Oxford City Council has announced plans to tackle poor housing conditions in the private rented sector.
To do this, the Council will use new government powers in cases where landlords and property agents are marketing homes that fall below legal minimum standards.
Oxford City Council already has a licensing and inspection system for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), but this does not cover the majority of homes that are privately rented.
Based on sample surveys, there are over 3,000 private rental properties in Oxford that are not HMOs and which may have Category 1 hazards under the Health and Housing Safety Rating System. Examples of Category 1 hazards include exposed wiring, a dangerous or broken boiler, a leaking roof and broken steps at the top of stairs.
Under its new plans, the Council will inspect all rented properties identified as potentially containing Category 1 hazards over a five year period. It will employ two additional environmental health officers and increase the number of inspections to 700 a year, up from the current 275 a year.
Where problems are found the Council will work together with landlords and letting agents to make sure they are fixed. Where hazards are sufficiently serious, or where previous problems have not been addressed, the Council will take stronger action.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 allows councils to impose civil fines of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for landlords and agents whose properties contain Category 1 hazards. The City Council will use these new powers to improve conditions in the poorest quality private rented housing in the city.
The Council has developed a protocol for a sliding scale of civil penalties, depending on the level of harm and potential danger caused to tenants, and the culpability of landlords and agents for Category 1 hazards.
Money raised from civil penalties will be used to continue to improve the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector.
The new proposals for private rented sector regulation form part of the Council’s aim to create sustainable communities that are safe and healthy, as set out in its Draft Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2018-21. The strategy is open for consultation until 3 November on the Council’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy Consultation web page.
Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Board Member for Planning and Regulatory Services, said: “Thirty percent of Oxford’s housing is in the private rented sector, and for many people in Oxford it’s the best way of finding a home. The substantial majority of Oxford’s private sector landlords provide good quality homes for their tenants. However there are a few who don’t, and these few give the whole sector a bad name. We are determined to deal with poor landlords and agents who try to avoid addressing inadequate and dangerous housing conditions.
“Civil penalties will support a ramping up of the enforcement programme to 700 inspections a year, targeted at the worst housing. Civil penalties are not a soft alternative to prosecution, and we will use them to drive up standards in the private rented sector.
“Taking this approach means that it is only the worst landlords and agents who will bear the cost of better enforcement, not landlords as a whole.”