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Rogue Landlords – Again

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Am I the only one struck by the fact that despite the rich diversity of our amazing language, with its’ power to inspire the greatest writers in the World to put pen to paper, seems rarely to be used to its’ fullest extent, with the same adjectives being used, over and over again in articles? It is even more disappointing that a high-grade newspaper like The Times (Saturday, 17th October) chooses a headline that says ‘Families at mercy of rogue landlords’. Just to be sure that no-one misses the point that some landlords are ‘rogues’, the same word is used 8 times in the article.

We are all aware that there are landlords who do not behave well towards their tenants, who fail to keep their properties to the required standard, but is the situation quite as serious as the article says? Shelter state that over 250,000 people and 75,000 families live in private sector properties that are not fit to live in, or where they are harassed or exploited by the landlord. Given the high profile that Shelter and Citizens Advice Bureaux have, this seems an extraordinarily high number of families living in such dire conditions.

Do the statistics prove the case? In 2014, The Department for Communities and Local Government distributed £6.7 million in grants between 30 councils to inspect 40,000 privately rented properties. Presumably, the properties to be inspected were targeted, rather than random inspections, so it is no surprise to find that 3,000 were in a poor state. Perhaps the surprise is that only 3,000 (or 7.5%) needed enforcement action or prosecution. 37,000 (92.5%) must therefore have been in sufficiently good condition to require that no action be taken.

The main bone of contention it appears is money, and the amount of public money that is used to provide accommodation by means of housing benefit. The housing benefit bill last year was £25 billion, of which £9 billion went to private landlords. From the results of the inspections in 2014, this could indicate that £675 million of public money was going to unfit landlords, but Citizens Advice believe this is far too low an estimate. They estimate that the figure could be as high as £1.3 billion of benefit going to landlords who do not take their responsibilities towards their tenants seriously.

Terrible as the conditions in which some tenants live are, a spokesperson for Shelter put in a nutshell how they believe these situations come into existence: ‘Rogue landlords can only thrive when demand for property is much greater than supply and tenants feel like they don’t have an alternative’.

This is a not very merry-go-round of desperate people, accepting the worst accommodation because there is no other. If tenants did not accept the properties, they could not survive. But then, neither could the tenants who find themselves homeless or in over-crowded accommodation and have no option but to become rough sleepers.

Measures introduced from 1st October for new tenancies will not allow landlords to evict tenants because they have reported them to local authority enforcement teams, which may, in time, mean tenants are more prepared to be pro-active about reporting poor conditions.

‘Rogue’ landlords are sometimes ignorant of what the law says, sometimes they really are taking advantage of a situation which allows them to make huge profits out of the misfortunes of the tenants that they abuse. This unfortunately allows the media to paint all landlords in the same dark colour with few stories of the majority of excellent landlords making the front pages.

‘Rogue’ landlords are a minority in most parts of the country, but that is not the picture painted by the press, and not the impression that the newspaper reading public will be left with.

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