We have put in our response to the government’s consultation on banning orders – the new mechanism to prevent criminals from operating in the rental market. That’s right, they aren’t banned already.
The government has asked what types of offences should be banworthy, and set a deadline of midnight tonight.
We asked our supporters for their experiences earlier in the week, dozens of you responded, and the feedback has helped shape our response to the government.
It’s worth mentioning that if your landlord is banned from operating, the council will have the ability to take over the management of the property, so you wouldn’t lose your home.
Under the current plans, landlords can be banned for:
Letting unsafe properties. Lack of safety is the biggest problem facing our respondents – that includes electrical fittings installed by an unqualified handyman, ignoring a broken boiler in the depths of winter, and keeping a fire escape permanently closed in order to avoid a requirement to license a house of multiple occupation.
Respondents reported a failure of landlords to respond to requests and complaints, and local council’s frequent ineffectiveness in forcing the landlord to act. Some councils even advised our respondents to “just move out”. As well as banning orders, councils will this year have new incentives, and, in theory, money, to pursue inspections and prosecutions, so dangerous properties should become less of a problem anyway. But banning landlords for housing offences is an obvious one.
Harassment, threatening behaviour and violence against the tenant. Tenants still rely on the council to inspect poor conditions and act. Many respondents told us about the lengths to which landlords go to bully tenants into not raising a complaint with the council: from threatening to raise the rent, to dropping by to negotiate accompanied by large men, to demanding that they move out without serving a formal notice.
Illegal evictions. This is when harassment goes so far that the landlord forces the tenant out without due process through the courts – often by letting themselves in while the tenant is out and removing all their belongings.
We don’t think this list goes far enough. We’re also calling on the government to make it possible to ban someone from the rental market if they:
Are guilty of any violent crime. Tenants should have an assurance that their landlord does not have a violent history. A knowledge of any such convictions could intimidate tenants into not making complaints.
Are found guilty of mortgage fraud or tax evasion. This is associated with forcing tenants to pay in cash (and risking robbery), prohibiting them from registering to vote, and using the property as their postal address (which is essentially harassment).
Are a letting agent and persistently fail to publish their fees, or join a redress scheme. Agents are already supposed to be part of an ombudsman scheme which allows tenants to make complaints about them if they are ripped off. Several respondents had taken their landlord or agent to court and won, but then struggled to retrieve their money. If an agent has their ombudsman membership revoked then they theoretically cannot operate – a banning order would provide a further deterrent.
Persistently fail to protect tenants’ deposits. Behind unsafe homes and harassment, this was the third most common problem faced by our respondents. Tenants already have relatively strong protections when their landlord fails to safeguard the deposit and can claim compensation of three times the amount. However, some of the stories we heard suggest that some landlords rely on tenants’ ignorance of the law to make some extra cash. Anyone who has been found to not protect a deposit on more than one occasion clearly has this in their business plan and therefore should be banned.
Finally, the government is proposing to ban landlords found guilty of letting to someone without a “right to rent” – i.e. a valid visa if they are a non-EU immigrant. The fear of getting it wrong is already leading landlords to practise discrimination (which, while illegal, doesn’t lead to a jail sentence).
Banning landlords for getting immigration checks wrong does nothing to improve life for renters – and in fact makes it harder for anyone without a UK passport, or even if they have a foreign name. We’re demanding that the government drops this as a banning offence.