by | Apr 3, 2022 | Safer Renting

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Safer Renting were in a meeting with DLUHC last week about where they are going with the Renter’s Reform Bill and I was asked at one point if, as an enforcement professional and person of general zero tolerance,  I thought the industry needed more regulating.

I think my response surprised them. I said “No”.

Back when I started in 1990, all we had was the PFEA and environmental health officers, pre Housing Health and Safety Rating System, had whatever legislation was around then. Trading standards weren’t in the game at all because landlord and tenant matters weren’t covered by consumer protection.

Legislation really started to evolve with the introduction of the HHSRS and the Housing Act 2004, which set out the framework for assessing poor property conditions, Rent Repayment Orders, Interim Management Orders and standards for Houses in Multiple Occupation.

The last 7 years have gifted us the Deregulation Act, the Housing and Planning Act, Civil Penalty Notices, banning orders and loosened up RROs, plus Trading Standards now have powers with letting agents.

Enforcement people of all stripes are spoilt for choice. We all have tools that my younger self could only dream of and now government are telling us that a landlord register is on the cards.

I feel dizzy with excitement.

We have more than enough regulation of the PRS – the test as ever is, how usable and effective are these tools?

To my mind there are 4 barriers to making the regulatory framework effective.

Lack of staff and resources.

I know many people cite this is the only or at least main problem. I don’t hold with that view but it is a key component in the problem of regulating the PRS. Austerity cuts have hot many public services. When I started many councils had entire teams dealing with a range of PRS issues, from disrepair, to harassment work, rent tribunals, even works in default were active back in the day but these days, for many authorities we are firmly in “The boy with his finger in the dyke” territory

Silo working

These legislative cogs spin around in a dysfunctional gearbox for the most part, rarely touching each other and relying on council officers with different designated roles and demarcation to put the whole shebang into gear so it actually works. Trouble is, too many local authorities still operate silo working, where the different teams never even meet to swap intel, let alone a joined approach to tackling problems in the PRS.

In the councils where they have a joined up, multi-disciplinary approaches, wonders are achieved. You know who you are and Safer Renting are proud to be part of those teams in some areas.

Poor drafting and workability

Then there are the laws themselves. In so many instances they just don’t work. Council’s find themselves being knocked back by tribunals in CPNs, a raft of case law has neutered so many RROs.

IMOs are perfect nuclear deterrent but they demand so much of council resources that in order to make them viable you need to really put them front and centre in your strategy and invest money that councils don’t have.

The rise of the criminal landlord and agent.

The landscape of the rogue landlord has changed beyond belief since Shelter first coined the phrase in 2011 and the whole rent to rent concept has created a new class of crook, perfecting their business model on the rent to rent rallying cry “How to make money from property without owning any property”.

This property maxim, if that is the right word, means that so often, the stretched council enforcement officer is trying to apply laws that are difficult to work with, in cases where the people you are going against not only don’t have any assets you can pin them to but also using aliases, and fake companies, so even if you do clearly identify who they are, they fold up shop without paying any fines or penalties.

The landlord register for England

Now we have on the horizon, the impending landlord register, which I will go on record and say I think is a great idea…..in principle and dependent on all of the factors I have listed above.

If a landlord isn’t on the register and complaints are made of harassment, illegal eviction, fraud, overcrowding etc., what will the sanctions be and who among the local authority teams will enforce the breaches?

If a landlord is on the register and the same complaints come in, what will happen to them? Penalties? Fines? Expulsion? If so, for how long? How about IMOs?

The register could tie in existing legislation as sanctions. It’s already there, it just takes joined up thinking.

I sincerely hope that the good people at DLUHC consider all of these factors when putting the register idea into more granular form.

A register of all landlords is a good idea but exactly how will it work? This needs to built into the legislation with great care if it isn’t to just be another good idea but which proves difficult to action for the reasons I set out above.

There is no point in ushering such schemes in if the local authority are charged with policing it but don’t have enough money to staff or resource it. Similarly, if the law is worded in such a way that the criminals can spot loopholes a mile away and exploit them, (That’s what they do) then the register will just be another great idea that doesn’t really work very well in practice.

Register aside the PRS doesn’t need more regulation now, we have those tools but it needs professionalizing and a register is a great building block in that.

History has caused the landlord industry to be a chaotic, nod and a wink operation. Run so often by amateurs who don’t understand that handing the keys over to the tiniest studio flat known to man, puts them in the same legal position as a local authority with 30,000 properties on their books and a world of legislation, in many instances being criminal offences where breaches are concerned.

That is madness and unheard of in any other sphere.

If you open a greasy spoon caravan to sell bacon sandwiches you need health and safety certs, hygiene training, liability insurance. My dog sitter has loads of certs and licenses from local authorities, plus HMRC registration documents, all of which she laid out on the table when we first met her, just to keep my dog overnight.

Yet a landlord can become a landlord just by owning property, or in the case of rent to rent, they don’t even need to own the property, don’t even need a contract with the owner and bingo, they’re in business.

A register has the potential to stop all of this but it will only be of use if it is cannily drafted and has real teeth for both non -compliance and breaches perpetrated by those actually registered.

I mean proper Jurgen Klopp style teeth.

Of course, as perhaps the longest serving TRO in the business my views here reflect an enforcement angle. In putting together the Register legislation, DLUHC will continue to talk to a range of stakeholders, including the NRLA and the Lettings Industry Council.

This is the view that Safer Renting brings to the party.

  By Ben Reeve Lewis

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About Cambridge House Safer Renting

The Cambridge House Safer Renting team present the ‘go-to’ blog on the world of the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

We monitor the world of rogue landlord and agent activity, publicise developments, circulate innovative ideas, keep readers abreast of changes in laws and regulations, raising awareness of criminal trends and scams, celebrate successful actions and interview people working in the field, connecting up anyone involved, from tenants and their advisers, to enforcement officers, lawyers and journalists.

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