by | Apr 5, 2021 | Safer Renting

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I read an interesting piece in today’s Guardian  by Daniel Lavelle on how, 3 years on, there are only 39 rogue landlords listed on the national database. It’s a good article and the interviewees pretty much spot on with comments.

I have comments of my own to add but first the figures.

According to the article, government estimate that there are 10,500 rogue landlords out there. How the hell do they know? That figure is plucked out of thin air.

Even allowing for their ‘Guess’, this presumably means 10,500 individual landlords without taking into account that they may own numerous properties where unknown amounts of households live in fear and poor conditions.

For instance I have personally dealt with one very violent thug in Enfield area who owns 64 properties, with several households in each.

Also you have to factor in that several households will pass through these properties in a year, providing fresh victims on a rolling basis. 10,500 landlords does not mean 10,500 renter/victims.

The nature of rogue landlord-ing is by nature clandestine and there is always the unresolved issue of what constitute a rogue landlord, that few agree on, which is why I have always found the term very unhelpful.

Is a rogue landlord someone who breaks the law, even if they don’t know it exists? Bearing in mind that in general, ignorance of the law is no defence.

Does someone not become a rogue landlord until they have been prosecuted for it? Some hold to this view on the basis that a person is always innocent until proven guilty.

Is a rogue landlord someone who sets out to deliberately break the law? If so, is it the intention that makes them a rogue?

Is there a difference between a rogue and a criminal landlord? Safer Renting regularly deal with these types of people, vicious thugs and gangsters who also run letting agencies.

Since Shelter coined the term “Rogue landlord” in 2011 it has done a good job of raising awareness of the existence of such people but beyond that it’s not helpful, especially when government make up figures that they cant possibly support.

For example, Safer Renting deals with around 200 cases of threatened and actual illegal eviction a year. This figure is supported by our detailed database and is compiled from referrals received from what were just five London council partnerships, that we had until April last year when we added a sixth, Lambeth and October when we added a seventh, Newham.

Now we have ten local authorities but we have yet to see figures coming in from the new ones, so we expect a massive increase.

Bear in mind there are 32 London boroughs and around 330 councils nationally, so 10,500 rogue landlords? My arse, as Jim Royal would say.

As for the database itself, well in 2015  I actually sat on one of the focus groups for the Housing and Planning Act at the Home Office. The NLA was there, as was the RLA and various landlord bodies, including Paul Shamplina for the private, profit earning company and eviction specialists, ‘Landlord Action’ but with only myself, as an independent and Shelter, speaking up for the renters. We both called for the database to be available to the public but predictably got voted down by overwhelming numbers by the suits on the other side.

True, Theresa May announced that the database should and would be made available to the public but as with the abolition of s21, it seems so far to be just talk.

Why are there so few landlords on the database? Is it because enforcement officers aren’t loading them up on there or is it because so few banning orders are being secured?

10,500 rogue landlords. Thirty Nine landlords under banning orders amounts to roughly 0.5% of the government’s own meagre estimate, which tells you one of three things:-

1.       Banning orders are so procedurally difficult that few of the government’s 10,500 actually get one, in which case what is the point of them?

2.       There aren’t enough enforcement officers to secure the banning orders, or

3.       Officers are getting banning orders but not bothering to load them onto the database.

My educated guess is that it is a combination of 1 and 2, although if 3 holds any water I would put that down to the pointlessness of the national database as a source of information for enforcement officers. Lets face it, housing enforcement types in different authorities know who their usual suspects are, they dont need a national database to tell them.

Whilst it might be useful to know which rogue landlord operates elsewhere in the UK, it is unusual for a rogue to run properties in say Hackney and Bradford at the same time, they tend to stay more local, so they can beat up two sets of households in the same afternoon without troubling Virgin Trains and housing enforcement officers often know each other and meet at conferences and online events to swap notes anyway, so its hardly a essential resource for them.

The GLA landlord checker on the other hand,  is more practical because it shares information over neighbouring London boroughs, where the known rogues operate, which actually helps London enforcement officers and London’s tenants, who can check out whether to sign on the dotted line.

So are banning orders worth the fuss? Probably not. Even if you jump through enough hoops to actually get a one, presuming that the landlords don’t evade action by exploiting loopholes and FTT appeals, those subject to them can easily just nominate another crook to run their business affairs, or even just start up yet another shonky limited company run by their three year old nephew to avoid detection.

I’ve never had a discussion with any of the numerous enforcement officers I have come to know over the years. It has such little credibility, it just never crops up in conversation. The database is just not mentioned and I suspect many view it like the vestigial legs on a snake. Interesting curiosity but of no real practical use.

I’m sure there is the odd case where a banning order actually stopped a rogue in their tracks but it isn’t a widespread cure-all by any means. Rogues and criminals flout the law because it is their very nature to not care about it.

Here is what would make a national database credible and would motivate enforcement officers of all stripes to start populating it:-

·         Open to the public.

·         Contain names and addresses of landlords and agents who have been subject to a successful rent repayment order,

·         Been penalised in criminal or civil court for harassment and illegal eviction,

·         Been issued with a banning order,

·         Subject to an Environmental Protection Act notice

·         Been served with works notices that they failed to comply with,

·         Charged unfair fees under the Tenant Fees Act,

·         Were subject to an injunction for harassment or illegal eviction that was upheld by the county court.

·         Failed to protect the tenant’s deposit.

·         Failed to respond to an EHOs request for information under s235 Housing Act 2004

·         Lied in response to a s235 notice.

·         Where council were forced to carry out works in default where the landlord failed in repairing obligation.

·         Subject to interim management order.

·         Penalised for breach of HMO management regs.

·         Failing to license.

I could probably go on but you get my drift.

All of the above and more are the standard business practices of rogue and criminal landlords but of course would be complete pie on the sky while councils lack the resources to even go after them on this scale.

Couple the extended reasons for being entered on the national database, along with properly staffed enforcement teams and you might see the national database being worth a candle, none of which will happen while government thinks that there are only 10,500 rogue landlords out there

  by Ben Reeve Lewis

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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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