Criminal landlords are putting the lives of “Generation Rent” at risk by forcing tenants to live in squalid and unsafe conditions because the fines imposed on them are too low, a report claims.
Local authorities are calling for an overhaul of the system for prosecuting rogue owners who regard the penalties handed down by the courts to be part of their “operating costs”.
In one case, the landlord of a rented home shared by six tenants and described by inspectors as a “hovel”, was fined just £100 and told to pay a £20 victim surcharge by magistrates for repeatedly failing to comply with an order requiring them to fit fire alarms or escape routes.
Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that in three-quarters of cases the average penalty for rogue landlords is £5,000 or less – a fraction of the profits to be made by some owners whose portfolios can include hundreds of properties.
Soaring house prices have left the option of owning a home beyond the reach of huge swathes of the population, with families as well as young people now forced in increasing numbers into the private sector to rent.
According to the LGA, which represents 400 councils in England and Wales, it can take up to 16 months to bring a rogue landlord to court. Mike Jones, the chairman of the LGA’s environment and housing board, said fines were often little more than a “slap on the wrist”.
He added: “The current system for prosecuting rogue landlords is not fit for the 21st century. Criminal landlords are exploiting this and endangering tenants’ lives.
Among the horror stories gathered by councils were of homes where properties did not have secure front doors and where tenants discovered strangers sleeping in their front room. Another reported a fire escape leading on to a three-storey drop.
Kris Hopkins, the Housing minister, said: “We are determined to tackle the minority of landlords who offer tenants a poor service. That’s why we have given £6.7m to councils to use their powers to confront rogue behaviour, and why we’re changing the law to increase fines.”