New civil penalties powers will be used to clamp down on rogue landlords

Rogue landlords who ignore their legal responsibilities towards tenants face the prospect of paying heavy civil penalties after Ashford Borough Council voted to adopt new powers.

When dealing with the worst offenders, the authority can now impose civil penalties of up to £30,000. The new powers are an alternative to criminal prosecutions and are seen as a quicker way to deal with serious housing offences.

The Government introduced the civil penalties as part of its campaign to clamp down on criminal landlords, with local councils now given the option to decide whether to prosecute or issue a penalty.

Ashford Borough Council’s Cabine agreed to adopt the new enforcement powers which will now be used to deal with rogue landlords who break the rules. All money raised by civil penalties will be retained by the council to help fund its enforcements activities in the private rented housing sector.

The ‘carrot and stick approach’ adopted by Ashford seeks to encourage landlords to meet their obligations without the need to impose a penalty charge. But the council will have no hesitation in imposing charges if landlords continue to flout their responsibilities.

Fines could be imposed where landlords fail to comply with improvement notices, commit offences in relation to the licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation, continue to contravene an overcrowding notice, and breaches of banning orders, which prohibit landlords and agents from letting or managing residential properties.

The Cabinet heard that the maximum penalty is £30,000. In setting the level of penalty, the council will follow Government guidance covering the severity of the offence, the culpability and track record of the offender, the harm or potential harm caused to the tenant, and distress caused.

Officers within the private sector housing team are now delegated to issue the civil penalties. A penalty will only be imposed where they are satisfied that there would be a realistic prospect of a conviction if a prosecution was pursued. Landlords and agents will have the right to appeal the notices to a property tribunal.

Councillors heard that the majority of cases dealt with in the private sector housing team are resolved informally without the need to take any enforcement action. However, in a small minority of cases action is required and the adoption of the civil penalty approach provides a greater range of enforcement tools to deal with the worst offenders and to protect tenants.

Cllr Gerald White, portfolio holder for housing, said:

“I’m supportive of the proposed implementation of the civil penalty policy to allow the council to consider imposing fines on landlords who fail to comply with housing law, as an alternative to prosecution. Implementing the policy will hopefully deter landlords from failing in their responsibilities in providing safe homes and ensuring that they comply with the relevant housing law.”