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Local authorities lack information about private rented sector

Most local authorities taking part in a Government study of their management of the private rented sector were insufficiently informed about local rental stock.

This is a conclusion of Local authority enforcement in the private rented sector: headline report, a study commissioned by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Conducted by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, the study was based on responses from 140 local authorities in England, and 80 interviews with stakeholders in 14 case study areas.

It concluded that the powers and enforcement measures available to local authorities appear to be valuable tools for tackling poor conditions in the private rented sector. However, local authorities were found it difficult to use these powers because of such factors as insufficient information and limited enforcement capacity.

However, there was evidence of increasing use of Banning Orders against rogue landlords. And the consensus view was that mandatory licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation and selective licensing helped improve standards and conditions.

But ‘with some notable exceptions and pockets of good practice, many enforcement teams were narrowly focused on fulfilling statutory duties and targeting only the worst standard properties.

The study noted that local authorities have a statutory duty to keep housing conditions under review and identify action needed, but those taking part ‘were not always well informed about the private rented sector stock’.

Local authorities were generally found to operate a ‘reactive’ enforcement service that responded to complaints, although a small number were making proactive efforts to identify and tackle poor conditions.

‘There are questions about the extent to which relying on tenant complaints is a robust basis for identifying poor conditions’, said the study authors. ‘Officers reported that tenants in the “sub-standard” private rented sector can be fearful of reprisals or eviction and have limited understanding of their rights, and so may not report issues’.

Lack of comprehensive data and knowledge about the private rented sector is hampering efforts to identify poor conditions and rogue landlords, the study concluded. ‘A mandatory register of all landlords would go some way to filling this data gap’.