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Select committee calls for councils to have wider housing enforcement powers

MPs have backed wider and more widely used housing enforcement powers for councils and further protections for tenants from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report Private Rented Sector said councils should have more resources for housing enforcement and powers to levy fines of such magnitude that they could put disreputable landlords out of business.

They also backed the creation of a specialist housing court, which they said would provide a more accessible route to redress for tenants.

The report said 20% of households lived in the sector’s accommodation and while the vast majority were satisfied the lower end of the market looked very different.

There were 800,000 private rented homes with at least one Category One hazard, and 44% of tenants said fear of retaliatory eviction would stop them from making a complaint to their landlord, while some 200,000 reported having been abused or harassed by a landlord.

“There is a clear power imbalance in parts of the sector, with tenants often unwilling to complain to landlords about the conditions in their homes for fear of retaliation,” the report said. “Consumer rights are meaningless without the ability to use them in practice.”

MPs condemned the legislative framework through which local authorities derive their powers to intervene in the sector as “outdated and too complex”.

Enforcement by local authorities “has been far too low and inconsistent”, the MPs found, with 60% having not prosecuted any landlord since 2016.

MPs said local authorities should be able to impose fines at levels “which might stand a chance of breaking the business models of the worst offenders” and have powers to confiscate properties from landlords “committing the most egregious offences and whose business models rely on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants”.

Although new powers for local authorities – including civil penalties and banning orders for criminal landlords – had been introduced “these powers are meaningless if local authorities do not, or cannot, enforce them in practice”.

Councils had told MPs they lacked the resources to carry out their enforcement duties and the report called for “a new fund to support local authorities with this work, especially those that prioritise informal approaches to enforcement”.

There should be a national benchmarking scheme for local authority enforcement and and private rented sector enforcement strategies should be published online, the report said.

Committee chair, Labour’s Clive Betts, said: “The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes.

“Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties.”

But such powers would be meaningless if not used and “councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions”, he added.

The report also called for a Law Commission review of private rented sector legislation and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to be replaced with a more straightforward set of quality standards.

Mark Smulian

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