Here’s a radical idea – Stop Shooting Fish in a Barrel

by Mary Latham

11:20 AM, 13th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Here’s a radical idea – Stop Shooting Fish in a Barrel

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Here’s a radical idea – Stop Shooting Fish in a Barrel

I am writing this after reading an article with the opening line “A Labour MP says that every MP he knows “is desperate for help in dealing with rogue landlords”.”

Here is a radical idea – penalise local authorities who do not use their legal powers to enforce the law!

This is what happens to good landlords:

  • We come forward and apply for a licence if we are letting a licensable HMO and pay a fee which, in my area, is around £800 a property
  • After 5 years we come forward to apply for a renewal and have to pay £800 again
  • If we let in an area where a local authority has been unable to get rogue landlords to do the right thing we will find ourselves paying a fee for Selective Licensing (non-HMO’s), and this fee in my area is the same as the HMO fee £800
  • If the local authority are concerned that there are too many HMO’s in an area they will put in an Article 4 Direction which carries a planning application fee of around £300
  • We will have our fire alarms, gas system, electrical system and appliances tested as required by law at a cost of £200+ a year
  • We will protect our tenants deposits at a cost of £30 each
  • We will join a landlords association to ensure that we are up to date and have access to a help line at a cost of £80 a year
  • We will ensure that we have appropriate insurance cover including around £55 a property a year just to ensure that we are covered if we are successfully sued by a tenant or visitor
  • We pay an accountant to do our tax returns and file them on time
  • We pay our tax including a payment in advance for next year
  • If we sell one property and buy another we will pay full capital gains tax with no rollover relief

Those landlords who do not do these things are at a commercial advantage because their overheads are so much lower. I am tired of paying for the bad boys. Like any business I have the right to expect those who have enforcement powers to use them to ensure that people in my business are not breaking the law. Could you imagine British Airways tolerating another airline being able to employ untrained pilots to fly for them?

I do not want to hear that “there are not enough officers to do the work” or that “the red tape is too onerous” and nor do I want to hear that “the money taken in fines goes to national government”. These same people have time to spend in meetings planning new ways to get money out of the good landlords, selling us services that should be provided out of our taxes because they are in the best interest of the community and planning schemes to encourage landlords to work with them while ignoring the facts that have made previous schemes fail.

If there are not enough staff to enforce existing legislation and regulation why are local authorities planning to implement New selective licensing schemes and Article 4 Directions?

The answer is that what they are planning will be paid for by the good landlords and provide revenue to top up their coffers. It will make no difference at all to those who fly under the radar, just as HMO’s licensing has failed to improve the living conditions of those who live in appalling unlicensed HMO’s. Good landlords will pay and do the right thing while the others will continue to laugh at us. Actually many of us will say “time to sell up”, I know this from the many landlords who are just waiting for the property market to improve.

What is the solution?

Every local authority that plans to bring in further control schemes should be asked one simple question- How many landlords have you successfully prosecuted because they have failed to meet the legal requirements of the Housing Act 2004 and other older legislation?

And to those MP’s who are “desperate for help in dealing with rogue landlords”. Please make sure that my tax pounds are used to enforce the law and protect the reputation of my business from illegal operators!


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Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:41 PM, 13th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Mary, Mary, Mary. You know, as a council enforcement officer I can’t let this pass without comment haha, even though I see the main focus of your article is property standards rather than harassment and illegal eviction which is my stock in trade.
 
And before I start, I do also acknowledge that decent landlords are paying for the bastards ones. That’s exactly what happens.
 
But………………….that word again……the one you can hear coming a minute before it arrives. Like the wind of a tube train, that ruffles your hair at Leicester Square station before the thing comes screaming out of the tunnel, I have to, not exactly take issue with, but comment upon, your assertion “I do not want to hear that there are not enough officers to do the work” or that “the red tape is too onerous”.
 
You may not want to hear it, I understand that, but whether you want to hear it or not it is what is going on. Personally I don’t want to hear about child abuse or people who have no access to clean water but its part of the modern world, you can’t just dismiss it because you don’t want to hear it.
 
If I use my crew to explain how this works it isn’t as a personal protest, just an example that I have personal experience of to illustrate the point, which is a typical one.
 
We have 13,400 HMO lettings in our borough and 2 licensing officers. How the hell is anyone supposed to provide a decent service? Is this the fault of the officers? Of course not and I don’t suggest for a minute that you are suggesting this. Is it the fault of the council in deciding where exactly to make those cuts? To an extent yes, they have a choice, but having said that, if they decided to keep a full HMO licensing team it would be at the expense of say a child support team or a blind person’s access outfit.
 
Is it the fault of government who tell council that they have to lose ‘X’ amount from their budget? Absolutely. BUT….that word again!....To attack the government takes people into the realm of political activism and landlords aren’t motivated by that usually, they are just ordinary people trying to make a living through providing a much needed service. Its business not politics, unless of course you are on the receiving end of things.
 
Sticking with personal experience as a typical illustration. 2 years ago my team were 6 in number, we dealt with; harassment and illegal eviction (Me and Steve) Disrepair (Eve and Sandra) and rent issues (Nina and Paul). Through cuts, forced upon us by central government. Eve, Sandra, Paul and Nina were made redundant, leaving me and Steve to take on everyone else’s work and also mortgage repossession cases as well that were added when Mortgage rescue became popular with senior managers as a way of justifying their own jobs.
 
I’m not moaning, that is fairly typical and I am glad I have a job where I can make a difference to people’s lives, but some things have to give in order to keep those balls in the air.
 
And that’s just a resource thing. In addition you have the ‘red tape’ you mentioned.
 
Council enforcement officers can only work within red tape, we cannot, in any way circumvent that. If we did, it would be akin to a police officer planting evidence. True rogue landlords know that we are hobbled by legislation and they move faster than we can keep up with. We don’t create that red tape, it is part of law and we can only work with what we are given and with less and less people to do it with.
 
Newham council have recently announced that they will be targeting a certain number of properties to enforce property standards, in doing so they are providing a bit of a giggle-factor amongst their London council peers. They did this some time ago with a much lesser number as a stated target. In order to set up enforcement action you need to first ascertain who owns the property, which involves an administrative procedure.
 
Based on how long it took them to track down ownership with the more limited numbers they used last time it has been estimated that with the amount of landlords they are going after this time, it will take a little shy of 200 years just to track down ownership, without taking enforcement action as well.
 
Where does the blame lie for all this BS? Firmly at the feet of our politicians intent on using statistics to make it look like they are doing a good job so we vote them in next time whilst crucifying hard working committed council staff, making them look indifferent or even lazy, as Shapps commented earlier this week about social housing staff.
 
We carried out a massive reorganisation last year based on cuts in funding, which is why my team are 2 now and not 6. Today we were told we have been told by government we have to lose another £30 million, so the madness starts again.
 
Mary I hear your anger and frustration but I can assure you it is nothing compared to that felt by me and many like me who have to do enforcement work.
 
Aim your anger where it should be aimed at, government, not at the army of people who do the work because they care and feel disempowered daily by a government obsessed with cuts.

21:19 PM, 13th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Totally agree with all your sentiments Ben.......Isn't it nice to know we are all in this together!!!!!!!!!??

Mary Latham

17:17 PM, 14th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Ben I said this

"And to those MP’s who are “desperate for help in dealing with rogue landlords”. Please make sure that my tax pounds are used to enforce the law and protect the reputation of my business from illegal operators"

Landlords who comply with the law have the right to expect those who enforce that law to PENALISE landords who do not comply BEFORE placing further burdens on us.

Five years after HMO licensing became a legal requirement the good guys are being told that they will pay the whole fee again for a simple renewal and in some cases that fee has increased by more than 100%. At the same time those landlords who have not come forward are still letting neighbouring properties without a licence.  AND the same authorities, who have failed to licence 100% of their mandatory HMO properties, are planning Selective licensing schemes.

Why are authorities with limited resources taking on extra work when they haven't got the staff to do the basics?

Why should good landlords pay taxes and fees to pay the wages of deck chair attendants on the Titanic?

Mary Latham

17:19 PM, 14th January 2012
About 9 years ago

 
Ben I said this

"And to those MP’s who are “desperate for help in dealing with rogue landlords”. Please make sure that my tax pounds are used to enforce the law and protect the reputation of my business from illegal operators"

Landlords who comply with the law have the right to expect those who enforce that law to PENALISE landords who do not comply BEFORE placing further burdens on us.

Five years after HMO licensing became a legal requirement the good guys are being told that they will pay the whole fee again for a simple renewal and in some cases that fee has increased by more than 100%. At the same time those landlords who have not come forward are still letting neighbouring properties without a licence. AND the same authorities, who have failed to licence 100% of their mandatory HMO properties, are planning Selective licensing schemes.

Why are authorities with limited resources taking on extra work when they haven't got the staff to do the basics?

Why should good landlords pay taxes and fees to pay the wages of deck chair attendants on the Titanic?
 
 
 

Ben Reeve-Lewis

8:47 AM, 15th January 2012
About 9 years ago

I know you made those points too Mary but you also dismissed the notion that staff cuts and lack of resources were to blame when they are the very core of everything else you were citing.
 
Council policy and strategy teams have for years being trying to make a 3 course meal out of 2 bags of potatoes and a pint of oil– the ingredients being handed over by central government while they demand the finest meal to be made out of them and accuse us of being crap chefs when all we manage to serve up is chips.
 
As cuts are enforced councils look increasing to 3 things:-
‘Income generation’.
Reducing services
Using technology to take over jobs
 
Income generation is the buzz phrase at all meetings I attend these days. That’s why so many council’s now use parking fees and impose residents parking areas as income generation measures, despite the protests of local traders that it is killing off the community while people travel out to the soulless out of town mega-market/multi-plex hells.
 
As with central government ways, councils have to be careful about raising council tax because its unpopular, so they look to other methods of providing services that the local residents demand. I remember back in the 1980s when council’s like mine were awash with all sort of community centres for the blind, the Irish elderly, The Caribbean autistic society, the infamous 1 armed Lesbian freedom fighters support group etc, and everyone moaned councils were wasting money. All that has long gone – and much more!!
 
Government give less and less money to councils each year and demand cuts at the same time so Income Generation, service cuts like bin collection and technology  is the future and in housing (I can’t speak for other departments of which I have no knowledge)if it comes in from HMO licencing, so be it. And it isn’t just landlords who are being targeted.
 
Senior managers are growing increasingly keen on touch screen technology that enables residents to answer their own questions, which means they can axe advice staff in a number of areas. My council have an innovative graffiti hotline which enables residents to take a photo with their smartphone of graffiti which has grown up overnight and text it to the team. The Photo already comes with a GPS location and the team go out straight away. Innovative use of technology I’m sure you’ll agree but what drives that innovation is the idea that the council can get rid of a range of staff that used to log the calls and save on the office space that once housed them.
 
Landlords may well complain that their tax pounds are being used to fund teams that will take even more from them in future but at the same time council staff, most of whom are residents in the same borough, are using their council tax pounds to fund schemes that will cost them their jobs.
 
Once again I make the point, who is to blame here? Central Government and, although I know I may be tilting at windmills, also I suggest council leaders who don’t stand up to Parliament.
 
What is the answer? Buggered if I know. Go back to the days of central government handing out cash to councils and have the whole country paying tax to fund services they never use in their area or privatise everything? It’s going the way of the latter, maybe it would be easier if the waters weren’t muddied as they are now.
 
 

Mary Latham

22:11 PM, 15th January 2012
About 9 years ago

 Ben I haven't got the answers to all the ills of the world but I have got the answer to how to fund enforcement against those landlords who break the law.  Charge them additional fees for the extra work that is created by chasing them.  Many of these landlords receive rents from benefits (LHA) stop the rent until they comply. Local authorities KNOW who the rent is paid to and no landlord who is operating illegally should be given my tax pounds  while good landlords are being commercially disadvantaged.

If local authorities don't stop penalising the good landlords, who do comply with legislation, they will force the good guys out of the business and will be left with only rogue landlords and substandard properties.

Mary Latham

22:34 PM, 15th January 2012
About 9 years ago

 
I will be on the panel for this Guardian housing network discussion on Monday (16th) it will be interesting to hear what other landlords have to say

Live discussion: how should councils work with private landlords?
From rent fixing to dealing with poor properties, join us from 12pm on Monday to discuss how councils can work with the private sector to solve the housing crisis

http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2012/jan/13/councils-private-rent-housing-discussion?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed
 

2:03 AM, 16th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Yeah I agree Ben; this is what the big socity lie is all about, getting us to do the govts job and the govt getting a pat on the back for reduced costs.
That is the road to nowhere.
what happens when there are not sufficient 'big society' members to deliver the council and govt servises.
Oh I forgot all the workers previously PAID to deliver those services have been made redundant.
So do we go back to the days of hoped for philanthropy to deliver services or do we revert to the more practical and FAIR way of such service delivery by accepting it has to be paid for by common taxation.
You cannot with the best will in the world make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!!?
The sooner the govt recognises that overwhelming reality perhaps they will; stop trying to con the electorate with the 'big society'
I seem to remember Maggie saying there is no such thing as society only individuals and families!?
I see nothing wrong in services being delivered and paid for by general taxation providing the SERVICE is provided as efficiently as possible.
This does not mean paying rubbish wages and reduced job conditions racing to the bottom to match the private sector..
However the abuses in local government and national govt and inefficiency leads people to conclude that the private sector is the answer to all our problems.
Well I don't think so.
Just look at the railway network would receives more govt subsidy than BR ever needed and these govt funds go into shareholders pockets rather than for the common good in improving the RAIL SERVICE.
Note the emphasis on the fact that I did not say the RAIL BUSINESS.
The network is vital infrastructure for the whole country.
It should not be run for a profit.
But it should be run as efficiently as possible and if it happens to make a profit then great..
That however is not the point ofhaving an integrated transport system.
It isa a facilitator to allow business to prosper.
The French realised this over 100 years ago which is why they have a fantastic rail network which needs govt subsidy as there is rail provision throughout whether that particular service makes a profit or not.
Indeed when the Euro tunnel and TGV network were being set up the citizens of Lille actively campaigned to have their city as one of the stns the train would stop at.
Compare that to the nimbys with our proposed HS2 network.
Essentially the lie given out by the govt is service provision may be maintained for nothing.
This is clearly palpable and utter nonsense.
When the public wake up to the fact that the services they and previous generations have actually  campaigned and in some cases died for will they realise that this 'big society.' is essentially their birthright being stolen by this present govt.
This is not to say that the previous govt was any use either; cause it wasn't.
What to be done ?.................................................any ideas; nope me neither!? 

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7:17 AM, 16th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Well at least we all agree that no government will never be up to the task while they constantly kow tow to the city and follow the recommendations of think tanks run by people who know everything about the theories that surround the subject but no practical experience.

In their keeness not to upset big money friends the Tory's are terrified of anything smacks of non profit but what if having elements, such as the railways that do operate that way? It doesnt make us all Leon Trotsky does it? Or maybe even Trotsky was right about nationalising banks railways and basic means of production.

Like you Mary I dont have all the answers.

Staying with housing though I am in total agreement that bad landlords should be made to pay. It rarely happens through prosecutions for harassment and illegal eviction because the judges levy such paltry fines but there are other things that I am currently looking into interestingly enough.

RROs, the little known Rent Repayment Orders. Where an HMO should be licensed but isnt, the council can slap an RRO on the landlord by applying to the Property Tribunal for an order whereby a council can claim back housing benefit on each tenant for 12 months. Even if those tenants move out, if an HB tenant replaces them we can still continue to clawback the money.

The other week we came across a 20 bed HMO, all rooms with HB tenants, completely unlicensed. That should sting. In theory it should be a relatively pain free process with a fixed outcome, unlike a fine which can vary.

Also some councils I have been reading about (Liverpool & Richmond I recall) chase landlords under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Good luck on Guardian Network Mary. I wont be able to listen in as I will be at work

HMOLandlady

13:29 PM, 16th January 2012
About 9 years ago

Hi Mary

I completely understand where you're coming from.  I have a licence renewal fee pending this year, plus all the associated costs with providing the correct paperwork just to call myself "legal". 

A friend of a tenant was telling me this morning that he's been looking at filthy and expensive rooms as his landlady is selling.  Each room is more depressing than the last and it wouldn't even occur to him to ask the landlord if she/he is operating legally.

I appreciate that council workers are stretched to ensure orders made from above are adhered to and that good landlords will always be good landlords - it's in our blood.  Perhaps those at the top ought to spend a few days at the bottom to see the result of their directives? 

Oh, good point - where does the licence fee go and how is the figure reached?  Our council's fee for this year is £848!

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