It was recently reported that despite the powers local authorities have always had to address issues associated with poor landlords (who are believed to be a major factor in deteriorating neighbourhoods) there will be new powers to fine poor landlords.
Many of the supposedly poor landlords I have met, are actually the victims of unscrupulous tenants. But of course, as landlords are the ones with power, no-one will be expecting tenants to pay a fine for poor tenanting. This would be of more help to society as a whole than targeting landlords, who with a few exceptions generally do not deserve the often-used epithet ‘rogue’.
Those poor landlords that do should face the harshest penalties, because their behaviour affects the reputation of the good landlords who want to provide decent homes for decent tenants. Even some very wealthy landlords use the mantra ‘is this good enough for me to live in?’ If it is, it is good enough for their tenants.
However, whether deserved or not, a range of housing offences will now be addressed by fines of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution. The income raised from these large fines will be retained by local authorities; this would be used for further enforcement of the private sector. A landlord might well wish to avoid prosecution as this will often disbar them from membership of a professional association and accreditation schemes and, perhaps worse from a landlord point of view, would mean that their other properties would be inspected with a microscopic eye for flaws.
Poor landlords found guilty of illegal eviction, harassment of a tenant and the use of violence to secure entry of a property may find a rent repayment order being imposed. Those landlords will then face loss of the rent that has been paid by the victimised tenant and rightly so – these are criminal offences.
For a case to proceed to Court on the grounds of illegal eviction, harassment or Use of Violence to secure a property, it will generally indicate a very stubborn landlord who feels they can do what they like – Court can usually be avoided by allowing a tenant access and commencing with the legal process to evict. Judges know this, which is why when the case is proved, the penalties seem harsh – because the landlord has refused to accept legal advice from his solicitor, or from the local authority, who have tried to restore the tenant to the property. The answer is always – listen to what you are told, don’t argue, let the tenant back and commence legal proceedings.
This feels like a further threat to landlords, already terrorised by deposit protection legislation, right to rent, and restrictions on the use of section 21; however, they are not the only ones who are unhappy at the legislation and the way it is implemented.
Hackney Council has said that the new measures were ‘chaotic’, with councils only given guidance on the legislation the day before it was introduced. This gives little time for staff training, devising systems by which they will operate – and this following a period of staff cuts which has meant normal enforcement has had to be curtailed.
Presumably, the funds raised from hefty fines will finance the enforcement that is required. What a pity that yet again, it should be at the expense of some decent landlords that make a mistake, as well as the landlords that deliberately defy the law.
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