Westminster Council struggling to punish law-breaking landlords

Law-breaking landlords operating in Westminster are going unpunished with zero convictions in 2020, despite hundreds of defective properties identified by the council. 

Figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests submitted to Westminster City Council reveal just 35 convictions have been secured in the last six years, despite 2,357 properties identified as posing the most serious risk of harm. 

In the last three years alone, 1,490 dwellings with significant hazards were identified and removed by the local authority, with 666 enforcement notices served on landlords failing to provide safe housing. 

LAW BREAKING: Dwellings with Category 1 hazards pose the greatest risk to occupants.
Source: Freedom of Information request

Matt Downie, the chief executive of homeless charity Crisis said: “Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to call home, but many people are forced to put up with unsuitable living conditions because their only choice is this or homelessness.

“It’s a desperate situation and one which harms people’s health and wellbeing, and those landlords who ignore their responsibilities to make sure their properties are up to standard must be held accountable. 

“Getting rid of no-fault evictions as part of this is vital to give tenants the confidence to raise concerns about poor conditions without living in fear that this will result in them being evicted.”

Laying bare the lack of safety in some privately rented properties, the data shows just 33 civil penalties have been issued since 2016, with 17 imposed in 2020, despite 676 dwellings with Category 1 hazards identified.

The figures follow research from the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) in 2021 which found two-thirds of councils failed to prosecute a single landlord for offences related to safety standards in the last three years. 

LANDLORDISM: Just 33 civil penalties have been issued since 2016, despite 676 unsafe dwellings identified.
Source: Freedom of Information request

Also obtained by Freedom of Information requests, the NRLA revealed just 20 local authorities were responsible for 77% of successful prosecutions and warned that failure to take action ‘brings the sector into disrepute’.

Meanwhile, figures from the regulatory campaign group Unchecked UK found that spending on housing standards by local authorities fell by 45% between 2009 and 2019.

There is an array of legislation that landlords must abide by when renting out a property, such as ensuring any dwellings are safe, free from health hazards and taking responsibility for any repairs. 

Those who do not comply with regulations set out in the Housing Act of 2004 are liable to face significant fines and in some circumstances, a prison sentence. 

For example, being unable to provide a valid gas safety certificate is a criminal offence and could land a landlord with a six month prison sentence or fine.

DESPERATE SITUATION: Chief Executive of Crisis, Matt Downie, said landlords who ignore their responsibilities should be held accountable. Source: Freedom of Information

Project Coordinator at Renters’ Rights London, Portia Msimang, said: “Criminal landlords who rent out unsafe homes are risking renters’ lives, with Category 1 hazards able to kill someone or cause permanent paralysis.

“An unfettered rental market means that there is a great deal of money to be made so landlordism attracts criminality. This housing emergency didn’t just happen, it’s come about through the policy choices of successive governments across more than 30 years.

“While there is no ring-fenced funding from central government to support councils exercising their enforcement duties, there are too few environmental health officers working on the issues.

“The central grant to local government has been slashed leaving many councils struggling to provide statutory services, and some local authorities have not adapted to respond to the needs of increasing numbers of local residents living in the private rented sector.

“To be quite honest, I’ve been shocked by how many landlords would seem to lack any morals or ethics whatsoever and care only about making as much money as possible, irrespective of the human cost.”

Westminster City Council hasn’t responded to requests for comment. 

Featured image credit: Martin Dunst under CC BY-SA 4.0

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