A new national database, naming private landlords who have been convicted of safety breaches has been created by our friends over at Environmental Health News, the magazine of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health’s magazine. This follows a ruling by the information commissioner that the Ministry of Justice must release its list of property firm convicted under the Housing Act 2004 – initially the MOJ refused.
The database goes some way towards giving private renters peace of mind about their landlord, as renters can now check to see whether their landlord or letting agent has been prosecuted for housing related offences. Of the 68 offences by 57 companies, there were several firms convicted of multiple offences, including faulty fire alarms, pigeon-infested homes and over-flowing waste pipes. One of the worst offenders is Aspire Property Group, who last year received £184,287 in housing benefit money from Burnley council.
Many of these prosecuted property companies have received several hundreds of thousands pounds in the form of housing benefit for flats, which, according to one council, were in ‘an appalling and dangerous state of repair’. It is baffling that councils continue to pay out housing benefit money to these companies who are clearly abusing the system.
However, this database should aide councils in tackling rogue landlords, providing an accessible starting point for targeting the worst offenders. As we pointed out in the Guardian article, more local authorities are introducing licensing to help them identify and prosecute criminal landlords – but this will mean that some of these merely move their operations to a new area to avoid prosecution. This database will give neighbouring councils the ability to crack down on rogue firms who have faced criminal charges in other local authority areas and who may be operating in their vicinity.
However, as our chair, Stephen Battersby, who is the vice-president of CIEH has pointed out, this represents just the tip of iceberg when it comes to landlords endangering their tenants as prosecution is the last resort. There are thousands of landlords out there who are disregarding the law and putting tenants’ lives at risk – and we have no way of knowing who they are.
All of this provides a powerful argument for a national register of landlords. Until landlords are properly licensed, tenants won’t know until after they have the signed for the tenancy and potentially found some problems in their home, whether their landlord is, in fact, a ‘fit and proper person’ who will abide by current regulation. All of the landlords who were prosecuted can operate in any borough that does not required licensing and could be your landlord...