Finding out if your landlord is a criminal

There are now three live government consultations that could help to reshape the private rental market.

One is on reforming tenancy deposits (deadline for responses 2 September), the second is on abolishing Section 21 evictions (deadline 12 October) and the third, announced last Sunday as well, proposes giving tenants access to a government database of criminal landlords.

In April 2018, the government introduced a “rogue landlord database” to let councils share information about and monitor landlords convicted of certain offences including letting out dangerous homes, plus violent behaviour and fraud. But tenants have no way of knowing whether their landlord is on it, which means that landlords could continue to collect top dollar on the homes they own despite not being fit and proper people.

Landlords could even be banned from letting out homes and their tenants would be none the wiser.

We have a system where tenants have to provide details of previous landlords and their employer before they get the keys to a new flat, but they have no way of finding out what their new landlord is like – except for sites like Marks Out Of Tenancy, where the chances of your prospective home having been rated is currently slim.

We’ve always believed that criminals could be most effectively driven out of the market if we had a national landlord register (sign the petition).

The database for “rogue” landlords (i.e. criminals plus landlords who’ve been fined but not technically convicted of a crime) is at least a step in the right direction and since it was first announced in 2015 we have been calling on the government to open it up to tenants. The government’s excuse for not doing that has always been data protection – despite most landlord prosecutions being reported in the press anyway. The Mayor of London has gone ahead and opened up a list of prosecuted landlords and letting agents on the City Hall website.

Last October the government revealed that it was looking at how to open up the database (curiously, mere days after a Guardian investigation revealed that there were no landlords on the database at that point) – and this consultation is what they’ve come up with.

The principle of opening it up is not up for debate – the questions focus on details like:

  • what the benefits to tenants will be (for us, it’s avoiding bad landlords before you commit any money, and that in turn being an extra deterrent)
  • whether tenants should have to register in order to check whether a property is owned by a criminal, or whether they can simply search an address
  • how much information should be provided about a property if the landlord is a wrong ‘un
  • if your landlord should inform you that they’re on the database
  • if “fit and proper person tests” should be standardised and what should be in them
  • what other offences should mean a landlord gets included on the database

The government has proposed a lot of new offences to put a landlord on the list – even being served an improvement notice. Some of these we flagged up with the Ministry of Housing – for example Kent property empress Judith Wilson got prosecuted last year under the Environmental Protection Act, which is not currently a bannable offence, so she probably wouldn’t end up on the list.

There are still only 10 landlords on the national list, according to Gizmodo (though there are currently 389 entries on the London list – including multiple offences by the same landlord – so many clearly don’t make it on to the national database). The database would therefore be a lot more useful and effective if more landlords got prosecuted in the first place – that means more councils using their powers – and that requires more funding for their enforcement teams.

And we still need a national database of landlords.

These are things the government needs to hear – so it’s essential that renters respond to the consultation. Take a look here. The deadline to respond is 12 October.









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