find the best housing they can to raise standards in privately rented homes.
“Unipol has a code of practice,” says Liam, “It will direct students to certain landlords who abide by it.”
For further information people can call Bradford Council’s Housing Standards team on 01274 434520 or visit bradford.gov.uk/housing