Sim Sekhon: Funding to tackle rogue landlords is a drop in the ocean
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: our industry needs to drive out criminal landlords. Despite them being a minority, their effect on the way we are perceived by the public is massive and their impact on the lives of tenants can be devastating. That’s why although I support new funding made available to councils to tackle the issue, I must question its scale.
On the face of it, £4m is no mean sum. But £4m spread over 100 local authorities averages at £40,000 per council, barely the cost of one annual salary, and that’s not a generous sum when so much needs to be done to protect tenants in an expanding private rental sector.
Often claims are made that more regulation is needed. I disagree. Councils already have the power they need to take enforcement action. They don’t because they lack resources or because they don’t make it a priority. Data provided by Manchester City Council, for example, shows the council has prosecuted only 12 landlords since 2015.
Let’s take a quick look at resources. We know that funding is tight and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But we’ve all heard cases of local authorities levying hefty parking fines which are often a major source of revenue. Even if we don’t like it, we can understand the financial imperative. Meanwhile enforcing the existing legislation on housing standards is seen as a drain on a council’s funding and becomes constrained by a budgeting process with multiple competing priorities.
The question then, given this injection of new funding, is how local authorities will choose to invest it. There are plans for specialist training in some areas, and Northampton has plans for a Special Operations Unit to tackle the worst offenders. All good stuff, but is it likely to have a long-term impact? One council – Greenwich – is apparently earmarking its share of the cash to trial damp detection technology. Others want to offer more advice to tenants about their rights.
There is little coordination here, and again a lack of long-term thinking. Like sticking a band-aid on a major wound it looks like action is being taken, but much more needs to be done. And sadly, £4m just isn’t enough. That’s why I believe that councils should be allowed to utilise the revenue from property-related fines to fund an effective enforcement service.
Although some may see councils as interfering busybodies, we’d be far better off working with them and having our voice heard than fighting them. Furthermore, I believe councils should liaise with our industry bodies on developing effective strategies to stamp out the criminal element. The responsible landlord has nothing to fear from an increase in council enforcement. The legislation is in already in place which should ensure that decent standards of housing are delivered by the private sector. Indeed, if we, as landlords and agents, don’t uphold those standards and do what we can to outlaw rogue practice, our industry will never be respected.