A package of measures to crack down on rogue landlords, including a tougher licensing regime for house shares and a minimum size for bedrooms, has been announced by the government.
Alok Sharma, the housing minister, said “far too many” tenants were being exploited by unscrupulous landlords, who would now have to “shape up or ship out”.
The measures come after the government was accused of undermining efforts to protect private sector tenants by curtailing the powers of local authorities to introduce landlord licensing schemes. Figures published two months ago under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that most councils had failed to secure a single landlord prosecution.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Independent, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said at the next election his party would scrap laws that allowed landlords to evict tenants under so-called no-fault evictions.
Ministers are to seek approval from parliament to widen the criteria for landlords in England, who need to secure a licence when renting out a “house in multiple occupation” (HMO). There are about 500,000 HMOs in England, and national mandatory licensing applies only to properties that are three or more storeys high.
This is to be changed so that many flats and one- and two-storey properties would be subject to licensing, provided they are occupied by at least five people from two or more households. The move will affect about 160,000 houses.
Rules have also been proposed that would set minimum size requirements for bedrooms in HMOs to prevent overcrowding. Rooms used for sleeping by one adult would have to be no smaller than 6.51 sq metres (70 sq ft), and those slept in by two adults would have to be no smaller than 10.22 sq metres. Rooms slept in by children aged 10 or younger would have to be at least 4.64 sq metres in size.
As part of the licensing requirements, councils will be able to make sure only rooms meeting the standard are used for sleeping.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said there would also be new rules to help people “fed up” with living near shoddily maintained properties without proper bins and rubbish dumped everywhere. Ministers intend to introduce a mandatory condition in HMO licences requiring landlords to comply with local council rules on refuse and recycling.
The government has set out details of criminal offences, which would automatically ban someone from being a landlord. From April, an individual convicted of offences including burglary and stalking can be added to the database of rogue landlords and barred from renting out properties.
Sharma said: “Through a raft of new powers, we are giving councils the further tools they need to crack down on these rogue landlords and kick them out of the business for good.”
This month, however, Newham council in London – which has arguably led the way in tackling bad landlords, with 331 prosecuted as of last October – accused the government of standing in the way of councils that were trying to protect their tenants.
In 2013, Newham became the first council in the country to introduce borough-wide licensing, requiring all landlords to licence all properties offered for private rent. However, in 2015 the government introduced legislation requiring ministerial permission to introduce such schemes, while the Newham scheme renewal a few weeks ago had conditions placed upon it – one part of the borough was excluded – and was also delayed unnecessarily, resulting in a gap of two to three months between the end of the old scheme and the start of the new one, according to the council.
Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, has called on the government to “remove this bureaucratic and anti-democratic piece of legislation, and let councils get on and introduce the right schemes to protect their private sector tenants from rogue landlords”.
Source: The Guardian