‘Councils perceive landlords as dubious and don’t understand their statutory duties’

‘Councils perceive landlords as dubious and don’t understand their statutory duties’

0:02 AM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago 11

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Most landlords may be feeling that everything appears to be turning against them, what with rising interest rates, the Renters’ Reform Bill and the growing incidence of Selective Licensing from local authorities.

Now, a former housing officer gives her side of the story to Property118 in a bid to tell landlords that there are housing officers who appreciate their value, but councils across the country need to step up and help landlords rather than treat them as ‘dubious’.

She gives landlords a real insight into council processes and why they don’t always work.

To protect her identity we have decided to keep her anonymous and call her ‘Sophie’.

“A reluctance for the public not to be made aware of the availability of this advice”

Sophie’s first interest in housing began in the mid-1980s when she supported people with mental and physical disabilities.

She tells Property118: “I began supporting people with physical disabilities and mental disabilities, who had been pretty much institutionalised in mental institutions.

“At that time, there were virtually no provisions for them in terms of appropriate housing, certainly within communities.

“This changed when the Community Care Act came out and changed the way how people could live and where they could live.”

She started working for local authorities as a housing officer in the early 2000s.

When she first became a housing officer, she was excited about the amount of assistance available to landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) and tenants. However, the amount of assistance didn’t translate into reality.

Sophie explains: “I remember, in my naivety, saying to my service director, this is amazing that there is all this advice and assistance available to landlords and tenants in the PRS we should be shouting it from the rooftops.

“I’ll never forget the response she looked at me and she said: Why do you think that this isn’t being done?”

She continues: “That comment stayed with me because what I witnessed throughout my career working in different local authorities, was very much that there is a reluctance for the public not to be made aware of the availability of this advice.

“That has never sat well with me, particularly for public services, especially the local authorities.”

‘Councils don’t know what the rules are’

As a recent Property118 investigation reveals, it is common practice for councils to tell tenants to remain in their rented home when facing eviction – causing stress not just for the tenant but also for the landlord as they deal with the legal costs and complications.

It’s a huge grey area with many councils up and down the country telling the tenants to stay put when the Homelessness Code of Guidance states: “Housing authorities should not consider it reasonable for an applicant to remain in occupation until eviction by a bailiff.”

There is still no clear answer, but the housing officer says councils are simply not complying with the statutory guidance when it comes to this.

She explains: “Many councils do not appear to know what they are doing. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 makes it very clear to local authorities what their statutory duties are.

“When a section 21 is issued and the tenant notifies their  local council that’s alerting the local authority that the tenant could be at risk of homelessness.

“From that point, the local authority has a duty to try to prevent homelessness from happening and one of the first things they should then do is to contact the landlord.”

Sophie added: “Councils should be saying: Let’s see how we can negotiate and what are the grounds that the landlord is seeking possession of the property.”

She says that often the council can help to negotiate for the tenant to remain in the property and the landlord will be happy.

However, she says this communication to the landlord is not happening and far too many local authorities are continuing to advise the tenant to stay put.

She says the council has a duty to help prevent homelessness and should be working with tenants and landlords to stop this.

Sophie said: “There are three stages in the process for s21 evictions. The first stage would be section 21. The second stage would be the court order. The third stage, which is usually the final stage, would then be the bailiff warrant.

“From the very first point at which a local authority has been made aware that this tenant is at risk of homelessness, they should then actively be working with the tenant to prevent homelessness.

“That’s what’s meant to happen in practice but that is not what happens in reality.”

The housing officer says there is also a lack of communication in local councils between relevant teams and departments.

She says: “There is a failure to discuss cases where for example a tenant is at risk of homelessness due to council tax arrears.

“Instead of checking with housing options or notifying housing options that this tenant is at risk of homelessness, far too many council tax teams in my experience, pursue resolution through the court system, rather than with the housing options team’s assistance to address the arrears and prevent eviction.”

“Local authorities’ relationships with landlords in the private sector are ‘poor’

The housing officer says the attitude of councils towards private landlords is something that puzzles her.

She explains: “We have known since the 1980s that demand in the PRS was going to increase greatly which is precisely what has happened.

“You would think what the local authority would want to do is to make sure that they get on board with private landlords and make sure that you’re working closely with them.”

She says that at the moment local authorities’ relationships with landlords in the private sector are ‘poor’.

Sophie said: “Councils either perceive and treat landlords as if they are all dubious and ‘rogue landlords’ or they fail to advise and assist landlords who genuinely do not know what their statutory duties are and end up being mistreated or worse criminalised!”

And for those critics who say the private rented sector is dominated by criminal landlords, then Sophie has some sage words.

She says: “The percentage of criminal landlords is very small, and it is most unfair for all landlords to be tarred with the same brush.”

Sophie says the landlords she has worked with have been more than reasonable and says: “My method of working with landlords has always been from the prevention model, which is let’s prevent the homelessness in the first instance.

“I am very proud of the relationships that I developed over the years throughout my career with many private landlords and agents.”

“Failure of local authorities to actually comply with their statutory duties”.

She’s concerned about the Renters’ Reform Bill and in particular about just how anti-social behaviour will be tackled by local authorities.

She explains: “I am concerned with the Renters’ Reform bill about the increase in antisocial behaviour, or potential grounds for eviction.

“Most local authorities will have an antisocial behaviour officer, if not a team and it needs to be a preventative way of working.

“If landlords are made aware that local authorities have antisocial behaviour officers that they can contact then it means that right from the earliest opportunity relevant services can be working with both the landlord and the tenant, rather than doing nothing.”

She adds: “What is of great concern to me, is a failure on the part of local authorities to actually comply with their statutory duties to both landlords and tenants.”

Selective licensing issue in Liverpool

Sophie says there is a huge issue with selective licensing particularly in Liverpool. The city council there introduced a new selective landlord licensing scheme which covers 16 of the city’s wards which started in April last year.

According to the NRLA, council representatives have said that the Selective Licensing scheme has only granted 104 licences in 2022. This is despite an estimated 31,000 applications having been made.

The NRLA has said it would take almost 150 years to process applications for its landlord licensing scheme.

Ben Beadle, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “If Liverpool Council really believes licensing is so key to ensuring properties are safe, it begs the question why it takes so long to process applications for them.

“At a time when the condition of housing is under such scrutiny, the council is spending too much time administering a licencing scheme and not enough time taking enforcement action to tackle poor quality housing.”

He added: “Rather than penalising good landlords with a blanket policy, the council should use the range of data already available to them to find and root out the minority of landlords who fail to provide safe housing.”

14,500 landlord licences

A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council told Property118: “We have now granted around 14,500 landlord licences, and are proposing to grant a further 6,500 as and when the fees are paid. We are on track to have the majority of the 33,500 licences received to date completed by October.

“Our Landlord Licensing scheme is a key part of our plan to improve neighbourhoods, giving tenants knowledge of their rights, and supporting landlords to make sure they are complying with the law.”

The spokesperson added: “An evaluation of our 2015-2020 city-wide licensing scheme found 65% of properties visited were not fully compliant on the first visit, including 4,350 cases of the most serious category one and two hazards such as disrepair and excess cold which affect the health and wellbeing of residents. We issued more than 2,500 legal notices, 169 formal cautions, 197 written warnings, and secured 300 prosecutions.”

“Local authorities have the power to do something”

In what is already a difficult time for landlords with new legislation coming in, it’s no wonder many landlords are selling up.

This begs the question where will these people that need homes go?

Sophie says the key to all of this is for the council to develop good working relationships with landlords.

She says: “I would go and introduce myself to private landlords when I was a housing officer so that they can have a face to a name.

“If there are any issues, they can contact me rather than having some nameless and faceless email address.

“I would tell landlords to contact me at the earliest opportunity because then we can try to deal with those issues or concerns.”

The housing officer says councils need private landlords and with the current housing shortage bound to get worse, local authorities should do more to help landlords.

She adds: “We need private landlords as they are so valuable in the housing sector.

“Local authorities have the power to do something and should step in and advise landlords on what they need to do because at the moment they are failing to do this.”

When approached by Property118 the Local Government Association declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Liverpool City council told Property118: “We work hard to engage with landlords, holding regular forums with umbrella organisations and individuals, and giving them a reasonable period of time to put things right when we discover issues. Enforcement is always a last resort.”


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Comments

CWF

10:15 AM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

A former housing officer. perhaps she had enough of unhelpful colleagues.

LS57

13:29 PM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

Well said! exactly our experience as well

John Adair

16:06 PM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

We need a hero to challenge in the High Court the 'stay put' advice that is often given to S21 tenants.

Paul Essex

17:33 PM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

Would these be the same people who tell tenants to wait for the Bailiffs which is technically illegal.

Or leave dead tenants in flats for six years with no safety checks.

Oh no just us in the PRS who don't know our obligations.

JeggNegg

18:13 PM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

is this the same CITY of LIVERPOOL who co signed a letter with SHELTER, Mayor of London, and Manchester suggesting PRS landlords have a rent freeze? wouldn't it be a major positive step forwards if Sophie, could head up a discussion group with all sides of the PRS, to try and find some common ground and explore why both sides fail to want to understand the other sides issues. after all we are all trying to provide homes for humans, and give families a safe place to live and an opportunity to improve their standard of living.

dismayed landlord

19:00 PM, 12th June 2023, About 11 months ago

And Dartford council and Gravesham who happily say one thing and then stitch you up!. I’ll never trust them again. And as for Dartford court. Useless bunch of time wasters. Just my own personal view but one that really puts the final nail in the coffin with the media and shelters continuous relentless attack on landlords. Even my long standing tenants now expect me to be as the media presents us and act accordingly. One who I have known for 15 years and supported to get rehoused , no rent increase, instant repairs etc etc and bent over backwards to help. Up and leaves with rent arrears and the place trashed. Says he expected me to rip him off! He does not even have a deposit that I can claim as I knew he could not afford it ! I trusted him I expected the same trust’. Media destroyed that trust and Polly!! I’ll be what Polly says we are and the government wants now. No I am not re letting the property. No I still have nothing from Dartford courts for over 8 months. No I do not want any ‘deals’ with Dartford BC! I want out and the remaining 4 let’s will be given S 21 before we loose that route. Though I already know that the courts will not enforce it. It’s a disaster but so glad I have know sold 15 and another is empty! Get our know and quick is my only advice.

Badger

11:08 AM, 17th June 2023, About 10 months ago

“I’ll never forget the response she looked at me and she said: Why do you think that this isn’t being done?”

I would be very interested in what answer Sophie got when she asked this question.

perhaps P118 could do a quick follow-up on this specific aspect?

GlanACC

11:35 AM, 17th June 2023, About 10 months ago

I had a property that comes under DERBY City Council. The scumbags in the property (a couple with 2 young children) had 8 months rent arrears and I issued both an S21 and S8. The council told them to sit tight until the bailiff knocked the door down. Apparantly they also told the scumbags that if they contested the eviction they might even get some rent back. Needless to say the scumbags contested it using property needed some repairs excuse. This strung it out for a further 4 months waiting for a court slot. Happily I do keep my properties in good repair and act on any issues promptly, I took to court with me the 3 tradesmen I use for general maintenance, electrics and gas/plumbing. The court completely dismissed the scumbags case but actually gave them 9 weeks to move out. Needless to say at the end of 9 weeks I then had to get the bailiffs in to evict, another 2 months for that. The council wouldn't even agree to directly pay me the housing allowance Best thing is the council actually rang me and asked if we could come to some arrangement where the rental arrears were repaid gradually so the family (poor persecuted souls) wouldn't have to move out. I think you can guess my response.

dolly day dream

13:55 PM, 17th June 2023, About 10 months ago

Reply to the comment left by dismayed landlord at 12/06/2023 - 19:00
i agree completely with dismayed landlord.
i am selling because the whole system is unfairly stacked against the landlord.

Ma'at Housing Solutions

11:52 AM, 10th July 2023, About 10 months ago

Reply to the comment left by John Adair at 12/06/2023 - 16:06
Or a 'Sharon! 😉🙂

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