Rogue landlords are going unpunished for letting out unsafe properties, with more than two thirds of councils across England failing to make a single prosecution.
Over the past three years, 67 per cent of councils have failed to successfuly prosecute a single landlord for not complying with safety regulations, according to a Freedom of Information request carried out by lobby group the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA).
It also found that a further 10 per cent of English councils had secured just one successful prosecution during that time.
Just 937 successful prosecutions of criminal landlords have taken place over the past three years.
There is a vast array of legislation that landlords need to follow when renting out a property.
Those who fail to comply with the regulations can, in theory, face hefty fines and in some cases even prison sentences.
For example, being unable to provide a valid gas safety certificate is a criminal offence and could land a landlord with a six month prison sentence or fine.
Councils can also impose fines of up to £30,000 on landlords who fail to provide a valid report on the safety of the electrics in their properties, which as of April became compulsory for all existing tenancies.
But despite these deterrents, it appears that very few councils are managing to seek out and punish landlords who are in breach of the regulations.
Just 20 local authorities across England were responsible for more than three quarters of all successful prosecutions, according to the NRLA.
The three councils with the highest number of prosecutions were Southwark, Birmingham and Hull – which together were responsible for almost four in ten prosecutions across England.
The three councils with the highest number of prosecutions were Southwark, Birmingham and Hull – which together were responsible for almost four in ten prosecutions across England
In total, the NRLA found that just 937 successful prosecutions of criminal landlords had taken place over the past three years.
This is despite the government estimating that there may be around 10,500 rogue landlords in operation.
The NRLA also found that over the past three years more than half of English councils had issued no civil penalties against private landlords.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the NRLA, said: ‘The vast majority of responsible landlords are sick and tired of a failure to root out the minority who bring the sector into disrepute.
‘The problem is not a lack of powers, but a failure by councils to enforce them properly.
Any gas-fuelled property that is rented out needs to have a gas safety check every 12 months
‘Whilst ensuring councils have the resources they need is vital, so too is the need for them to be more transparent about the levels of enforcement they are taking.
‘In short, local authorities need to prioritise activity to find and root out criminal landlords, ensuring it is they who meet the costs of such efforts.’
The NRLA’s research was based on responses from 283 of the UK’s 333 local authorities.
The lack of action taken against rogue landlords has been impacted by a drop in the resources councils allocated to housing.
The amount English local authorities spent on maintaining and enforcing housing standards fell by 45 per cent between 2009 and 2019, according to research by Unchecked UK.
But whilst expenditure on enforcement is falling, regulation is rising.
There are now more than 150 separate laws that landlords need to comply with when renting out a property.
Timothy Douglas, policy manager at estate agent membership body, Propertymark said: ‘As more and more laws are passed by the central government this puts added pressure onto local authorities to enforce them.
‘Unfortunately, in many cases, councils do not have the capacity and resources to police the sector and consequently, rogue landlords and letting agents are slipping through the cracks.
‘To improve the situation, more needs to be done to resource local authority enforcement teams so they can go out and actively inspect properties, rather than creating more and more new legislation that won’t be enforced.’
What can renters do?
Without local councils enforcing the regulations, much depends on tenants’ willingness to call out bad practices.
According to research earlier this year by property management platform Plentific, almost half of tenants living in privately rented accommodation with gas mains said they had not had their gas appliances checked in the previous 12 months.
If a tenant feels that the rental property isn’t up to standards or a landlord is failing to carry out their legal responsibilities, then before contacting the council, the first step should be to approach the landlord or letting agent.
Landlords are required to install smoke alarms on every floor, and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where there is a gas appliance. Properties also require a minimum EPC rating of E
Ultimately, if a tenant is harmed as a result of their landlord failing to meet their obligations, they may have a right to sue the landlord for damages.
‘Tenants have every right to live in a safe and warm property and without laws and standards set in place, the quality of homes would be extremely poor and hazardous,’ said Douglas.
‘Where tenants face issues with their property, they should take this up with the landlord or letting agent directly to try and resolve it first.
‘Tenants can also ask for help from local representatives such as a local Councillor or the local MP before contacting the local authority.’