As most landlord investors will know, new and more rigorous landlord-related regulations have been arriving thick and fast in recent years. As well as creating extra work and expense most will also realise, sometimes reluctantly, that these can actually be a benefit to bona-fide landlords. They mean (or should mean) that less-than-scrupulous individuals are kept out of the business thus levelling the playing field for those who do play by the rules.
It seems a little odd, therefore, that enforcement of these rules - particularly with regards to sub-standard properties - has not, or at least seems to have not, kept pace with the introduction of more and more of them. HMO, selective and additional licensing has been around for some time of course. Although England has stopped short of universal landlord licensing, the Housing and Planning Act, enacted last month, is the latest round of legislation to give local authorities more powers to track and licence landlords, and ban and fine the so-called rogue landlords. However, according to recent data collected by the Residential Landlord Association (RLA) under freedom of information requests, of the 255 councils that responded, just 827 prosecutions had been taken out against landlords over the last five years following notices to improve a property having been issued.
Research conducted amongst English local authorities (of which 120 or 37% responded) by Dr. Stephen Battersby, a freelance environmental health and housing consultant for Labour MP Karen Buck, offers some more insight. It says that of the approximately 52,000 complaints about poor living conditions received in 2013-14, housing officers only inspected approximately 14,000 properties. Formal enforcement action under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2014 only occurred in approximately 3,500 cases.
On average each local authority prosecuted fewer than one landlord per year. The report suggests that local authorities are more likely to use informal methods, such as an advisory letter, even though failing to take formal enforcement action could put them in breach of their statutory legal duty. The report also suggests that local authorities are frequently unaware of exactly how many privately rented properties actually exist in their area.