West Suffolk councils are taking the first steps to adopting new powers to combat rogue landlords, following a decision at a joint Cabinet meeting of Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury.
The focus of the new policy is on tackling and dealing with the very worst private landlords, and deterring any bad landlords from starting to operate in West Suffolk, while working with those that wish to grow the sector through much needed, better quality housing.
Councillors agreed to begin consultation and engagement on the new enforcement routes, available via the Housing and Planning Act 2016, that provide Local Housing Authorities with the option of civil penalty fines, rent repayment orders and banning orders for non-compliance with certain Housing Act 2004 offences, as an alternative to taking a prosecution for the very worse landlords.
Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, Lead member for Housing for both authorities, said: “The councils work closely with partner services and organisations to support the needs of the vulnerable people in their homes, and to protect the wider community. West Suffolk landlords are in the main excellent, providing decent, well maintained homes and we are keen to work with and support them. There are, however, a small minority of irresponsible rogue landlords who knowingly rent out accommodation that is unlicensed, substandard and/or unsafe and for whom the current sanctions are not a sufficient deterrent.”
Wherever possible, West Suffolk councils take a staged approach to enforcement to ensure solutions are initially sought through advice, co-operation and agreement. The new legislation provides a streamlined alternative to prosecution, albeit with same level of evidence and an appeals process in place, which is designed to deal with cash for rent landlords working outside of the law.
Cllr Mildmay–White added: “Tenants have an important role to play in terms of knowing their rights and working with their landlords. We are developing this policy with local landlords, tenants and interest groups including neighbouring councils and the Landlords Association. It is important that we understand the issues and raise awareness of the role of the Public Health and Housing Service.”
There will be consultation direct with key groups on a proportionate fine structure dependent on the severity of non-compliance with the offences.
The public will be directed to an online surveyhttps://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/civilsanctions/