Rogue landlords who “deliberately or persistently” break the law are to be targeted by Lambeth council.
“Where poor conditions are identified in a privately rented property, we will seek to identify and inspect other properties owned or managed by the same individual or company” says a council report.
The new rules, which take effect from next Tuesday (August 14th), have been authorised by the council’s new cabinet member for housing Cllr Paul Gadsby under delegated powers rather than be considered in a committee like most councils.
A report accompanying Cllr Gadsby’s decision warns that the council will take action to ensure that privately owned empty dwellings in the borough are brought back into use. “Where owners are not willing to engage with the council we will use appropriate enforcement powers.”
Aim of the Policy
The report says: We aim to ensure that all enforcement activity we undertake is:
Targeted at properties and people that pose the greatest risk, including owners and landlords who evade licensing and regulation, and those whose properties cause a nuisance or put people’s health and safety at risk.
Proportionate: Reflecting the nature, scale and seriousness of any breach or non-compliance. This will ensure that the most serious risks are targeted first, and means that in some cases we may take informal action.
Fair and objective: Based on the individual circumstances of the case, taking all available facts into account.
Transparent: Our actions will be explained in plain language, with clear reasons given for any enforcement action taken and compliance failures or problems discussed with anyone experiencing difficulties. A clear distinction will be made between legal requirements (what must be done) and advice or guidance (what is desirable).
Consistent: Taking a similar approach in similar circumstances to achieve similar ends. It does not mean uniformity, as we will take into account many factors such as the level of risk, the history of compliance and the attitude and actions of those involved.
Accountable: Undertaken in a responsible manner that has a clear purpose. Where enforcement action is taken, we shall ensure the target is given information about their rights of appeal and otherwise how they might register a complaint.
The report has been prepared having regard to the Regulator’s Code Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO April 2014).
“In certain instances we may conclude that a provision in the Code is either not relevant or is outweighed by another provision. “We will ensure that any decision to depart from the Code will be properly reasoned, based on material evidence and documented.”
BACKGROUND TO THE NEWS
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 introduced new enforcement powers designed to complement the powers PSES (Property Standards and Enforcement Service) use to target rogue landlords and managing agents.
These changes include a power for the council to impose civil penalties of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for several specified offences under the Housing Act 2004 and extend the scope of rent repayment orders so as to cover illegal eviction and other specified offences.
The report outlines these powers and seeks approval to use civil penalties and rent repayment orders as laid out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 as further tools to assist the council in improving standards within the private rented sector.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 makes several amendments to the Housing Act 2004 and introduces a range of measures to assist local authorities to tackle rogue landlords and managing agents, including:
Powers to impose civil penalties of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for certain specified offences ;
The extension of rent repayment orders to cover illegal eviction, breach of a banning order and certain other specified offences;
The introduction of a database of rogue landlords and property agents who have been· convicted of certain offences or received multiple civil penalties; and
Banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders.
“The adoption of these powers supports the council’s commitment to target and drive out irresponsible, criminal landlords who fail to provide decent homes and to drive up management standards within the private rented sector” says the report.
The report says enforcement, in the context of this policy is not limited to formal enforcement action such as prosecution, but includes for example, the inspection of premises for the purposes of checking compliance with legislation and the provision of advice regarding housing standards.
“We will minimise the costs of compliance for residents and landlords by ensuring that any action required is proportionate to the risks involved or seriousness of any breach.
“As far as the law allows, we will take account of the circumstances of the case and the attitude of the owner or agent when determining what action to take. “We will have regard to various courses of remedial action and will consider what is ‘reasonably practicable’.
“We will take particular care to work with small landlords and businesses, and charitable organisations so that they can meet their legal obligations without unnecessary expense, where practicable.
“But we will not compromise on health and safety standards.”
Requests from private tenants
The report says that, except in emergency situations, tenants of the private rented sector should inform their landlord of the problem (preferably in writing) and allow them an opportunity to resolve it. We will normally direct tenants to contact their landlord first, but will investigate a complaint where private tenants are dissatisfied with the response or action undertaken by their landlord.
This is because landlords can only carry out their legal obligations once they have been made aware of the problem. The law covering landlord and tenant issues requires that tenants notify their landlords of any problems with the property.
In certain situations tenants will not be expected to contact their landlord first, e.g.:-
the tenant has received notice to leave the accommodation
where the matter appears to present an imminent risk to the health and safety of the occupants;
where there is a history of harassment/threatened eviction/poor management practice;
· where the tenant appears to be vulnerable or where there are vulnerable members of the household;
where the tenant could not for some other reason be expected to contact their landlord/managing agent;
where the property is a House in Multiple Occupation which appears to fall within the council’s HMO Licensing Scheme.
We will normally make an appointment with the occupier to gain access to investigate conditions.
Tenants have a right to invite us into the property for the purpose of inspection or investigation without the need to inform the landlord or require their permission. In many cases the tenant does not want the landlord to be present during our visits. For these reasons we do not, as a matter of course, give prior notification to landlords when we have arranged inspections.
In appropriate circumstances, a notice of intended entry will be served or an application made to the magistrates court for a warrant to enter, e.g. if the premises is vacant or access is refused or it is reasonably anticipated will be refused.
The council will take action to ensure that privately owned empty dwellings in the borough are brought back into use. Where owners are not willing to engage with the council we will use appropriate enforcement powers.
We will carry out any works to remedy any defects affecting neighbouring properties or which may be considered to be a nuisance or a danger to the public.
The council will consider the use of enforced sale in appropriate cases to facilitate bringing a property back into use and may use CPO’s (compulsory purchase orders) in exceptional circumstances.
But it adds: The high cost of property in Lambeth usually means that the council lacks the necessary resources to purchase empty homes.
The report also adds a list of relevant legislation and regulations:
This policy sets out the way in which we will approach our powers and responsibilities as a Housing Authority under the following Acts and Regulations made thereunder:
The Housing Act 1985
The Housing Act 2004
The Building Act 1984
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended)
The Public Health Act 1936 (as amended)
The Local Government [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act 1976 and 1982
The Prevention of Damage by Pest Act 1949
Protection from Eviction Act 1977
Deregulation Act 2015
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
The Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property (England & Wales) Regulations 2015
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.
In addition to our powers as a local housing authority there are further powers available to us as the local planning authority and through Trading Standards and the regulation of letting and managing agents.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013
Redress scheme for Letting Agency Work and Property Management Work (England) Order 2014
Consumer Rights Act 2015
Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)
The Planning Enforcement Protocol is available on the following link:https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/pl-planning-enforcement-protocol-nov2017_0.pdf
Full report: Lambeth.gov Civil Penalty Notices for Private Rented Sector Landlords – new enforcement powers contained in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 allowing the Council to impose civil penalties and to apply for rent repayment order