FoI responses from 293 English councils reveal string of weaknesses in private rented market law
Almost 90% of local authorities failed to use new powers to fine rogue landlords last year, in the latest finding to suggest tenants are being failed by a lax enforcement regime.
It follows a Guardian and ITV News investigation in October, which revealed a string of weaknesses in the legislation governing the private rented market and which also raised questions about the rigour with which certain councils pursued any offenders.
Only 11% of local authorities issued a civil penalty notice against a landlord or letting agent during 2017-18, according to data provided by 293 English councils responding to freedom of information requests made by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).
Civil penalties were introduced in April 2017 as an alternative to councils bringing criminal prosecutions. The new powers allow local authorities to fine landlords up to £30,000 – penalties the borough could keep.
The RLA’s data also showed that the average fine levied during the first year of civil penalties was £6,392 while, out of a total of 332 civil penalties issued, 271 were made by London boroughs.
David Smith, the RLA’s policy director, said: “These results show that for all the publicity around bad landlords, a large part of the fault lies with councils who are failing to use the wide range of powers they already have.”
The Guardian and ITV recently revealed that convicted landlords who have been ruled unfit to rent out their properties were continuing to operate by exploiting loopholes in the law.
The investigation also revealed that central government’s new rogue landlord database was completely empty six months after its launch. It found that more than one in seven councils in England and Wales had failed to prosecute a single bad landlord over the past three years, despite some having very high numbers of homes classed as “non-decent”.
Those prosecution figures were mirrored by other data collected by the RLA, which also found that 67% of local authorities across England and Wales failed to commence a single prosecution of a landlord during 2017-18.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, said: “The private rented sector is growing and, with limited resources and competing funding pressures, councils are working hard to ensure that complaints from tenants are prioritised and dealt with appropriately.”
He added: “When councils do prosecute they are too often being hamstrung by a system not fit for the 21st century.”