Waltham Forest is the latest local authority to draw up a code of practice which all landlords in the borough will have to sign up to. Those who refuse face prosecution and fines of up to £20,000, says Khevyn Limbajee, the council’s housing chief. Barking and Dagenham council will launch a similar scheme in September and Newham has already set one up.
Since the Newham scheme’s introduction in January last year, the council has gathered evidence to prosecute 133 landlords for alleged breaches of the Housing Act.
In March, Belal Salik Choudhury was ordered to pay more than £25,000 in fines and costs after he was found guilty at Thames magistrates’ court of 25 separate offences. The house in Forest Gate he was letting out to seven adults and two children — who were paying £2,300 per month in rent — was described as “overcrowded, unhygienic and dangerous”. The electrics were potentially lethal, it was claimed, and there was no fire protection.
“Licensing is the only way to really drive up management standards in areas like Newham, where parts of the private rented sector have got out of control,” says a council spokeswoman. “Licensing enables us to target the rogue elements. We tried the voluntary approach but only 2.5 per cent of landlords chose to sign up to the accreditation scheme.”
To date Newham has successfully prosecuted more than 413 landlords for failing to sign up.
Waltham Forest’s scheme will launch next April and landlords will have to pledge to ensure the safety of rental properties and to take up references before allowing tenants to move in. The council says its scheme will protect not only tenants but private residents, since it feels some landlords are failing to act against noisy tenants hosting late-night parties, as well as those who treat their gardens like a rubbish tip.
Mr Limbajee says that research commissioned by the council shows a clear link between antisocial behaviour and rented homes, and that by licensing landlords Waltham Forest will be able to respond to complaints from residents about individual properties. “It basically gives security to landlords, tenants, and their neighbours,” he says.
Landlords object to compulsory licensing schemes, claiming the costs are too steep and that the worst landlords will simply ignore the call-up.
However, Mr Limbajee points out that with fees from a suggested £250 for five years, a licence will cost less than £1 per week. And he says the council will turn detective to ferret out landlords who fail to sign up voluntarily.
The trend for councils to tackle rogue landlords is spreading across London. Enfield council is setting up a scheme, and nine other local authorities are considering following suit.