Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Almost 100% of environmental health officers say they have encountered landlords who persistently ignore their responsibilities

Government claims that current laws protect tenants have been thrown into disarray today by a new Shelter investigation which exposes the truth that rogue landlords still plague the private rented sector, making tenants’ lives a misery.

As part of its new investigation the charity is revealing the shocking treatment of tenants at the hands of rogue landlords and releases new research which shows evidence of widespread abuse by a minority of landlords in the sector.

To show the reality of life for many private tenants, Shelter conducted a survey of environmental health officers and found over 90% who deal directly with private renters had encountered landlords harassing or illegally evicting tenants.
Graham Jones "I have been working with Shelter on this campaign and this survey is shocking but not surprising. It reveals an industry that has been hiding behind a false belief that most private landlords are good and that only a minority are bad. Recent statistics have shown that the average rents are £128 whilst average ex-local authority rents are as low as £63.
People in Haslingden and  Hyndburn know that seeking a decent home for rent is horriffic and the end result after many viewings is often at best unsatisfactory and worst, desperate and miserable. Private landlords need to act urgently to clean up their industry."
Other results from the survey, conducted through the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), paint a very worrying picture of the massive impact this small but dangerous group of landlords are having on private renters. Headline results include:

• Almost 100% of environmental health officers say they have encountered landlords who persistently ignore their responsibilities

• Half of EHOs believe the main reason for letting unsafe properties is to make as much money as possible.

• Over 90% of environmental health officers said they had encountered cases of severe damp, mould, electrical or fire safety hazards in properties they investigated in the last year.

• Over 60% of environmental health officers said that more than half of their cases involved people from vulnerable groups.

• Over half of CIEH members believe environmental health problems in the private rented sector are set to get worse in the next year.



One officer cited the case of a property he visited that was in such poor condition the property was being rented out with absolutely no heating, hot water or electricity. Another officer witnessed a case where a mother and her young child lived with no kitchen facilities, no fire precautions and only a halogen heater to heat the house.

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter said: “It is simply not acceptable that people are handing over their hard earned cash to live in houses that are run-down, squalid and in some cases even dangerous.”

“Our investigation shows just how ruthless a minority of rogue landlords can be. But this is not just the odd crook here and there. We know there are people operating in cities up and down the county and it’s clear that this is a national problem that urgently needs a national solution.

Other results from the survey include how over half (51%) of EHO’s questioned state that a lack of staff is the main barrier which prevents them from bringing more prosecutions.

Andrew Griffiths, Principal Policy Officer, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said: "This survey emphasises the importance for local authorities to have clear enforcement strategies in place to deal with the worst properties and the most vulnerable tenants. Strategies should not be based solely on complaints; they should ensure that rogue landlords do not evade their responsibilities to their tenants."

Mr Robb continued: “With more and more people set to become private tenants in the future, it is absolutely vital that we expose and drive out the worst offenders in the private rented sector.

“Government needs to wake up to the reality of the problem and work with councils to develop a tough programme of action to root out rogue landlords. The minority who do break the rules should be prosecuted and struck off immediately to prevent anyone else being exploited in the future.”

The survey is part of a national investigation launched by Shelter today which aims to uncover the true story behind England’s rogue landlords. The charity is highlighting cases they have uncovered which demonstrate the appalling conditions and financial scams some tenants experience. It hopes this will encourage other victims to come forward and is calling on members of the public to share their own experience of rogue landlords.

Mr Robb added: “We want to expose and evict as many rogue operators in the private rented sector as possible. We would urge anyone who has been affected by the practices of a rogue landlord to get in touch with us immediately so we can offer advice and ensure their experience becomes part of our investigation. Visit www.shelter.org.uk/evictroguelandlords from Wednesday 8 September and help us evict the rogues.”
Graham Jones "The Government chooses to let down local residents by removing controls on bad landlords"
Shadow Minister for Housing John Healey, responding to an embargoed report by Shelter which highlights the damage of the Government’s failure to implement Labour's proposed regulations on private landlords said:

"Shelter's research shows the appalling problems faced by many of our 8 million private renters. The Government meanwhile chooses to let down local residents further by removing controls on bad landlords – those bedsit barons who make tenants’ lives a misery and whose neglect can cause widespread grief for their neighbours.
"Ministers should stop doing what their friends in the landlord industry tell them to, and reimpose Labour’s regulations."
Notes on Shelters Survey:


1. Shelter, in partnership with the CIEH, undertook a web-based survey of CIEH members working in the housing sector. The survey ran from the 8th to 26th July and received a total of 184 responses.

2. Questions to the survey were not compulsory and the survey received between 120 and 130 responses to the majority of questions. The minimum number of responses was 108 members.
3. Half of CIEH members who responded to the survey were employed in roles that involve tenancy liaison. Of these, 90% had encountered examples of landlords engaging in the harassment or illegal eviction of tenants.

4. Quote from the Head of Campaigns and Communications at the Electrical Safety Council in support of the campaign: “Sufficiently tough regulations and local enforcement remain as important as ever to crack down on the small minority of bad landlords – and ensure all tenants can live in homes of a decent standard.”
Matt Davies
Public Affairs Manager
Shelter
www.shelter.org.uk/parliament
T: 0344 515 2052

General Notes:

1. The National Register for Landlords was announced on 3 February 2010. It was set up to allow tenants to make basic checks on prospective landlords, making it easier for councils to identify local landlords, and enforce letting rules. A legal requirement for a written tenancy was introduced to strengthen the hand of tenants in the event of a dispute, and set out for both parties their rights and responsibilities. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/housing/1455563

2. The changes to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) regulations were announced on 27 January 2010. “Use Class Orders” in the Town and Country Planning Act were amended to create a new class of HMO, and to allow local authorities to refuse planning permission for the creation of new HMOs. None of the existing stock of 400,000 HMOs was affected by this change. The threshold for defining an HMO was also reduced from six people who are not related living in the same house to three. Other changes also gave councils powers to tackle bad private landlords: local authorities were given extra flexibility in licensing to deal with large numbers of unsafe and substandard properties, causing anti-social behaviour problems. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/housing/1447621

3. In June 2010, the current Housing Minister, Grant Shapps announced the abolition of the National Register of Landlords, as well as plans to abolish the regulation of letting and managing agents, and compulsory written tenancy agreements. A week later, he announced the removal of HMO regulations.

Shelter exposes the shocking tactics of Manchester based landlord Tame Estates

Shelter is today Wednesday 8th September exposing the shocking tactics of Manchester based landlord Tame Estates who have attempted to unscrupulously rip off a number of tenants in the area.
Evidence gathered by the charity reveals how the company, run by Michael Hanley, has levied unjustified and excessive charges on tenants and their unsuspecting guarantors and failed to carry out basic repairs.
Tame Estates has been identified as part of a national investigation by Shelter to uncover rogue landlords across the country. The charity aims to weed out those individuals in the private rented sector who are operating under the radar and ruthlessly exploiting vulnerable tenants.
This company came to the attention of the charity when a Local Authority officer reported a disproportionately high number of complaints from tenants about Tame Estates over the last two years.

Shelter’s investigation gathered evidence from a number of tenants, mostly single parent families on low incomes, illustrating how the most vulnerable are often the victims of this kind of harsh practice.

One such case is Sarah Jones *. She moved into a Tame Estates property with her five year old son and says that she was left for nearly three weeks with no heating or hot water. When Sarah tried to leave the landlord gave her a huge bill with a series of charges for arrears and damages. When Sarah challenged these charges the landlord refused to give any explanation for them.

Tame Estates went after her guarantor for around £2000. Fortunately the case was thrown out of court after Tame failed to provide rent statements proving their claim that the tenant was in arrears.

Sarah Jones says: “Tame estates prey on vulnerable people and told such lies, saying I’d been sent rent slips when I hadn’t. I’m just glad to be out of there and in a house where I’m not being persecuted.”

Sarah’s case is by no means a one off. Further evidence found by the charity showed examples of Tame Estates chasing tenant’s guarantors for extortionate charges, such as £35 for each phone call or letter. The landlord has then threatened to seek possession of the guarantors homes on failing to pay.

The charity also found cases of tenants moving into Tame Estates properties with broken windows, exposed electrics, condemned gas fires and severe damp. In many cases the conditions are so bad that they could have a serious impact upon tenant’s health and safety.

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “We are absolutely disgusted to discover the way in which Tame Estates has treated these unsuspecting tenants who have placed money and trust in its hands.

“It is clear from the evidence that they operate in an unfair and underhand way, completely failing to fulfil their responsibilities as a landlord.”

“We know there are many more operators out there like Tame Estates, but tough defamation laws and legal loopholes make it difficult for us and others trying to stop them to name and shame all but the very worst. But with over 6,500 households privately renting in Tameside, and with more and more people now entering the sector, it is essential we rid the market of these rogues before anyone else becomes a victim.”

A Tameside Council spokesman said “We estimate that Tame Estate holds about 2% of the private rented stock in the Borough, but are the subject of about 15% of the complaints received so far this year.”

Mr Robb continued: “It’s time for local authorities to clamp down and take a zero tolerance attitude towards these people. The Government must send a clear signal to tenants, landlords and local authorities that enforcing the law against rogue landlords is a priority.”

The survey is part of a national investigation launched by Shelter today which aims to uncover the true story behind England’s rogue landlords. The charity is highlighting cases they have uncovered which demonstrate the appalling conditions, financial scams and distressing treatment some tenants have to live through. The charity hopes this will encourage other victims to come forward and is calling on members of the public to share their own experience of rogue landlords.

“We want to expose and evict as many rogue operators in the private rented sector as possible and we urge anyone been affected by the practices of a rogue landlord to get in touch with us immediately so we can offer advice and ensure their experience becomes part of our investigation. Visit www.shelter.org.uk/evictroguelandlords today and help us evict the rogues.

Notes to editors:
1. 6,500 households privately renting in Tameside is calculated from figures published in Tameside 2008 Strategic Housing Market Assessment: http://www.tameside.gov.uk/housing/shmafinalreport.pdf
2. *The name has been changed to protect the tenants identity

Matt Davies
Public Affairs Manager
Shelter
www.shelter.org.uk/parliament
T: 0344 515 2052