Over the coming weeks Safer Renting will be publishing it’s report “Journeys in the shadow private rented sector”, that has been two years in the making.
Until last week the report in progress was called “Journeys THROUGH the shadow PRS” but we decided that the wording suggested that people came out of the other end, rather than simply being trapped in it, which is the depressing reality for most.
The report maps out experiences of renters, housing enforcement officers, solicitors, MPs and those working in the lettings industry itself, compiled through interviews and case work of Safer Renting’s team working with harassment and illegal across 6 London boroughs over the past four years, all tied together under the watchful eye of York University’s Dr Julie Rugg and funded by Trust for London.
During the process of researching and writing the report, several recommendations have occurred to us on a number of fronts and there are some specific ideas for tweaking the law in ways that make it harder for rogue landlords and agents to operate and easier for redress to be taken to protect tenants.
I want to introduce you to one of these recommendations here, my personal favourite, as something that would really make a difference to enforcement officers and renters alike and which I don’t think would require a massive re-write of legislation, although obviously, changing a law isn’t just a matter of crossing something out and adding something else.
Our recommendation is to extend the use of Interim Management Orders (IMO) from licensing breaches, to include harassment and illegal eviction.
What is an IMO?:
for those that don’t know, IMOs are a piece of legal machinery set out in section 101 of the Housing Act 2004, which allows a local authority to take over management control of a property which is unlicensed and where there is no reasonable prospect of it obtaining one.
The IMO itself effectively makes the local authority the landlord for 12 months, who are then responsible for receiving the rent and carrying out necessary repairs.
Any money left over from the management function are passed on to the original landlord.
The reasoning behind these is itself set out in s101:-
“Any immediate steps which the authority consider necessary to protect the health, safety or welfare of persons occupying the house, or persons occupying or having an estate or interest in any premises in the vicinity,”
The first point I would make about our recommendation is that protecting tenants from harassment and illegal eviction fits very neatly into the above category of protecting the health or welfare of persons occupying the house., with no further qualifier needed to extend this part of the legislation.
There is often a certain amount of pushback from the local authorities themselves, in the form of objections that they don’t have the staff, resources or expertise to manage properties taken over under IMOs but there is nothing in the legislation that says the local authority needs to be the organisation directly managing a property.
Its perfectly acceptable to farm this work out to responsible local letting agents, although one of Safer Renting’s partner boroughs, the London Borough of Waltham Forest, have an in-house team of experienced agents dealing with IMOs who are perfectly willing and able to do the same for other boroughs if you ask them. (free publicity over)
Amending the law:
The Housing Act 2004 didn’t just usher in IMOs, it also introduced the world to the Rent Repayment Order (RRO – doncha just love all the acronyms?) which were themselves originally just for licensing breaches but the Housing and Planning Act 2016 took the baton and ran further with it, in the same direction that we propose.
The HPA removed the need for the council to have prosecuted a landlord before a tenant could apply for an RRO and very importantly, they added harassment and illegal eviction to the reasons for applying for them, which is exactly what the Safer Renting report recommendation is in our call to extend IMOs.
As with RROs a landlord can appeal the imposition of an IMO through the First Tier Property Tribunal and we do not propose anything to alter that process.
There is an argument that I do appreciate about the problems with expecting a civil tribunal, to make decisions based on evidential tests normally used in criminal prosecutions but the horse has bolted on that one, as they are already doing this with RROs for the same offence. The precedent has been established.
Is a rogue landlord refusing to license their property more of a criminal than someone who harasses or illegally evicts their tenant?
Evading the bureaucracy of a licensing scheme is one thing, as is risking lives by running properties with no fire safety precautions also an offence worth punishing but turfing families into the street and using threats and intimidation takes things to another level.
If government can bring in IMOs for harassment and illegal eviction, this would not only have the penalty element covered, it would also physically remove the bully from the situation altogether, allowing the household to live without fear.
I’ve said this repeatedly for many years, “Being a rogue landlord is all about the money, so the disincentive and the punishment must also be about the money”.
Losing the previous 12 month’s rental income through an RRO and the coming 12 month’s income through an IMO AND having control of the property wrested from them, is a far better deterrent to rogue landlord activity than a Criminal PFEA prosecution and the paltry fines that go with them.
I was going to end this article quoting “The punishment fit the crime” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” but being of a different cultural bent, instead quote the Ramones, from their song of the same name “Wise guys never compromise, then they lose their rights and act surprised”
Perhaps not as articulate as G&S but succinct nonetheless.
By Ben Reeve-Lewis