Audience: Landlords and residents
West Suffolk councils have made homes for our communities a corporate priority and private landlords are an important provider of housing for our residents. The Public Health and Housing team work proactively to support landlords to improve the standard of privately rented accommodation and to raise awareness of the how expected standard with tenants, so they too can work with their landlords. Our Housing standards and enforcement page has more information about the councils’ housing work.
The majority of landlords in west Suffolk provide good standard accommodation, but occasionally we need to take action against unscrupulous operators and Housing and Planning Act 2016 gives us new powers as described below. A new policy is required by the legislation for us to make use of the new powers. It will describe how we work with landlords and will include a fee structure for the level of fines. All income from fines must be used towards carrying out our statutory functions in relation to the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector.
We are consulting with landlords and residents on what level of fine should be fixed for different levels of harm and culpability. Please take a minute to answer the short survey below. Your responses are anonymous and be considered in setting the policy’s sanctions.
If you are a tenant experiencing difficulties with your accommodation please see our Housing standards enforcement guidance. It explains what you can expect from the Housing Standards Team, what standards we will meet and our enforcement powers. It also includes contact details if you need to get in touch with us about a specific issue.
In addition to the survey we will be engaging directly with the private rented sector to understand their concerns and aspirations and work with them to develop better practice and recognition of good standards and better landlords.
Where evidence is found that one of the following offences under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 has been committed council officers will consider whether a civil penalty is an appropriate alternative to prosecution through the courts:
The maximum fine that can be currently issued through a civil penalty is £30,000. Civil penalties will only be pursued where enough evidence is obtained to demonstrate ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that a relevant offence has been committed. We will be seeking to ensure that resources are targeted on addressing the highest risks and the civil penalty will be pursued where it is considered the most appropriate course of action.
The use of banning orders is designed to prevent rogue landlords and/or property agents from letting property for a fixed period of time, from holding an HMO licence or from making a prohibited disposal of property. The banning order must be made for a minimum of 12 months. A banning order can be made by a tribunal if a person is convicted of a banning order offence which will be specified in regulations. Breach of a banning order is an offence which can result in a fine and/or imprisonment for a period of up to 51 weeks. The authority will have a statutory duty to enter data on a national database of rogue landlords.
A rent repayment order is defined in section 40(2) of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 as an order requiring the landlord under a tenancy of housing to repay an amount of rent paid by a tenant, or pay a local housing authority an amount in respect of a relevant award of Universal Credit* paid in respect of rent under the tenancy. The council has a duty to consider applying to the tribunal for a rent repayment order in cases where an offence from the list below has been committed:
*The reference to universal credit or a relevant award of Universal Credit includes housing benefit under Part 7 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 pending its abolition.
Prosecutions will still be taken where appropriate. Where the offence is of the highest severity, or where the landlord has previous convictions or a poor track record of compliance, prosecution may be considered the most suitable course of action to enable a court to examine the circumstances and make the most appropriate decision. It is considered that prosecution shall be reserved for exceptional cases, and otherwise that civil penalties should normally be pursued for all clear breaches of the relevant legislation.
The changes will provide greater protection to tenants by enabling us to use a greater range of sanctions against rogue landlords and letting agents. It is expected that a new civil sanctions policy will be agreed by the councils in April 2018.
We believe that bringing in a policy to enable us to make use of new civil sanctions will help us to protect tenants and compliant landlords by targeting the small minority of rogue landlords for whom current enforcement is not effective and who damage the reputation of the sector.
We are keen to hear your views on our proposed changes and any particular impacts that they may have. We will also be engaging directly with a range of stakeholder groups.
We would also like to take this opportunity to ask some wider questions about how we can improve the West Suffolk Housing Standards Service in respect of the private rented sector. We want to ensure that we are providing the right service, to the right people which will help us drive up standards of private rented accommodation across West Suffolk. Please complete the Improving West Suffolk Housing Standards Service survey