As part of his Mayoral campaign in 2016, Sadiq Khan championed the notion of ‘fairer’ housing for Londoners in the private rental sector. His plans included a ‘rogue landlord checker’, a database of landlords who have had successful prosecutions against them for dereliction in their responsibilities to tenants. The database would only work however, if boroughs across London, as well as other authorities such as the fire service, the Property Ombudsman, the Property Redress Scheme and the Ombudsman Services for Property, agreed to share information.
In December 2017, the database was launched with 10 boroughs already on board. It is the first database that can be accessed by the public, for free, to check that their landlord or letting agent hasn’t previously been convicted of housing offences. (National databases and letting agent redress scheme information can only be accessed by official bodies). Private tenants can also report and file complaints about landlords and letting agencies using the online service. The tool, hosted on the City Hall website is also being used by borough councils and authorities to privately share information and catch any landlords and letting agents that are flouting the rules. All 33 local authorities in London have now signed up and, alongside the fire service and information from letting agent redress schemes, a comprehensive tracker of rogue landlords is being compiled by the London Assembly.
It’s a huge leap forward, not least because it gives tenants new powers to check their own safety and security. For example, one entry in the database is for a landlord who was fined £150,000 in 2017 for failing to follow fire safety regulations after a serious fire in their apartment block. The prosecution was brought by the London Fire Brigade which highlights just how important data sharing between authorities is. Tenants armed with this type of information, may sign a rental agreement with a different landlord when given the choice.
For authorities too, if there is no easily accessible record of landlords’ or letting agents’ convictions or any way of tracking them borough to borough, then there is little way of monitoring their behaviour until a problem occurs. It leaves the industry effectively unregulated; with rogue landlords and letting agents, after a conviction, simply able to set up again in a different borough with impunity. Sadiq Khan has commented that unscrupulous landlords and agents now “have nowhere to hide”.
It’s something that we, as a founding and accredited member of ARLA Propertymark (the Association of Residential Letting Agents) welcome and feel is long overdue. In the past, the actions of a few have brought the whole industry into disrepute. It is a significant part of a letting agent’s role to uphold tenants complaints and where possible resolve the issue fairly. A common problem is the return of deposits – we have heard of deposits not being returned for up to six months which could cause huge difficulties. It is a significant part of a letting agent’s role to check that all landlords follow legislation and respect their tenants. This is especially important for landlords who may be new to renting their property.
Actually, we feel this checker could go further, and track so-called ‘nightmare tenants‘ too. This would be especially wise if the flouted three-year tenancy scheme, proposed by the opposition party Labour, comes into effect. Landlords would have the ability to check if a tenant paid their rent on time, left the property in disrepair or caused problems or distress to neighbours. The good news is that this database makes that tracking and checking quicker, simpler and more comprehensive, and it helps to improve the letting service for everyone.
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