Oxford City Council has welcomed new powers recently announced by the government to help crackdown on rogue landlords that flout the rules and improve safety and affordability for renters.
The new powers, which came into force on Thursday 6 April 2017, will allow local authorities to impose fines of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for a range of housing offences. Councils will be able to retain all of the income and spend it on private sector housing enforcement.
Rent repayment orders, which can be issued to penalise landlords managing or letting unlicensed properties, have also been extended to cover a wider range of situations. These include the illegal evictions or harassment of the occupiers of a property, using violence to secure entry and the breach of a banning order.
The City Council intends to use the new rules to complement the significant enforcement work it already carries out to improve conditions in the private rented sector in Oxford. In 2016/17, the City Council took 27 successful prosecutions, compared to the national average of one per local authority.
Going forward, the Council anticipates that it will be regularly using financial penalties to deal with unlicensed Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) where rogue landlords have avoided licensing, and to secure compliance with HMO licence conditions where landlords have failed to improve their properties.
Ian Wright, Oxford City Council’s Environmental Health Service Manager, said: “The extension of Rent Repayment Orders is good news for tenants who will be able to get their rent back and we intend to use these powers ourselves as well as helping tenants. In the last financial year, £19,370 was repaid by landlords and we hope that tenants will be encouraged to make more claims where they have been harrassed or unlawfully evicted by rogue landlords.
“We already use a range of data sources to successfully identify unlicensed HMOs and accessing the tenancy deposit database will increase our targeting of rogue landlords. The ability for the Council to issue financial penalties of up to £30,000 also means that for the first time the Courts will have clear guidance on fine levels for those landlords whose offences are so serious that they are prosecuted rather than issued a penalty.”