A prominent housing expert has told MPs that letting agents could be used to police the standards off homes made available to rent.
Dr Julie Rugg is the senior research fellow at the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, and has authored a series of significant reports on the private rental sector in recent years.
Towards the end of last week she gave evidence to the MPs serving on the committee stage of the Renters Reform Bill, and she raised the issue of what she called “criminal landlordism.”
Rugg told the committee that local authorities varied widely in terms of their degrees of enthusiasm for enforcement of policies connected with the private rental sector, and this variation was down to the differing levels of interest from councillors, and down to resources.
But she then added that one dimension of “policing” rental property quality was the use of letting agents - an issue which she felt had been generally overlooked until now.
She told MPs; “They [letting agents] cover an awful lot of property in the market, but we do not expect them to show responsibility for the quality of the property they are letting.
“In a sense, I think that is soft policing, if we think that letting agents should have greater responsibility for ensuring that the properties they have responsibility for meet the standards that we set for the sector. In some ways, that would relieve local authorities of some of the burden of inspecting all properties.
“At the moment, local authorities are obliged to inspect only a certain proportion of properties that sit under licensing regimes. An awful lot of the sector sits outside that and is covered by letting agents. I think we are missing an opportunity to think about how we skill up different parts of the market to improve property quality.”
Rugg also used the committee to warn MPs that scrapping Section 21, as envisaged in the Renters Reform Bill, may be highly counter-productive.
She said: “A lot of landlords let because of section 21; they do not evict people because of section 21. Section 21 gives them the confidence that, if they run into severe difficulties, they will not have to go through a protracted court process in order to end a tenancy. This is particularly pressing for smaller landlords, who might find themselves paying two or three mortgages at the same time, with tenants that are problematic.
“You can understand the reasons why risk is hugely important to landlords a lot of the time. Antisocial behaviour is really problematic. If there is a tenant causing lots of problems in the neighbourhood, the landlord wants to get that situation to a close as fast as possible.
“Abolishing section 21 would increase landlords’ perception that there is risk in the market. An area that will be problematic is that landlords who come to the sector with property—perhaps they have inherited it or they have started a partnership and there is a spare property—will think very hard about whether to bring that property to the market. I think that is one of the consequences we will see. The market does not look like a very friendly place to landlords at the moment, and that is the big issue we have around supply."