04 Nov 2020

PRIVATE landlords who fail to stick to regulations and treat tenants unfairly can expect a tougher approach from Dorset Council.

Senior council officers told a committee this week that they now had the backing, and funding, to adopt a tougher stance where needed, although will always try to work with property owners in the first instance.

The new proactive approach is currently being tried in Weymouth which has one of the highest concentrations of privately-owned rental property in the county.

Here the council has employed housing experts to identify ‘high risk’ properties within the town centre where action may be needed to protect tenants.

Those identified may then find themselves the subject of inspections by the council, rather than waiting for tenant complaints, which often fail to materialise despite them being unhappy with conditions where they live, because they fear being evicted.

Councillors heard that the powers the authority has includes the ability to issue penalty notices, take landlords to court or even to buy their to-let houses using compulsory purchase powers.

Senior environmental health officer Steve March told the meeting that the ‘carrot and stick’ approach was already beginning to get the results the council required from some landlords.

“Often just showing that we intend to go through with an action does work,” he told councillors.

Mr March said that there had been a lot of activity in Weymouth over minimum energy efficiency standards which are now required for rented properties, an issue some landlords were initially not keen to address because of the additional cost.

He said that much of the area had, in the past, been marked by non-compliance with required standards.

“We do want people to comply and we will take the path of least resistance, but sometimes, when people don’t want to comply, we need to show them that we mean business,” said Mr March.

Service manager for housing standards Richard Conway said in 2019-20 there had been more than 300 concerns raised by tenants about private rented properties which has resulted in 42 legal notices being issued, the rest having been resolved without the need for the council to use its full powers.

He said that often cases were brought because of different expectations about what was reasonable – although there was more of a reluctance from tenants in private rents to come forward because they feared being evicted if they complained, although the law did offer them protection.

Dorset Council housing brief holder Graham Carr-Jones said that while the council would continue to brief and offer advice and information to landlords, he saw nothing wrong in telling the public that “we absolutely mean business.”

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