New legislation that comes into play today is to give local authorities in England tougher new powers in order for them to clamp down on rogue agents and landlords.
For the first time, local housing authorities are able to impose a civil penalty of up to £30,000 for a range of housing offences.
The offences that can fall subject to charges are:
- Failure to comply with either a housing improvement or overcrowding notice
- Failure to have the sufficient licence for a property that requires a mandatory HMO, additional or selective licence
- Failure to comply with HMO management regulations
For properties that do not have the correct licence, or are found to be in breach of rules surrounding HMOs, both the landlord and letting agent can be held accountable. This means that compliance checks are now imperative.
Before any penalties are imposed, local authorities must adhere to Government guidance and issue a notice of intent.
Letting agents: Take note of new civil penalties!
Rent Repayment Orders
In addition, the Government is expanding its Rent Repayment Order provisions, in order to enable local authorities or tenants to claim back up to 12 months rent.
Beforehand, this was only available to licensable properties. However, tenants could not make a claim unless the local authority had prosecuted the landlord.
From today, Rent Repayment Orders are available as a sanction for more offences, which include:
- illegal eviction or harassment
- using violence in order to secure entry
- failure to comply with a housing improvement notice
Tenants can now submit a claim without the local authority having prosecuted the landlord. Unlike criminal prosecutions, any income that is received from civil penalties or Rent Repayment Orders can be retained by the local authority and then spent on housing enforcements.
Isobel Thomson, chief executive of NALS, said: ‘Whilst we support local authority action to crack down on rogue landlords and agents, it is vital that councils resist the temptation to issue financial penalties for very minor infringements purely to raise income and fill their budget black hole.’
‘If used wisely, these powers could mark an important step forward in driving rogue operators from the market and improving consumer protection. With councils able to retain revenue from targeted enforcement action, the business case for introducing new bureaucratic and costly licensing schemes is weaker than ever. It is time for councils to think again and adopt a smarter approach to regulation,’ she added.