Sunday, May 04, 2008

The problem of landlord regulation

A recent article in Inside Housing looks at how landlords are using the governments review of the private rented sector to call for a review of the HMO licensing system, which they say is not working. One organisation is asking for it to be done away with altogether, allowing landlords to ‘self regulate’.

The main criticism of the HMO licensing scheme is the way the license fees vary across the country, with some authorities charging over £1,500 per property and others charging under £200. I have to say I have a lot of sympathy with landlords complaints here, our own Landlord-Law list of licensing fees shows a very wide variation. This cannot be right.

However in my opinion one of the best chances of dealing with poor conditions in properties and rogue landlords should be via the local authorities and the licensing scheme. The problem is though that in many cases they are not using their powers properly, most likely because of lack of resources. The Inside Housing article mentions a "substantial fine slapped on a Liverpool landlord last month" and this is quoted as showing that the regime is working. I am really pleased that at least one bad landlord has got his comeuppance under the regs, but suspect that there are many others slipping through the net. The fact that this item is newsworthy (when if the councils were doing their job, such orders would be common practice) is telling in itself.

Which is a pity, as if the local authority powers, which they already hold, were being used as they should be, then this would do a lot to solve the problems of substandard housing. It really needs an outside body to enforce standards, it is unfair to expect tenants to have to do this themselves. Not only because they are then at risk of retaliatory eviction under section 21, but also because bringing a legal action is a stressful, and (unless legal aid is available, which often it is not) expensive process which many tenants do not want to undertake.

Furthermore, why should they have to? Under the Housing Act 2004, poor standards are technically a crime and local authorities are the organisation charged with enforcement. We do not expect victims of burglaries to hunt down and prosecute the thieves. Why should victims of substandard housing have to sue their landlords in order to obtain the decent standards they are entitled to under the law? The situations are not wholly parallel, I agree, but it is a valid point of view.

As for the suggestion that landlords should regulate themselves, this is laughable. I wholly agree that many, probably a majority, of landlords are law abiding and provide decent properties which not only comply with the standards but surpass them. However how are these landlords, or indeed the landlords associations, going to do anything about the non compliant landlords? They may not approve of them, but that isn’t going to do any good! The only way that landlords could self regulate would be if membership of a landlords or similar association were made mandatory and the associations given powers to act against members who breach their standards. This is one of the options being looked at by the Law Commission in their responsible renting project. However many landlords associations do not want this role.

My preference would be for regulation of non complaint landlords to be done by an outside body, the most appropriate being the Local Authorities, as they already have powers in this respect. The main reason why this is not being done properly already, is a lack of resources. Which means under funding by the government. Over to you, Gordon.

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1 comment:

Nearly Legal said...

Excellent post. I fully agree. Self regulation is a nonsense in these circumstances - no suitable body with compulsory membership or sanctions and no-one willing to take it on.

LAs broadly do seem to be slow or backwards in using their powers in relation to HMOs, licensed or unlicensed. I suspect money and a lack of trained staff. Both something the the DCLG should be looking at.