MPs want a review of laws surrounding private rental standards, including councils having the right to confiscate buy to let properties from the worst offending landlords.
The demands come in the report issued today by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which over recent months has held a series of meetings to hear evidence from lettings trade bodies as well as organisations such as Shelter.
The committee’s report calls for:
- Greater political leadership by councils to address low standards in the private rented sector. The report notes: “It is clearly the case that some local authorities have placed a higher priority on addressing low standards in the private rented sector than others have done. We believe this disparity in effective action can only be resolved through political leadership”;
- The government to consider new ways of informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities, in particular through social media;
- The Law Commission to undertake a review of the legislation relating to the private rented sector and provide guidance as to whether a new approach to regulation in the sector would bring more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.
- The government to “immediately update the baseline assumptions within the operating guidance for the HHSRS, which are now twelve years out-of-date.” The guidance for the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, which is the regulatory standard for private rented housing, is urgently in need of updating;
- A new fund “to support local authorities with this work, especially those that prioritise informal approaches to enforcement”;
- In the most extreme cases, badly behaving landlords could have their rental properties confiscated;
- The creation of a new Housing Court.
Committee chairman Clive Betts says: “The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes.
“Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords, and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties.
“Such powers are however meaningless if they are not enforced, and at the same time councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions.
“Stronger powers, harsher fines and a new commitment to cracking down on unscrupulous practices will go some way towards rebalancing the sector and protecting the many thousands of vulnerable residents who have been abused and harassed by a landlord.”