An investigation carried out by the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) has raised concerns about poor quality housing in Norfolk and Suffolk which are being let to families in the region in conditions that can cause harm to health through poor maintenance.
The devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London has made everyone acutely aware of the importance of ensuring properties in the residential sector are let out in a safe condition.
While the vast majority of responsible landlords deliver an essential service and offer good standard of accommodation, the EDP article identifies a number of landlords who deliberately flaunt the law. New regulations are being implemented to crack down on so called rogue landlords. The reality is however that the new regulations will affect all properties and apply to every landlord who lets out property in England.
The Chairman of the Eastern Landlords Association Paul Cunningham spoke to the EDP to give a landlord's perspective.
The residential letting sector is already highly regulated. Most landlords manage their properties well, but the highly regulated nature of sector is a minefield of traps that can catch out good and well intentioned landlord. All landlords should be on notice to pay proper regard to the maintenance of their property, react to complaints from tenants and notices received from a local housing officer. So for example if a landlord carries out work to the property which has the potential of creating a risk to the health or safely of a tenant, such as painting over fire or smoke strips on internal doors, or replaces a boiler but fails to ensure the appropriate escape route in the event of a fire complies with current building regulations, they may find themselves being on the end of a substantial civil penalty issued by the local housing authority.
Rogue landlords create problems for all landlords. In their survey the EDP found homes infested with mould and damp, suffering from leaks and floods, with many families forced to stay in poor accommodation because moving is so expensive. In their survey the EDP report there were many cases of tenants asking landlords to remedy issues, but finding their landlords perhaps doing a little bit to keep them quiet but not fixing problems. The EDP also report that some tenants who complain are getting evicted.
The EDP believe that local authorities lack the staff to fully tackle the problem. Housing charity Shelter has said the lack of affordable homes means more tenants have been pushed into the arms of poor landlords. The government says they are aware of the problem generally and are already looking to crack down on rogue landlords. Local Authorities have the power to serve improvement notices if a property is in disrepair or poses a risk to health and to now in certain cases to serve civil penalty notices on top of the cost of the remedial work. We have seen penalty notices on one landlord recently in excess of £30,000. Local Authorities also still have the power to prosecute landlords in the magistrates court.
Part of the fear for responsible landlords is that local housing authorities who are struggling for funding won't pursue the real rogue landlords but will look for soft targets and use the civil penalty regime to raise much needed cash. So in the example of a well intention landlord who carries out internal painting to a property but inadvertently paints over a fire strip may find himself exposed to a civil penalty because they are easy targets. The civil penalty process will be less time consuming for the council than a prosecution in a magistrates court so landlords can expect to see more of this.
The EDP article says "It is the landlord's responsibility under the housing act and a moral responsibility to maintain their property." Most landlords don't have an issue with that and in fact members of the Eastern Landlords Association have a code of conduct for the responsible management of their properties. Time will tell how effective the new regime will be in cracking down on rogue landlords.
The EDP article identified the need for tenants to take responsibility for the state of their homes and for council inspections should be targeted at known rogue landlords.
The EDP article went on to highlight cases where tenants on benefits were living in homes which had been flooded with raw sewage and had no heating and there are some 2,700 homes in Norwich which have serious hazards, according to council figures.
More than 90% of landlords refuse tenants on benefits out of fear they will not pay rent which can mean that tenants end up in properties managed by rogue landlords.
The poor state of some rented homes was debated by Norwich City Council's scrutiny committee in February 2018. Councillors were told the vast majority of the 14,000 privately rented homes in the city were in a good condition and had responsible landlords, but 2,755 - one in five - had a "category one hazard" which could include excessive cold, mould as well as fire risks.
Norwich City Council have reported some shocking cases of neglect, including one landlord renting a garage as a home, water leaking out of electric sockets, and people living in a basement with no windows or fire escapes. It is to be hoped that local authorities across the region will be using their new powers to focus resources to tackle rogue landlords.
In terms of what the law provides, every landlord is under a duty to comply with minimum repair standards in section 11 of the Housing Act 1985. This includes; repair of the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes); keeping in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity); and to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water. If any landlord is unsure of the extent of their obligations they should seek advice.
On the 1st October 2018 the government will be bringing more properties which are currently let out as 'Houses in Multiple Occupation' or 'HMO' into the licensing regime. Up to now a HMO with less than two storeys generally don't require a licence and many landlords have converted buildings as HMO's but kept them to two storeys to avoid the licence requirements. That will change on the 1st October 2018. That change will impact on the way local authorities regulate those properties giving them greater power and scope to impose obligations on landlords and where there is a breach to impose civil penalties. There is also a bill currently going through Parliament called Fitness for Human Habitation which will give tenants more power against bad landlords. The bill will help tenants who are being required to live in substandard properties.
The best advice for any landlord is to take proactive steps to ensure they carry out regular checks and maintain their properties and deal with issues when they arise. Make sure safety checks are carried out and their properties comply with any licence regulations or building regulations.