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Surveys highlight councils' negligence on tackling rogue landlords

It’s been a bad weekend for the image of the private rental sector with a series of reports and press stories on the alleged poor standard of some homes to let.

The Guardian and The Independent have reported on a Citizens’ Advice Bureau survey suggesting that private landlords are taking some £5.6 billion a year in rent on homes that “do not meet legal standards”, with around a quarter of that sum coming from housing benefit payments.

The CAB is reported as saying it believes that 740,000 families in the English private rent sector are living in homes that present a severe threat to the occupants’ health.

Meanwhile The Times has reported on a report by campaigning charity Shelter that the number of people living in accommodation that is unfit for human habitation or where the landlord exploits or harasses them is more than 250,000.

The Times reports that more than 25 per cent of English councils have not prosecuted any landlords at all for providing unsafe accommodation in the last five years, while another half were reportedly prosecuting fewer than two a year.

Figures quoted in the newspaper - sourced from the Residential Landlords’ Association and based on a Freedom of Information request - shows that only 2,006 landlords have been prosecuted by councils in the last eight years, with an average penalty being a fine of £1,500.

The RLA’s David Smith is quoted as saying: “Tenants and good landlords are being let down. Councils have plenty of powers to enforce standards in private rented housing and tackle criminal landlords. It is sad that at best the record on enforcement is patchy and at worst, non-existent.”

The housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “The government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and the housing bill strengthens councils’ powers to tackle poor-quality privately rented homes in their area. Our measures include blacklisting landlords who have been convicted of serious offences and seeking banning orders for the most prolific offenders.”

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