Registration scheme to target rogue landlords begins

Dirty cooker
Image caption It is a landlord's responsibility to ensure properties are clean and in good working order

Newham Council in east London is becoming the first local authority in England to introduce a compulsory system of landlord registration.

Owners of privately-rented homes now have to declare criminal convictions and meet health and safety standards - or face a fine of up to £20,000.

Scotland already has compulsory landlord licences and Wales is working on its own scheme.

Ministers oppose a national system for England.

Instead it is up to each council to decide how best to target rogue landlords.

Newham, home of the Olympics, has long had a problem with tenants being charged substantial sums to live in unacceptable homes.

Often the landlords are getting rich, whilst those who pay the rents are living in properties the council describes as "slums".

The tenants face a wide variety of problems, from faulty wiring or dangerous gas appliances to pest infestations and overcrowding. Many, but not all, are recent immigrants - some legal, some not. It is not unusual to find a whole family living in a single room.

Dawn raids

Properties with several "households" inside are called homes in multiple occupation (or HMOs).

Newham has been conducting raids against unlicensed HMOs for the past two years. Now the scheme is being extended to all properties in the private rented sector.

Russell Moffatt, Newham Council's private housing manager, says those who get licences have nothing to fear.

"I'm sure they will never hear from us. But those that don't… tend to be the ones that have the poorest properties. We will be knocking on their doors," he says.

The officers tend to arrive at dawn. Police, UK Border Agency and council officials work together to target rogue landlords and illegal immigrants.

In one property, we saw several families each paying hundreds of pounds a month to live in a very basic room. Upstairs, police arrested a man for outstaying his visa. Officers gathered evidence which may later be used to prosecute.

Most of the tenants are somewhat shocked by the sudden arrival of a determined group of officers at the crack of dawn. Some may say it is a heavy-handed way to deal with the problem of poor quality housing.

But the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, is unrepentant. "When we consulted our residents, a massive majority were in favour of this," he says.

"The bad behaviour occurs in the bad properties: the anti-social behaviour, the mess in the garden. We need to go after them."

'Educate tenants'

Many reputable landlords are worried that Newham's initiative will lead to similar measures being taken by many other local authorities in England.

Robert Nichols is the managing director of Edmund Cude, one of London's oldest lettings agencies. He thinks Newham's decision to license all landlords could have wider implications for England's private rented housing sector.

"I don't disagree with what they're trying to achieve but the way they're trying to achieve it," he says.

"A much better solution would be to try to educate tenants to make sure they are living in a property that is safe".

Mr Nichols thinks rogue operators are a tiny minority of all landlords, and that sufficient legislation is already in place to protect tenants.

Concerns have also been expressed that different local authorities will implement different schemes, leading to a piecemeal system, with excessive bureaucracy distorting the market.

But Newham is determined to shed its reputation for poor quality private rented housing. Other councils are watching what happens closely as they decide how best to put their rogue landlords out of business.

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