Consultation on new powers to tackle rogue landlords

Audience: Landlords and residents

Open: 10 January 2018 to 23 February 2018

West Suffolk councils have made homes for our communities a corporate priority and private landlords are an important provider of housing for our residents. The Public Health and Housing team work proactively to support landlords to improve the standard of privately rented accommodation and to raise awareness of the how expected standard with tenants, so they too can work with their landlords. Our Housing standards and enforcement page has more information about the councils’ housing work.

The majority of landlords in west Suffolk provide good standard accommodation, but occasionally we need to take action against unscrupulous operators and Housing and Planning Act 2016 gives us new powers as described below. A new policy is required by the legislation for us to make use of the new powers. It will describe how we work with landlords and will include a fee structure for the level of fines. All income from fines must be used towards carrying out our statutory functions in relation to the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector.

We are consulting with landlords and residents on what level of fine should be fixed for different levels of harm and culpability. Please take a minute to answer the short survey below. Your responses are anonymous and be considered in setting the policy’s sanctions.

If you are a tenant experiencing difficulties with your accommodation please see our Housing standards enforcement guidance. It explains what you can expect from the Housing Standards Team, what standards we will meet and our enforcement powers. It also includes contact details if you need to get in touch with us about a specific issue.

In addition to the survey we will be engaging directly with the private rented sector to understand their concerns and aspirations and work with them to develop better practice and recognition of good standards and better landlords.

What are the new powers?

Civil penalties

Where evidence is found that one of the following offences under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 has been committed council officers will consider whether a civil penalty is an appropriate alternative to prosecution through the courts:

  • failure to comply with an Improvement Notice (section 30)
  • offences in relation to licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (section 72)
  • offences in relation to licensing of houses under Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004 (section 95)
  • offences of contravention of an overcrowding notice (section 139)
  • failure to comply with management regulations in respect of Houses in Multiple Occupation (section 234).

The maximum fine that can be currently issued through a civil penalty is £30,000. Civil penalties will only be pursued where enough evidence is obtained to demonstrate ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a relevant offence has been committed. We will be seeking to ensure that resources are targeted on addressing the highest risks and the civil penalty will be pursued where it is considered the most appropriate course of action.

Banning orders

The use of banning orders is designed to prevent rogue landlords and/or property agents from letting property for a fixed period of time, from holding an HMO licence or from making a prohibited disposal of property. The banning order must be made for a minimum of 12 months. A banning order can be made by a tribunal if a person is convicted of a banning order offence which will be specified in regulations. Breach of a banning order is an offence which can result in a fine and/or imprisonment for a period of up to 51 weeks. The authority will have a statutory duty to enter data on a national database of rogue landlords.

Rent repayment orders

A rent repayment order is defined in section 40(2) of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 as an order requiring the landlord under a tenancy of housing to repay an amount of rent paid by a tenant, or pay a local housing authority an amount in respect of a relevant award of Universal Credit* paid in respect of rent under the tenancy. The council has a duty to consider applying to the tribunal for a rent repayment order in cases where an offence from the list below has been committed:

  • failure to comply with an Improvement Notice, contrary to section 30(1) of the Housing Act 2004
  • failure to comply with a Prohibition Order etc., contrary to section 32(1) of the Housing Act 2004
  • being a person having control of or managing a house in multiple occupation (HMO) which is required to be licensed under Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004 but which is not so licensed
  • being a person having control of or managing a house which is required to be licensed under Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004 but is not so licensed
  • using violence to secure entry to a property, contrary to Section 6(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977
  • illegal eviction or harassment of the occupiers of a property, contrary to section 1(2), (3) or (3A) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977
  • breach of a banning order made under section 21 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

*The reference to universal credit or a relevant award of Universal Credit includes housing benefit under Part 7 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 pending its abolition.

What isn’t changing?

Prosecutions will still be taken where appropriate. Where the offence is of the highest severity, or where the landlord has previous convictions or a poor track record of compliance, prosecution may be considered the most suitable course of action to enable a court to examine the circumstances and make the most appropriate decision. It is considered that prosecution shall be reserved for exceptional cases, and otherwise that civil penalties should normally be pursued for all clear breaches of the relevant legislation.

Who will the changes affect and when?

The changes will provide greater protection to tenants by enabling us to use a greater range of sanctions against rogue landlords and letting agents. It is expected that a new civil sanctions policy will be agreed by the councils in April 2018.

Tell us your views

We believe that bringing in a policy to enable us to make use of new civil sanctions will help us to protect tenants and compliant landlords by targeting the small minority of rogue landlords for whom current enforcement is not effective and who damage the reputation of the sector.

We are keen to hear your views on our proposed changes and any particular impacts that they may have. We will also be engaging directly with a range of stakeholder groups.

Improving West Suffolk Housing Standards Service

We would also like to take this opportunity to ask some wider questions about how we can improve the West Suffolk Housing Standards Service in respect of the private rented sector. We want to ensure that we are providing the right service, to the right people which will help us drive up standards of private rented accommodation across West Suffolk. Please complete the Improving West Suffolk Housing Standards Service survey