There have been three big issues with legislation in the PRS to date. Firstly, the sheer number of new laws that have come one on top of another; secondly, a lack of enforcement, which has allowed rogues to continue to operate, while law-abiding landlords have had to take time and spend money doing their best to comply; and, thirdly, a lack of clarity and transparency, which has made it very difficult for landlords to be sure they’re on the right side of the law.
But, following a concerted effort by all the various professions that make up the property industry – agents, landlords, brokers, legal companies, etc. – working together to tell the government what changes are really needed, there looks to be some positive change on the horizon.
In April, the Government announced a boatload of proposals for the property industry as a whole and also published a report specifically on the PRS. In it, the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) committee made a number of proposals for improving standards and cracking down on criminal landlords – something that’s very definitely needed and well overdue.
Around 800,000 properties still have at least one Category One hazard – such as mould or faulty wiring – and 200,000 tenants said they had been abused or harassed by their landlord. So, although the vast majority of tenants are satisfied with their homes, there is clearly still a lot of work to do to clean up the lower end of the market.
The report focuses on 5 key areas for improvement:
- A review of all PRS legislation. In particular:
- The legislation giving local authorities their powers is too complex and outdated
- The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) should be replaced with a more straightforward set of quality standards
- The Law Commission should review all PRS legislation to make it clearer for landlords, tenants and local authorities.
- Greater legal protection for the most vulnerable tenants. Even though retaliatory evictions have been illegal since October 2015, 44% of tenants are still worried that if they complain about conditions, repairs and maintenance, their landlord might force them out of their home. A specialist housing court should be set up to make it easier for tenants to hold their landlords to account.
- More severe penalties for criminal landlords. The committee found that the worst criminal landlords have a business model that actually relies on exploiting the most vulnerable tenants. Council should be given greater powers to hand out even more substantial fines and even confiscate properties from landlords.
- Greater support for local authorities. Enforcement action to date has been too low and inconsistent – in 2016, 60% of councils failed to prosecute a single landlord – chiefly because they simply don’t have the resources and the cost of investigating and prosecuting criminal landlords is rarely recovered through the courts. So it’s recommended a new fund is set up to support councils in their efforts, as well as an online facility where councils can share their enforcement strategies.
- A review of selective licensing schemes. Although the basic principle is good – that these decisions are made based on an understanding of local needs – the process of applying to the Secretary of State for approval is considered too slow, lacking in transparency and too expensive, so needs to be reviewed.
All in all, it’s nothing but good news for law-abiding landlords. If these proposals are introduced, you’ll benefit from:
- Greater clarity on your legal responsibilities and obligations
- Better regulation at a local authority level
- Fewer rogues letting down what is, for the most part, a very respectable sector.
Quite simply, this is finally a raft of legislative changes that landlords can welcome with open arms.