Councils could get sweeping powers to control landlords

Greater powers for local councils to crack down on bad landlords, a legal requirement to include landlords’ contact details in all tenancy agreements, faster evictions, and a cultural shift towards longer tenancies have been recommended in this morning’s major report into the private rented sector.

The Communities and Local Government select committee makes no fewer than 47 recommendations covering a wide range of issues from Houses in Multiple Occupation to selective licensing schemes.

But it rejects rent controls, saying these would drive down investment in the private rented sector.

Among its recommendations are the introduction of a standard, plain language tenancy agreement on which all tenancies would be based. A fact sheet setting out landlords’ and tenants’ key rights and obligations would be issued alongside it.

The recommendations are part of the committee’s call to the Government to conduct a wide-ranging review into how it can consolidate legislation, to provide a simple, straightforward set of regulations that landlords and tenants can easily understand.

The greater powers that the committee wants local councils to have would include the ability to impose a penalty charge without having to take a landlord to court. This would apply where “minor” housing conditions had been breached and not put right within a certain time.

Local councils would also be able to recoup from landlords convicted of letting sub-standard properties an amount equal to that paid to a social tenant in housing benefit, while private tenants would also have the right to reclaim rent.

Local councils would be given more encouragement to develop their own approaches to licensing or accreditation, including greater freedom over selective licensing – the controversial scheme which Newham Council has used to impose licensing on every single rental property in its borough.

Local authorities would in addition have the power to compel landlords to be members of an accreditation scheme, whether run by themselves or by a recognised landlords association. Councils would be given powers to impose “heavy penalties” on landlords who did not sign up to compulsory licensing or accreditation.

The committee also calls for a review of HMOs. For the first time, electrical safety certificates would be mandatory alongside gas safety certification, with every rental property required to have a full wiring check every five years plus a visual wiring check every change of tenancy.

The report calls on the Government to convene a working party to examine how the eviction process could be speeded up where tenants do not pay rent or fail to meet other obligations. The committee says that the ability to secure eviction more quickly would encourage longer tenancies.

It also calls on the Council of Mortgage Lenders to work with lenders to loosen terms in their buy-to-let contracts which limit landlords to shorter tenancies.

Committee chairman Clive Betts said: “Too often, the security desired by many families is not available within the private rented sector. We heard from one father whose ten-year-old daughter had already had to move home seven times in her life.

“We have to overcome the barriers to longer tenancies. Letting agents should not be chasing renewal fees. Instead they should be working to ensure the length of tenancies meets the needs of both tenants and landlords.”

The committee’s report is due to be launched by Betts in the House of Commons today.