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Local authorities failing to prosecute rogue landlords

Failure of local authorities to police the private renting and to prosecute criminal landlords is bringing the  sector into disrepute and risks undermining promised reforms.

This is the view of the National Residential Landlords Association which has found that over the last three years two thirds of English councils have not prosecuted any landlords for offences related to the upkeep of their rental properties.

The information was obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. Some 283 local authorities across England responded, revealing that between 2018/2019 and 2020/21 only 93 had not successfully prosecuted a landlord for offences related to standards in or the management of private rented housing. Of those that had taken action, 10 per cent had secured only one successful prosecution.

Overall, just 20 local authorities were responsible for 77 per cent of all successful prosecutions. The three local authorities with the highest number of prosecutions (Southwark, Birmingham and Hull) were responsible for 38 per cent of all such action across England. Of these, Birmingham and Hull had no local landlord licencing scheme in place.

Among those councils responding, just 937 successful prosecutions of criminal landlords had taken place over the past three years. This is despite government estimates in 2015 that there may be around 10,500 rogue landlords in operation.

The new data follows research published earlier this year by the NRLA which showed that over the same three years, 53 per cent of English councils had issued no civil penalties against private landlords.

Whilst the Government has pledged to publish a white paper on reform of the private rented sector next year, the NRLA is warning that a failure to enforce the wide range of powers already available to tackle criminal and rogue landlords will critically undermine further reform.

The NRLA is calling on the Government to provide councils with the multi-year funding needed to ensure they are properly resourced to take action against criminal landlords. According to research by Unchecked UK the amount spent on housing standards by local authorities in England fell by 45 per cent between 2009 and 2019.

‘The vast majority of responsible landlords are sick and tired of a failure to root out the minority who bring the sector into disrepute’, said NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle. ‘The problem is not a lack of powers, but a failure by councils to enforce them properly.

‘Whilst ensuring councils have the resources they need is vital, so too is the need for them to be more transparent about the levels of enforcement they are taking. In short, local authorities need to prioritise activity to find and root out criminal landlords, ensuring it is they who meet the costs of such efforts’.