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New Bill seeking to regulate landlords looks doomed to fail

A Bill seeking to regulate all private landlords has had its first reading in Parliament – but is likely to go no further.

Convention means that while the Ten Minute Member’s Bill has been given a date for a second reading, further parliamentary time will almost certainly not be found for it.

The Private Landlords (Register and Duties) Bill was presented in the House of Commons on Tuesday by the Labour MP for Sedgefield, Phil Wilson.

He proposed measures including: a register of private landlords; private landlords required to take action in the event of anti-social behaviour by their tenants; the granting of extra powers to both landlords and local authorities to deal with anti-social behaviour; and the establishment of a community fund to which private landlords must contribute for the upkeep of their local community.

Racing through his allotted ten minutes, Wilson reeled off statistics about the private rented sector and its rate of increase. He said that by 2020, 20% of the UK’s housing stock will be private lets.

But, he went on: “The private rented sector is rife with problems. Some 36% of Shelter advice queries come from private renters, more than double the proportion in the population at large. Satisfaction is lower, and accommodation is more likely to be of a poor standard.”

He said half of privately rented properties failed to meet decent homes standards, and that many landlords had “little or no experience, knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities and the complex legal framework of renting”.

He claimed: “In fact, the buy-to-let sector includes more than 650,000 homes that could have been in the owner-occupier market, and the fact that they are not has helped to force up house prices.”

He said that areas with high concentrations of private lets could blight local communities, especially in low-demand areas.

He said of his own constituency: “In Sedgefield, where there are several ex-colliery villages with rows of terrace housing, private landlords have moved in. In some streets, up to 40% or 50% of the properties are private lets. In others, half the landlords are absentees, with some even living abroad.

“Over the past four years I have had numerous cases of private landlords who have neglected their properties and tenants. Anti-social behaviour has become a major problem in the affected areas, and some of the residents who have lived in the streets in question for years now do not feel part of the local community that they have known for a long time.”

Wilson particularly blamed amateur landlords, saying: “The vast majority are amateurs without the skills and wherewithal to deal with being a private landlord. The buy-to-let market has led to a huge increase in such landlords. The market has grown because people saw it as an opportunity to make capital gain, for example from increased profits from the value of properties.

“To help the huge number of private landlords, it is in their interest for a national register to be set up … a national register will be a significant help to local authorities in identifying and targeting rogue landlords, and in enabling better joint working between local authorities to tackle such landlords across multiple areas. Serial offenders could be struck off the list.”

He suggested the register should be mandatory and that sanctions for failing to register could include fines or preventing landlords from serving Section 21 notices.

He said that a register could also help local authorities determine how many private landlords were in their area. He went on: “If the number reaches a certain level, I believe that landlords should pay a community levy, especially in those areas where they dominate the housing stock.

“If people take out of the community, they should put back into it. If, for example, 25% of homes in a given area are private lets, or if one landlord owns several properties in an area, a community levy should be payable into a fund to put towards the upkeep of the area.

“Local people, in the spirit of localism, could decide how the fund is spent, whether to help with policing, environmental issues or whatever. Social landlords already do that, so why not private landlords?”

He concluded: “If in nine years’ time – by 2020 – one in five of our homes is a private let, the whole sector will need to be professionalised. The private rented sector is the only sector that is currently expanding. The sector is necessary, but it needs to live up to its responsibilities. I have seen that for myself in my communities.

“The sector needs regulation.”

The Bill is due to be read a second time on Friday, November 18. However, parliamentary convention makes its further progress extremely unlikely