Huge rise in council action against rogue landlords
PUBLISHED: 17:17 16 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:03 17 September 2019
Enforcement notices issued by Redbridge Council to private landlords have skyrocketed in the past two years, new figures reveal.
According to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the local authority's housing team wrote to landlords in the borough 810 times in the first half of 2019 - eight times the figure in 2017.
Visits by council officers to private accommodation have also increased sixfold in reaction to hundreds of requests for help from tenants and neighbours.
From January to July 2019, the local authority hit private landlords and managing agents with 100 fines, 156 warnings of intent to issue fines, six improvement notices, 126 demands for documents and 135 notices declaring a property a house in multiple occupation (HMO).
Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, said: "We won't stand for those landlords that put tenants at risk, exploit them and wash their hands of anti-social behaviour. That's why we've been stepping up action on unscrupulous landlords by knocking on the doors of all suspected HMOs and checking properties in areas covered by our selective licencing scheme to make sure residents are living safely in private rented accommodation."
Officers also paid visits to non-council homes 2,820 times in seven months, compared to 898 in twelve months in 2017.
In the first seven months of this year Redbridge Council received 327 complaints about private accommodation from the public.
Seventy-five of these were related to properties in poor condition or believed to be unfit for purpose, while 113 were suspected unlicensed HMOs.
John Clifton, captain of Ilford Salvation Army, said: "Based on our experience running housing advice sessions, people have often felt disempowered to make complaints about living conditions. The number of complaints seems to show that tenants are growing in confidence."
So-called rogue landlords have hit the headlines time and time again in Redbridge in recent years, as the council has adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards those breaking licensing laws.
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In June the council announced it had hit 150 landlords with eye-watering fines of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution.
One Ilford landlord, Mohamed Hafeez Kayani, was ordered to pay £97,000 last January for nine offences under the Housing Act related to a damp-riddled and structurally unsafe property in Mortlake Road.
In October a Clayhall landlord was fined £13,000 for cramming six tenants into an unlicenced property in Twyford Road, and an estate agent, Marvel Estates, agreed to pay a £7,500 penalty after officers found evidence of up to 23 people living in a Gants Hill property.
The council continues to investigate new cases all the time, included suspected "beds-in-sheds".
Richard Blanco, London representative for the National Landlords Association, said the rise would partly be due to the introduction of selective licensing - a new licence for rented properties occupied by single households - and additional HMO licensing in Redbridge since 2018.
He said: "The definitions are quite complex and there some landlords won't have known they needed a licence.
"The local authority doesn't actually have a list of all landlords in the borough and particularly in a borough like Redbridge, where lots of people speak different languages or don't have a lot of contact with the council, it's alien to them and sometimes they just don't find out."
He added that as well as property owners themselves, managing agents also needed to be held to account for any failings.
He said: "I would like to see enforcement action targeted at landlords and agents. There are a lot of poor quality agents in east London."
One east London property owner, who asked not to be named, said a house he owned in Ilford was subject to council enforcement action and vacated after agents allowed it to become overcrowded.
He told the Recorder: "They want to blame everything on the landlords. But from our perspective, sometimes we're not responsible. Sometimes rogue management agents are letting out these properties and making a killing, and not being compliant with the rules."