Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by David Burrell

Please see my comments and suggestions relating to improving the private rented sector. These are my own personal suggestions and not necessarily those of my employer Darlington Borough Council. I have worked in housing for 22 years, 15 years in social housing and seven years in private sector housing carrying out a wide range of duties and roles.

I have kept them brief for ease of reading and reference.

The quality of private rented housing, and steps that can be taken to ensure that all housing in the sector is of an acceptable standard;
 — Levels of rent within the private rented sector—including the possibility of rent control and the interaction between housing benefit and rents

Rent controls are adequate and there is no need for additional measures in this area and the interaction between rent and housing benefit is adequate. Benefit departments should be given powers to suspend benefit payments for properties that are below an acceptable standard as determined by an appropriate council official. Please see my comments below.

 — Regulation of landlords, and steps that can be taken to deal with rogue landlords

There are a number of options available to extend the powers and duties to deal with rogue landlords. Existing powers should remain and should not be removed as this will remove protection for vulnerable occupiers. Rogue landlords operate in the main because they receive benefit payments from the public purse to sustain them. Little if any of this income is used to improve properties and improve the comfort and safety of tenants. Removing this income for a determined period of time from unsafe and unsuitable properties is the ONLY way to drive rogue landlords out of business. Benefit could be suspended until such time that the property is returned to a safe and suitable condition for occupation as determined by an appropriate council official. Existing tenants could be given security of tenure by removing the ability for landlords to evict tenants whilst the order was in place and the landlord could be given the opportunity to appeal against the order. I am asked why landlords are allowed to receive payment for poor properties on a regular basis. This will also prevent the cycle of rogue landlords evicting tenants who complain about conditions only to move new tenants in.

This is not a draconian measure and good landlords have nothing to fear from these measures. It could be also be introduced by making landlords register to receive benefit payments and suspending this registration whilst actions take place.

Modifications could be made to the Housing Act 2004 to introduce these powers.

 — Regulation of letting agents, including agents’ fees and charges

Lettings agents are like landlords, some are very good, good, satisfactory and some are very poor. I strongly believe that lettings agents should be regulated as this is a key measure to improve the private rented sector. They are sometimes instrumental in lowering standards in the rented sector and sustaining bad practices. Regulations and registration would improve standards and remove the worst from the industry. Fees and charges are difficult to control unless a maxim percentage of rental income was linked to the fees. This would allow regional differences to be taken into account. Charging for the reissue of a tenancy to the same tenants should not be permitted unless there is a material change in the tenancy.

 — The regulation of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), including the operation of discretionary licensing schemes imposed by a local authority for a category of HMO in its area

The existing licensing of larger HMO’s is working and should continue in the same format. Existing HMO/housing regulations are working and should remain to protect the most vulnerable tenants. Making it easier for councils to introduce additional/discretionary licensing schemes for smaller but high risk/poor quality HMO’s should be considered. Perhaps introduce implied licensing consent for councils provided that certain minimum criteria are met.

 — Tenancy agreements and length and security of tenure

Tenancy agreements should be mandatory in the private rented sector and have minimum conditions to offer protection to both landlords and tenants. Length and security of tenure is sufficient and allows flexibility and mobility for both landlords and tenants.

 — How local authorities are discharging their homelessness duty by being able to place homeless households in private sector housing

Conditions in the private rented sector should be safe and suitable before councils are allowed to discharge their homeless duties. Properties should be free from Category 1 hazards under Housing, Health and Safety Rating System and landlords should have gas safety certificates. A property inspection should be carried out a suitably qualified and or experienced person to ensure that conditions are suitable. A good quality private rented sector provides the ideal opportunity to re house those in housing need.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013