by | Aug 10, 2021 | Safer Renting

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Commentators on housing enforcement often complain of the low level of prosecutions and civil penalties levied against landlord and agent offenders.

This time I’m not going to highlight the lack of resources but instead agree with the detractors.

Many, many local authorities have a dismal record when it comes to taking action against offenders and the excuse is often a poor one.

The main thing you hear among my community of housing enforcement types is that whilst there are many powers a local authority can bring to bear, if successful they never actually retrieve the money and I get that.

Tribunals are never very sympathetic to local authorities and the vast array of procedural appeals and general “Get out of jail free” cards available can seriously dent prospects and enthusiasm in equal measure.

Another element of the poor excuse is that councils don’t have the skilled, dedicated staff to enable them to go after the money itself which is indeed a separate skill set to the every day work if an EHO or planning enforcement officer.

Many conversations I have with my compatriots across the board sympathise with my enthusiastic exhortations to “Go for it” but say there isn’t the managerial or political will in their organization to do so, which puts a terribly debilitating crimp on your enthusiasm for the job and why so many people look to early retirement, like the TRO of 12 years standing that I know who gave it up to run a coffee shop, or the 2 skilled homelessness caseworkers I also know who now drive a London bus.

I wrote in my previous piece about lack of staffing and often unworkable legislation that allows rogue landlords to proliferate but the fact is, we have been gifted more enforcement legislation by the Tory government than we ever had under Labour, including the right to keep civil penalties to pay for further enforcement.

The facility is lying there like a £20 note on the pavement that people just walk past. It isn’t so much about the procedural difficulties, which do exist but what is lacking among so many local authorities is the organizational and managerial commitment to not be constrained by what are mainly just bumps in the road faced by any litigant.

Penalties are quite extensive and could really contribute to not only a local authority’s powers to make a difference to their renter citizens but also the deterrent effect on the criminals I moan about all day long who laugh all the way to the bank because they can just shrug off any sanctions imposed because the council too often just stop at the award, publicise it in the local News Shopper and then leave the money unrecovered.

I urge my housing enforcement readers not to take umbrage with me being so blunt on this, I know some councils who are really hot on it, Camden and Waltham Forest great cases in point but of the 300 or so local authorities in the UK many have a very poor record indeed.

There is a saying “They aren’t taking the piss…..we’re giving it away”

Actually that’s not really a saying, I just made it up but it sums up exactly how I feel.

Works In Default.

WIDs are a case in point. They are simply the ability for a local authority to carry out repair works where a landlord is ignoring their statutory duties and then bill the landlord for those works, adding a hefty admin fee on top.

A tenant with a broken down boiler in the middle of winter, that the landlord refuses to fix, can indeed be served with a works notice but they have to be given time to do it, there is time to appeal and while all of this is going on the tenant is living without any heating or hot water and if they are in priority need, the councils homelessness unit has to spend tens of thousands of pounds providing temporary accommodation whilst the law runs its slow and meandering course.

A WID would allow the council to get their own engineer in and fix it the same day, saving thousands and keeping the renter safe into the bargain.

Carrying out works in default on a leaking roof is a gift of an excuse to employ scaffolders and roofers, hire a skip, get a skip license from the council, purchase roof tiles and dump a hefty bill in the recalcitrant landlord’s lap. An object lesson in doing what they are supposed to do, causing them to think twice next time.

WIDs are used but not with any regularity and is entirely down to an individual local authority and the reason for not doing them, as I state above, is the general consensus that they will never get the money back so what’s the point?

As I said above, government changes allows local authorities to keep civil penalty notices to fund enforcement activity. Many CPNs run at £30,000. Get 4 CPNs in and you can fund a tidy team created solely at getting the money in, a team skilled in registering charges on properties, forcing sale, applying for third party debt orders and freezing bank accounts. All of which causes the blood to go cold in the rogue landlord community.

Safer Renting do many RROs for our clients. Nobody ever pays so we have had to learn all of these debt recovery skills in the past year. It really isn’t rocket science, once you’ve done a handful you know how they work…………..and no………..I’m not punting for work thank you.

I’m not having a go at my peers here either, in fact I know most enforcement officer reading this will be nodding in agreement but it isn’t up to them. Chasing CPNs or pursuing WIDS is a corporate commitment, it has to come from directorate level, senior cabinet members, even the Mayor and trickle down from there.

Its this very lack of corporate commitment that dispirits enforcement officers, why rogue landlords just laugh at us and is just another example of why so many good people are exiting the business.

The creation of Newham’s ground breaking rogue landlord strategy didn’t come from the frontline officers, it couldn’t because large organisations aren’t built that way. It came about because the then Newham Mayor Rockin’ Robin Wales made it a corporate edict and it rolled downhill from there.

So this piece is really a call to arms for Directors of services, councillors with the housing portfolio and mayors. The government have actually given enforcement officers more than enough tools to regulate the rogue PRS. They could do with streamlining but we certainly don’t need any more of them.

What we need down the front end is a corporate commitment, that can only come from you, to buck the tired old  reluctance to increasing the wage bill and create dedicated teams who have no other function than to get those penalties and awards in, fund enforcement and punish rogue and criminal operators.

Do you remember back in the 1990s when the buzz phrase in local authorities was “Spend to save”?

Guess what? It never went away.

£100,000 to employ a team of debt recovery officers to claw back millions? Come on….wake up!

 By Ben Reeve Lewis

Back to the Safer Renting Blog.

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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