Related Sector: Investigations
Rogue landlords remain a chronic problem, and the tragic death of Rochdale resident, two-year old Awaab Ishak has thrown a spotlight on the poor housing standards faced by many tenants across the country. The government announced last month that it would implement “Awaab’s Law”, which will require social housing providers to remedy reported damp and mould within certain time limits.
But what steps can housing departments currently take to hold rogue landlords accountable?
Under the Housing Act 2004 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local councils have the power to enforce housing standards and impose significant fines on landlords in breach of their licenses. In practice, however, local authority legal departments are often too under-resourced to pursue rogue landlords through the small claims’ courts. This leads to rogue landlords going unpunished, and tenants left living in squalor or in unsafe homes.
Last year, Bond Solon was approached by a council housing department to develop a course that demystified the case law in this area and provided housing officers with the knowledge and tools to successfully pursue claims against rogue landlords. The Pursuing Rogue Landlords training course has already been delivered to several local authority housing departments and has been very well received. Not only are their staff empowered with the legal knowledge to enforce licence breaches, but they can now also make a real difference to those that need them.
We sat down with lawyer and Bond Solon trainer Geraint Jones, who co-authored the Bond Solon Rogue Landlords course, to find out a little more about why it has been developed and the impact it has had on council housing department enforcement.
Q. Hello Geraint, please can you start by providing some information on the current social housing landscape climate and why rogue landlords might have slipped under the radar?
There seems to be vastly different approaches taken by housing departments in terms of enforcement against poorly performing landlords. Some departments have embraced the rogue landlord legislation and have been very successful in imposing fines and obtaining rent repayment orders. Others, however, are still a little tentative in their approach.
We are now seeing emotive headlines about poor housing on an almost daily basis, including the tragic case of Awaab Ishak. Hopefully, therefore, the impetus is now there for housing departments to utilise the relevant legislation, forcing rogue landlords to either improve poor house conditions or leave the sector.
Q. That’s interesting. So, as you know Bond Solon was contacted by a local housing department to create a course on this subject. What do you think might have prompted this?
Just before the pandemic, council housing departments were able to access grant funding for training. This led to many councils using the grant to allow support staff to achieve the Advanced Professional Certificate in Investigative Practice.
Over the course of a year, hundreds of housing enforcement officers embarked on the programme. During these training sessions, it became clear that many housing departments felt ill equipped to pursue rogue landlords. And as a result, they adopted a far more conciliatory approach than might have been warranted. While most housing officers were aware of the enforcement options open to them, they lacked the confidence to use them, for fear they would be challenged at tribunal. This prompted Bond Solon to develop a one- or two-day rogue landlord course as a bolt on to the existing Advanced Professional Certificate. The course was designed to take delegates through the legislation and empower them to use the law at their disposal.
Q. Tell us more about the course?
This course can be completed as two days or standalone one-day courses.
Day one focuses on the legal framework and process/procedure of pursuing claims against rogue landlords. This involves an exploration of:
- The key legislation - the Housing Act 2004 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
- Pursuing civil penalties as an alternative to prosecution.
- Rent repayment orders.
- Tribunal case preparation.
- Enforcing debt through the county courts.
- Current tribunal trends.
- A residential property tribunal case law update.
Day two is a mock hearing - an opportunity for housing officers to develop the skills required to present cases at tribunal and put those skills into practice.
Q. Do you think this course provides a solution to the issue?
The problem, it seems is that some housing departments are much further forward than others in developing a team that is confident and experienced in enforcement. We hope this course will go some way to developing a more consistent approach across the country.
Q. Are there any other benefits in giving Housing Officers these skills?
Yes. Some of the fines imposed on landlords can be significant, up to £30,000. There is a scale to calculate the level of fines, depending on the severity of the breach.
The money from these fines is returned to the council bringing the action and not a centralised government pot. This extra money can have a real impact on the ability of councils to make a difference to housing standards. One local authority told me they are making enough money from successful fines to fund two extra full-time members of staff for enforcing the standards. So, a real virtuous circle.
Q. The feedback has been very positive so far. What observations have you made when delivering the courses?
We’ve encountered varied levels of experience within the groups. The less experienced officers have found the step-by-step guide through the law invaluable, as well as the opportunity to put it into practice with a series of case studies. For the more experienced officers, we’ve had great feedback on the afternoon session when we deliver a case law update and an input on current tribunal trends. This gives them an insight into the way their decisions get challenged by the landlords’ lawyers and to the approach taken by the tribunals.
Please find some details on the Pursuing Rogue Landlords course here. If you are interest in e.xploring this course for your department, please contact one of the Bond Solon team on +44 (0) 20 7549 2549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published on 04 May 2023
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