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The government isn’t keeping pace with the ways rogue landlords exploit their vulnerable tenants

Landlords are ignoring serious repairs, shunning their responsibilities in the confidence that tenants won’t have the time, patience, or know-how to pursue legal action

Rabina Khan
Friday 17 July 2020 07:25 BST
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Landlords call for end to coronavirus eviction ban that stops people being made homeless

Shelter should be commended for their campaigning work to end housing benefit discrimination, which has resulted in a York County Court ruling confirming that this type of discrimination is unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act 2010. The ruling was made after a letting agent refused the application of a disabled, single parent who was in receipt of housing benefit. The letting agency was ordered to pay the woman £3,500.

In March 2019, the government was calling for the end to housing advertisements that specified “no DSS” tenants, but even after property advertising platforms began to remove adverts with this wording, they still continued to appear, as no legal ruling had been enforced and the guidance was only advisory.

It took a judge to stop this blanket ruling. In December 2019, Shelter revealed that 280,000 people were recorded as homeless in England – an increase of 23,000 since 2016, although the true figures are probably greater than this as not all homelessness is documented.

Although this news is welcome, the laws to protect people in the private rented sector need to extend much further. The current laws surrounding landlords’ legal obligations are extensive and complicated, but landlords may face prosecution for failing to adhere to their rights and responsibilities.

I had to work extremely hard to hold a private landlord to account in my ward for failure to address serious repairs that posed significant risks to the tenants. It appears that some landlords are exploiting these difficulties by shunning their responsibilities, confident that tenants won’t have the time, patience, or know-how to pursue legal action.

Michael James, a private rented sector tenant in my ward, saw a 2015 tribunal judgement in favour of him – he had been subjected to two revenge evictions after reporting unacceptable living conditions to me.

I supported Michael and, after extensive meetings with environmental health officers, a comprehensive report was compiled on the fire, risks and hazards arising from the substandard quality of housing in the block where he lived between 2013 and 2015. There were 20 improvement notices and 8 prohibition notices issued and it was discovered that the landlord had breached building regulations. Nevertheless, he continued to increase the tenants’ rent.

Landlords can be prosecuted under different aspects of the law, including The Housing Act 2004, Protection from Eviction Act (1977), The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005).

This means that agents and landlords who fail to address damp, condensation, repairs and leave individuals and families in uninhabitable housing environments, can be fined. Nevertheless, a minority of rogue landlords will find loopholes in current legislation, so it is crucial that the government keeps the pace with the legislation so that such landlords do not benefit from Britain’s housing crisis.

Discrimination in the housing sector is not new. Between 1948 and 1970, when almost half a million people from the West Indies moved to the UK as British citizens, many experienced difficulties in finding a place to live. Some landlords refused to rent to black people and placed offensive signs in their windows that read: “No dogs, no coloureds”. This forced West Indians to rent properties in the most rundown areas. These people had been invited to make Britain their home, so were naturally shocked by the discrimination and outbreaks of violence against them. It was only following the Race Relations Act 1976 that this was changed.

In fact, under certain conditions, housing benefit can be paid directly to the landlord, meaning that there is no danger of arrears accruing. In addition, people’s circumstances change, so an employed tenant can suddenly find themselves unemployed – and this is a situation that many people have faced during the pandemic.

Speaking about the recent court ruling, Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron, said: “With growing unemployment causing more people to claim benefits, this will potentially help many families in need, as well as those who have been homeless and whose only chance of getting into secure housing will be with benefits support.”

No one should be denied a place to live based on any form of direct or indirect discrimination.

Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Shadwell in Tower Hamlets Council

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