The Committee is calling on the Government to address a 'clear power imbalance' in parts of the sector, with tenants often unwilling to complain to landlords about conditions in their homes such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.
The report calls for more robust penalties to deal with the very worst landlords and for the Government to give local authorities the power to confiscate properties from those committing the most egregious offences and whose business model relies on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants.
During the inquiry, the Committee heard how in some areas up to 25 people could be found living in houses of just three-bedrooms, while some landlords charge rent of up to £500 for a bed in a room with four bunkbeds.
While the Committee acknowledges the legislation introduced in recent years to strengthen protections for tenants – including civil penalties of up to £30,000 and banning orders for criminal landlords - the Committee heard that local authorities have insufficient resources to undertake their enforcement duties.
Stronger powers, harsher fines and new commitment to cracking down on unscrupulous practices
Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said:
"The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes.
Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties.
Such powers are however meaningless if they are not enforced and at the same time councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions.
Stronger powers, harsher fines and a new commitment to cracking down on unscrupulous practices will go some way towards rebalancing the sector and protecting the many thousands of vulnerable residents who have been abused and harassed by a landlord."
The report recommends:
- Tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment. For example, the Deregulation Act could be strengthened to give greater protections to tenants after they make a complaint about conditions in their homes.
- The establishment of a new fund to support local authorities to undertake informal enforcement activities.
- The introduction of new ways of informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities.
- A requirement for local authorities to publish their enforcement strategies online.
- A review of legislation relating to the private rented sector aimed at bringing more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.
The report found that a significant minority of homes in the private rented sector are shockingly inadequate. While the proportion of non-decent homes has declined over the last ten years, the absolute number has increased as the sector has grown.
The Committee concluded that enforcement of existing legislation to protect tenants had been far too low with six out of 10 councils not prosecuting a landlord in 2016.