Nottingham council - which recently introduced one of the largest and most controversial selective licensing schemes in the country - now wants tenants to take so-called ‘rogue landlords’ to civil court.
This follows a court test case in which an illegally-evicted tenant was awarded over £12,500 in damages.
The recent prosecution brought by the council saw landlord Mohammed Azheem ordered by Nottingham magistrates to do 120 hours unpaid work as well as paying his tenant £1,000 in compensation. The tenant had been illegally evicted when her locks were changed while she was out.
This followed a series of breaches in the tenancy agreement, including Azheem and his father letting themselves into the property without notice and issuing threats to the tenant over rent.
The tenant took a case to civil court, supported by the council and Nottingham Law Centre; the court awarded over £12,500 of damages to the tenant, who it said was a vulnerable person who had suffered harassment and mental health problems as part of her ordeal.
Azheem was also ordered to pay £9,000 costs towards the Nottingham Law Centre.
Sally Denton from the Law Centre says: “This was a test case where we were able to work jointly with the City Council who were prosecuting the criminal case and so sets a precedent for further action. In many cases like this, it is difficult to prosecute because tenants are often vulnerable, reluctant to come forward to take on their landlord and may have language barriers or a lack of understanding over their rights.”
And a council spokesman adds: “I ... hope it will give any tenants in the private rented sector who are facing similar problems the confidence to come forward and tell us about what’s happening so that we can take the appropriate action to resolve the situation.”
Nottingham council appears to have set itself on a collision course with the private rental sector in recent months.
It’s recently been criticised for spending £95,000 taking a landlord to the Supreme Court over the size of student bedrooms being let out - and the council lost the case.
The council is reported to have spent a total of £95,742 taking the case to different courts between November 2014 and October 2018 including £86,990 for legal costs, £1,405 on travel, and £7,347 on council staff.
Meanwhile the council is ploughing ahead with a new selective licensing regime covering an estimated 32,000 privately rented homes - thought to be the second scheme in the UK outside of London.
The scheme went live on August 1 but by mid-November local press reports in the city suggested had received only 13,450 applications. Of those it had processed only 5,993 - but while 2,457 were accepted as valid some 3,536 were sent back to landlords or their agent representatives due to what the council calls “paperwork errors.”