Two recent housing enforcement cases highlight the importance of property licensing having a place in the Local Authority toolkit

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A "Serial slum landlord" has received Brent Council's first banning order whilst a "Dodgy landlord" and his agent in Dagenham are made to pay £22,000 with the landlord also ordered to pay a £15,000 rent repayment order.

In announcing their first PRS landlord banning order Brent council also referred to the landlord as "a criminal businessman" and a "So-called property dealer". The landlord, a Mr Valand, had already been found guilty, in 2018, of "packing" 40 tenants into a 4 bed family home in Wembley including one tenant at the property who was found to be occupying a "lean to shack made out of pallets and tarpaulin with no lighting or heating".

On that occasion Mr Valand was found to have been one of "four slum landlords .... guilty of raking in £360,000" by packing the property with so many tenants. Though he was served with a £5000 confiscation order the council said that he then "went on to exploit more vulnerable tenants." This course of action led to him being prosecuted by the council in January 2022 for breaching HMO regulations at another property where enforcement officers found fire safety breaches, waste accumulation, disrepair and unhygienic living conditions and where the tenants were paying £1,400 a month without having been provided with tenancy agreements.

For those offences Mr Valand was fined £30,000, ordered to pay £3,347 in costs with a further fine (and costs) of £6,190 after council officers proved that he had lied when declaring that he did not own a business in the UK. The council achieved the banning order after being able to prove serial housing offences carried out by this landlord over time.

Cllr. Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, said "This is the first ban we have issued since Brent was given the powers in April 2018 to ban serial rogue landlords under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 .... Brent Council takes a zero tolerance policy against rogue landlords such as this .... The new selective licensing scheme that we introduced on 1st August [2023] is part of our commitment to protecting renters' rights ...."

In the second case, Barking and Dagenham Council, after successfully achieving a fine totalling £22,000, in February this year, against a landlord and his agent, then went on to successfully achieve a rent repayment order (plus costs) of £14,700 against that landlord on behalf of the tenants of his unlicensed property in Dagenham.

But, the property wasn't just unlicensed - when inspecting it, the council enforcement officer found that there was only one working heater, there were no smoke detection alarms, there were broken lights "throughout the property" including an unprotected light in the bathroom, a severe bed bug infestation (with the resident children being affected by bites) and a broken front door "with locks so old, it was unable to secure the property."

In addition, all the kitchen cupboards were in disrepair, the oven didn't work and the plug for it "was secured with duct tape." Though the landlord and his agent were served with multiple notices by the council these were ignored and no work was carried out so the council had no option but to start a prosecution. The landlord was fined £11,223 and the agent, £11,000.

Cllr. Syed Ghani, Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety, said "Nobody should be living in such unacceptable conditions, and I'm really pleased that someone had the guts to report them to us. We don't stand for this sort of behaviour from landlords ...."

The council then went on to apply for a rent repayment order via the Housing and Planning Act 2016. The landlord was not present at the hearing this month, but Judge Shepherd ordered that the landlord must repay rent of £14,400 and the costs of the application which amounted to £300 - all to be paid within 28 days. The judgement made clear that "The applicants are, to all intents and purposes, good tenants. The respondent in contrast appears to fit the description 'rogue landlord' perfectly. He has failed to comply with the Improvement Notice, the premises remain in a hazardous condition and he has abjectly failed to engage with either this Tribunal or the Magistrates Court."

These two enforcement results make the case that selective licensing, HMO licensing and Additional licensing are indispensable tools available to Local Authority housing enforcement and planning teams. They also starkly illustrate the adverse health impacts for residents of this type of landlord behaviour - whether that be having to survive living in a "lean to shack" with no heating or lighting or living in a very badly maintained and unsafe "home" infested by bed bugs.

Licensing, accompanied by an effective property inspection regime can achieve results by flushing out this type of landlord. As the precedents cited in the RRO hearing in the Dagenham case point out, fines and RROs are not simply to punish the given landlord or compensate their tenants but are also meant to deter, via example, rogue behaviour more widely. Packing 40 tenants into a 4 bed property reached the national press (though well after the event) but there are many more cases that don't reach the national press but which, because of licensing schemes, do ensure that rogue landlords can be held accountable.

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