Campaigners for tenant rights are calling for a national register of private landlords to combat slum lettings and “beds-in-sheds”.
Barely 7% of privately rented homes in England are currently covered by selective licensing schemes for landlords because local authorities don’t have to set them up.
In contrast, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are completely covered by selective licence schemes, so-called because they cover selected areas of a council and mean landlords are closely regulated.
“Existing licensing schemes have a clear track record of helping councils to identify unsafe homes and bring them up to standard, but the vast majority of private renters are not protected by them,” said Alicia Kennedy, director of pressure group Generation Rent.
“Nationwide landlord registration would give enforcement authorities valuable intelligence about this sector, make it easier to inform tenants of their rights, and prevent criminals from renting out homes.”
Anna Powell-Smith of research group Centre for Public Data said it was remarkable not all landlords had to be licensed “given how dangerous it is to live in a property with faulty wiring, boilers or mould”.
She added: “A patchwork of schemes will never give renters the protection they need, and are an inefficient use of council resources. A national register will be cheaper to run and more effective in raising standards.”
Campaigners point to another advantage of licensing: it will help the taxman. At present, it is estimated that the “tax-gap” from under-declared rent is £540 million a year.
The proof is in the figures. In the last year English councils with selective licensing schemes took action on more than 5,000 homes with serious health hazards – an average of 158 per council.
Councils without the schemes identified just 63 unsafe homes each on average.
Tackling lousy landlords is a priority for Waltham Forest Council in North London, and it’s no surprise that it operates a selective landlord licensing scheme covering all but two of its wards.
“The aim of the licensing regime is to protect the health and safety of those who occupy the most at-risk private premises, that is Houses in Multiple Occupancy,” said council lawyer Dean Underwood.
Among the landlords it has prosecuted this year is Peter Anuba, a self-styled apostle of an evangelical Christian church who declares himself “chosen, anointed, gifted and called by God”.
He was called on by the council in 2013 and ordered to demolish an outbuilding being used as a residential dwelling.
He ignored the enforcement notice and so was given a second one. A compliance visit in 2019 found that this had also been ignored.
In February this year at Snaresbrook Crown Court, 55-year-old Anuba was hit with a £300,000 confiscation order for the income earned since 2013 and ordered to pay £36,000 in fines and legal costs.
“ The landlord collected a large sum of money while ignoring his responsibilities and this judgment sends a clear message to others who may be tempted to cut corners,” said Councillor Clyde Loakes after the case.
“Irresponsible landlords who decide to ignore planning enforcement notices, thinking officers won’t follow up or that the profits they will make outstrip the risks, should pay attention. We will catch up with you and we will push for the maximum penalties.”
Waltham Forest also caught up with Mohamed Lahrie, 55, and his wife Shehara, 51, who rented their properties to “ghost tenants” to avoid paying council fees.
They claimed they were renting six properties to a single tenant, who was in fact their letting agent.
This meant that the council did not know they were Houses in Multiple Occupancy and so did not inspect them or charge HMO licence fees.
Mr Lahrie was fined £126,500 at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court in September, Mrs Lahrie being fined £60,500.
Another rogue landlord caught by the council this year is Mohammed Bhatti, aka Mohammed Muqeem Amin, 70, director of Property Ladder London Limited.
Council officers described a property he let in High Road, Leyton, as one of the worst they had encountered, with a lack of fire alarms, dangerous electrical sockets, blocked drains and access to the top-floor flat was only possible via a dangerous staircase.
Bhatti, 70, pleaded guilty to breaching management regulations and failing to licence the home and was told to pay fines and costs of £82,000.
In a separate Waltham Forest case, a landlord who illegally turned a Walthamstow property into 13 flats was hit with nearly £200,000 in fines, costs and a confiscation order.
Inanc Elitok, 45, pleaded guilty to ignoring two enforcement notices at a hearing at Snaresbrook Crown Court in March.
In yet another successful prosecution by the council this year, Balmick Seegolam, 61, was fined £60,000 at Thames Magistrates’ Court for failing to have a licence for a House in Multiple Occupancy which, in his own words, was “small and not in great condition”.
Councillor Louise Mitchell, the council’s Cabinet member for Housing and Homelessness Prevention, said: “Our selective licensing scheme is an important tool for us as we work to ensure all private rental tenants in Waltham Forest have a decent roof over their head.
“While the majority of landlords are reputable and take good care of their properties and tenants, a minority take advantage of those in need of a home and exploit them to line their own pockets.
“Between 2015 and 2020, over 3,000 homes in Waltham Forest were improved through our first selective licensing scheme.
“Our message to all rogue landlords in Waltham Forest is clear: if you want to rent property out in our borough, your property must meet the licensing scheme’s standards and you must ensure that your tenants are safe. If you do not, we will find out and take action against you. Tenants deserve to live safety, with security, and in comfort.”
Ealing Council in West London has just secured massive confiscation orders against three slum landlords.
In one case, husband and wife Kartar and Mrs Surinder Khosa failed “to follow simple planning regulations”.
The couple were served an enforcement notice by the council when it was discovered that they had no planning permission to use a property as a House in Multiple Occupancy.
Necessary remedial work was not carried out and after being prosecuted the case went to Isleworth Crown Court for a confiscation hearing.
The result was that the couple was ordered to pay £253,449 by December 3, with a default prison sentence of 30 months for Mr Khosa, 66, and 15 months for Mrs Khosa, 65.
They were also each fined £6,000 and must pay court costs of £25,250.
In a second Ealing case, beds-in-sheds landlord Anja Bawa built a cramped outbuilding without planning permission and ignored an enforcement notice banning her letting it.
She was hit with penalties of almost £275,000 in fines, costs and a confiscation order.
Councillor Joanna Camadoo-Rothwell, Ealing’s lead member for community safety and inclusion, said: “Property licensing is one of the best tools available to us to ensure safer and better conditions in private rented homes.
“Over the last five years, it has helped us to raise standards for tenants and provide better support for landlords, who play a vital role in the local housing market.
“Although the overwhelming majority of landlords and agents offer good quality housing for their tenants, a small but significant minority do not.”
The record for the biggest confiscation order slapped on a slum landlord is thought to be held by Mohammed Mehdi Ali.
The 36-year-old was ordered in February to hand back £739,263 and pay fines of £75,000 and legal costs of£30,000.
He rented out properties in Willesden, North London, which were described by Brent Council as “some of the worst residential accommodation that officers have ever come across”.
After being found guilty at Harrow Crown Court of failing to comply with planning enforcement notices, Judge Lana Wood said: “This kind of substandard housing is a social evil.”
Around a third of residents in Brent live in private rented accommodation.
“Selective licensing schemes have been really important to us in improving standards in the private rented sector,” said Councillor Eleanor Southwood, Lead Member for Housing and Welfare Reform.
“We were incredibly disappointed that the Government rejected our application to renew the schemes in several wards across the borough and extend it to others where we know that private renters are being put at risk.
“Selective licensing not only helps us hold landlords to account and take action where we need to, evidence suggests that landlords who obtain a proper licence better understand what to do to keep tenants safe in the first place.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are cracking down on rogue landlords and have given councils the power to prosecute and ban the most serious offenders.
“But we must go further to create a fairer private rented sector and we are exploring the introduction of a national landlord register as part of a commitment to drive up standards in rented accommodation. The new Secretary of State will set out proposals for reform in due course.”