Environmental Health News (EHN) has done us all a huge service by publishing a list of landlords with convictions for housing offences.
For the first time we know the 2,006 companies and individuals who have been successfully prosecuted, but this figure is dwarfed by the 740,000 private rented households estimated to have hazards dangerous to human health. And the landlords in question get away with fines that hardly make a dent on the income they get from rents.
This has to stop.
EHN forced the Ministry of Justice to release the list of convictions, and it showed that far too many operate regardless of fines for poor conditions. Although fines amount to millions of pounds, this remains a drop in the ocean for slumlords taking in £5 billion in rental income.
The system has to change to ensure that local councils are able to tackle more effectively the criminal landlords who make tenants' lives a misery - and now there is a chance to bring about that change.
In the Autumn the Government will introduce a Housing Bill and we need to tell MPs they should take this chance to act on the private rented sector. A whole package of reforms could help the system work more proactively while empowering tenants to stand up to criminal landlords.
We are asking the government to:
1. Give tenants the right to walk away from signing a tenancy, and get their holding deposit back, if it is revealed that their landlord is on the list of housing convictions. This would work in tandem with obliging agents to reveal the name of the landlord on listings so tenants could check them on the list.
2. Increase the fines that local authorities can impose on criminal landlords and incentivise those councils to take more enforcement action by letting them keep the fines.
3. Introduce a national landlord licensing scheme to professionalise the sector and give landlords the training and support that they need to comply with the law and to support their tenants.
4. Expand the rent repayment system so tenants living in unsafe conditions can claim back rent.
This package is both needed and eminently achievable. When taken in conjunction with the incoming ban on revenge evictions, it would show that the government is serious about the major problems that poor conditions can cause to the health and wellbeing of tenants.
Write to your MP today, asking them to push for these measures to be taken forward in the Housing Bill.
The Bill will be introduced later this year but with Parliament in recess, we know that policy on this will be developed in the coming months. The tide is turning on the need to fundamentally change the private rented sector - let's take this opportunity to make the government act.