Tackling the scourge of rogue landlords

Thousands of tenants across South London are living in dangerous accommodation managed by hundreds of rogue landlords.

A Freedom of Information request sent to London’s 32 boroughs has revealed that within the past year Southwark council housing inspectors reported the highest number of hazards in more than 400 different properties.

More than 600 life-threatening hazards, such as carbon monoxide leaks, mouldy and damp conditions or animal infestations were found in 424 properties across the borough, where a quarter of the housing market is in the private rental sector.

Lambeth and Greenwich each reported more than 230 category one hazards, whilst Lewisham reported 112, Bexley 78 and 54 in Wandsworth. South London boroughs were also among the worst for prosecuting rogue landlords, with many failing to prosecute any during the past year.

Wandsworth, Lewisham, Lambeth or Bexley failed to prosecute any landlords during 2016-2017, while Southwark and Greenwich prosecuted just two landlords each.

When asked why the number of prosecutions in Southwark was so low despite housing inspectors recording hundreds of life threatening hazards, a spokesperson for Southwark council said the council favours working with landlords, asking them to make improvements to the property rather than going straight for prosecution.

Cllr Barrie Har-grove, Southwark’s cabinet member for communities, safety and leisure, said: “Having fewer prosecutions isn’t always a negative thing – it can mean that more successful interventions have happened before it gets to prosecution stage.”

Caroline Pidgeon, a member of London Assembly who was involved in the research, said: “Last year the housing charity Shelter revealed that one in 20 renters believe they have recently rented from a rogue landlord, and 60 per cent of renters had experienced either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks.

“Of course most landlords are responsible people, but without question an element are not. Firm action must be taken to tackle them.

“Basic standards must be upheld for the two million people in London who now live in private rented accommodation.

“Within London’s private rented sector there is now a need for a proper and robust framework of regulation across the entire city.

“The data clearly demonstrates that only a rigorous regime of licensing will result in the enforcement needed to put an end to the problem of rogue landlords that exist across every part of London.”
A spokesperson from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “Combatting rogue landlords and improving conditions for private renters has been a major priority for the Royal Borough for a number of years.

This is why we have made a landmark change in planning rules for landlords converting homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which came into force last month.
The change – called an Article 4 Direction – removes the permitted development rights for properties to be used as small HMOs with no more than six people. Councils are only legally obliged to license the largest HMOs that provide accommodation over three storeys to at least five residents.

It means all landlords will have to apply for planning permission if they want to convert their homes into HMO’s to rent out on the market. We have also introduced a scheme requiring all HMOs in the borough to be licensed. Licensing helps to ensure that privately rented shared housing meets legal health and safety standards, is well run and provides enough bathroom and kitchen facilities.

The move is part of a raft of action over recent years to drive up standards in the rental sector and tackle the problem of sub-standard and often unsafe accommodation. It will enable the council to identify rogue landlords and tackle the associated problems from overcrowding.

In 2013 the council invested in this area to establish a team of officers to tackle the worst standards in privately rented accommodation. The team has carried out more than 2,000 inspections and found a catalogue of hazards which the majority of local landlords have voluntarily put right.

However the team has also served hundreds of statutory notices to force reluctant landlords to take action. Taking this type of action has successfully improved many more properties for the benefit of the tenants. Since 2013, as a last resort, we have successfully prosecuted eight landlords in total and the courts have imposed more than £20,000 in fines. Other landlords have accepted a formal caution.”

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