Landlords who fail to follow safety rules face court action and hefty fines in a new London-wide crackdown.
One property owner who botched renovations on a dilapidated flat in Woolwich — leaving his six tenants with neither electricity nor water — has been ordered to pay more than £10,000 in fines and costs after Greenwich council prosecuted him.
Bexley magistrates’ court heard Rajanikant Mehendra Patel left a window missing so a tenant had to sleep on the landing, and the flat’s wiring was potentially lethal.
In another recent case landlady Elizabeth Johnson, owner of Bronze Investments Ltd, was ordered to pay more than £4,200 by Hammersmith Magistrates after renting a “squalid” flat on Waldo Road, near Kensal Green.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council inspected the property in January 2012 and found that it was damp and unheated and the electrics were dangerous. They were so worried they served the property with a “prohibition order” making it illegal for the property to be lived. However Johnson continued to rent the flat until February 2013 when criminal proceedings were launched.
“This property was a potential death-trap with its tenants living in some quite dreadful conditions,” said Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler. “This case should be a warning to all landlords to make sure that their properties are up to a decent standard. This council will clamp down hard on any landlord that is willing to endanger the lives of its tenants and ensure that they face the consequences.”
Around half of all Londoners now live in rented homes, in part because young buyers are being kept off the housing ladder by lack of finance, huge deposits and unaffordable house prices. A recent survey found that eight out of 10 councils expect to take a more proactive stance over monitoring standards of private rented homes in their area, according to the Local Government Information Unit.
In January Newham launched the UK’s first compulsory licensing scheme for private landlords in an effort to raise standards. However other councils tackle rogue landlords on a case-by-case basis – and claim the laws surrounding the rental sector are in chaos.
Giving evidence to a Government select committee earlier this year, Haringey Council officials described one landlord who had converted houses into “inadequate” studios. Tenants at one property were on housing benefit so the council ending up paying the rogue around £8,000-a-month in rent subsidies for a year until he was found out and prosecuted. It wants the Government to link benefit payments to standards in rental accommodation.
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, opposes a national regulation or licensing scheme, saying it will only lead to red tape and extra costs being piled on to law-abiding landlords.
“There are criminals out there who give us a bad name,” he said. “I do not think that regulating or licensing will get through to those people who are already breaking the law.” Norris believes the answer is for councils and police to rigorously pursue the rogues.