Monday, 20 September 2010

Shelter - Evict Rogue Landlords Campaign

I am supporting Shelters campaign against rogue landlords. Last week Shelter released shocking statistics on the impact that rogue landlords have on people.
Rogue landlords blight lives whilst living luxurious lifestyles. I am supporting Shelter's campaign because all too frequently this is the case here in Haslingden & Hyndburn.

People often look at many houses and find none acceptable but are forced to accept houses one of the 40% that fall below the decent homes standard or 10% that are unfit.

Not only are they forced into poor housing but they are charged almost twice as much as former Council tenants and more than tenants with a Registered Social Landlord.
While the majority of landlords are honest and responsible, unfortunately a small minority treat their tenants in a deliberately exploitative way, making their lives a misery.

Shelter believes that this is unacceptable and has launched a national investigation to expose these practices. We think politicians are not doing enough to tackle the problem, and want to see much tougher action to bring rogue landlords to justice.

Read on to find out what we've already discovered and how you can help us to evict rogue landlords. You can learn more about your rights, share your experiences and email your councillor to ask them what action they are taking.

Please join with us in working to ensure that there is no hiding place for rogue landlords.
9 out of 10 environmental health officers working with tenants have encountered landlords who are harassing or illegally evicting them

1 in 4 landlords say that their tenants' deposits
aren’t protected

Almost 1 million Britons have been the victim of a scam involving a private tenancy or landlord in the last three years
Over the past 10 years, the private rented sector has been the fastest growing type of housing in the UK and is likely to continue to expand, as waiting lists for social housing rise and more people are priced out of home ownership.

Anyone renting a property from a private landlord deserves to be treated fairly and with respect. While most landlords do this, a minority of rogue landlords are getting away with renting out homes that are in an appalling state of repair, and deliberately exploiting their tenants.
What's the problem?

Examples of rogue landlord behaviour include:
* harassment and illegal eviction
* failure to ensure that a property is in a fit state – and that it is safe
* refusal to return a tenant’s deposit without good reason
* charging tenants outrageous amounts for hidden costs
* Using undisclosed fees as an excuse to put tenants into arrears and impose further extortionate penalty charges.
Living in rundown or unsafe housing can severely harm the health and well-being of tenants. It contributes to and worsens problems of poverty and social exclusion. And it is not only tenants of rogue landlords who are affected. Neighbours can also be put at risk by poor maintenance and vandalism in adjoining properties.

Rogue landlords make people’s lives a misery by using outrageous scams to rip off unsuspecting tenants, leaving them in serious financial difficulty.
What does Shelter want?

The Government says that tenants are happy with their experiences of private renting and the laws to protect them are working well. Yet a new survey carried out by Shelter with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health reveals that:
* 9 out of 10 environmental health officers working with tenants have encountered landlords engaging in harassment or illegal eviction.
* 78% had dealt with landlords who persistently refuse to maintain their property in a safe condition.
* More than 90% had encountered cases of severe damp, mould, electrical or fire safety hazard in properties they investigated in the last year.
Shelter believes that much more needs to be done to bring rogue landlords to justice and to drive them out for good. In particular, we want to see:
* A zero tolerance approach to rogue landlords by local councils, backed by adequate resources - bringing all local councils up to the standard of the best.
* The ability to ban people from being a landlord for a period of time if they are convicted of an offence related to their behaviour in this role, for instance harassing or evicting tenants illegally.
* Greater transparency and accountability, so that the public are better able to hold local politicians to account for what they are doing to tackle rogue landlords.
Emma's story

Emma moved into a rented property in June 2006 with her five-year-old son. During her time there Emma was left with no heating or hot water for nearly three weeks and had to have a drugs bin installed after finding used needles scattered around the garden.

After a violent assault on her son by local teenagers, who got into her garden through a broken fence, Emma tried to move out. But when she informed the landlord that she wanted to leave, she was hit with a series of charges for arrears of more than £500 and damage to the property.

Emma had never been in arrears and when she questioned how the debt had accrued, the landlord refused to explain. She had never received rent statements during her three years in the property and the landlord refused to supply them unless she paid £20 a sheet. Emma was only able to prove that she had paid her rent in full, every month, by showing her bank statements.

This wasn't enough for the landlord, who went after her guarantor for roughly £2,000 – despite the alleged arrears being just over £500. Her guarantor was taken to court but the case was thrown out after the landlord failed to attend.

‘They 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’

Emma was finally able to leave the property and is now living in a housing association home. ‘They 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,’ she says.

Bob's story

Bob agreed to act as a guarantor for a friend of his son’s. Unfortunately she soon fell into rent arrears.

Bob says ‘We knew she was getting behind with the rent, but we were OK with that because we knew that if she didn’t pay, then we would have to.‘

However, Bob started receiving letter from the landlord, with one threatening court action unless he paid more than £1000. He agreed to a monthly payment schedule with the landlord to clear the arrears.

But then the landlord demanded an increase in the monthly payment to more than £500. Bob made one payment, but the next month he received a bill for almost £10,000 as the ‘final account for the tenant’, which included almost £2,000 for letters and phone calls and another £2,130 for new carpets.

‘I nearly fainted at that point! I cancelled my monthly payment and consulted a solicitor,’ says Bob.

The landlord sent a series of letters implying they were seeking court action and pressed Bob to make a final offer before the case reached court. Bob offered to make a payment of £1,706, which was his calculation of the outstanding rent. To his surprise, the landlord agreed to this sum and dropped the other charges.

‘I just think their tack is to send out these huge bills in the hope that some frail old lady or grandmother will just pay it,’, says Bob.

Claire's story

Claire moved from her foster home into a two-bed property with her partner Tim and their baby Sam. The property was in a state of disrepair when they arrived but the landlord promised to fix the broken window in the living room and the condemned gas fires, which were falling off the walls.

Eight months later the repairs have yet to be done and more problems are emerging. The family are now squeezed into one bedroom because of damp in the other bedroom.

The walls are so wet that the wallpaper has come off and black mould stains have soaked into the remaining sections of wallpaper.

‘My son can’t settle into this room because the damp is so bad,’ says Claire. ‘He’s developed asthma and is always ill with colds.’

The damp is spreading through to the downstairs hallway. The back garden is unusable because a blocked grate means it is permanently flooded with dirty water from the sink and washing machine. The window in the living room is still hanging off its hinge and the mantelpiece around the fire is coming away from the wall.
‘This is my home and they're doing nothing about it. I need to move out of here, it's no place for a child to grow up’

The landlord did come out to fix the gas fires but just used double sided tape to fix them back to the walls. Despite repeated requests, the landlord has failed to provide the tenants with gas safety certificates.

‘This is my home and they're doing nothing about it. I need to move out of here, it's no place for a child to grow up,’ Claire says.

Helen's story

Helen and her four children moved into a rented property following an aggravated burglary in their council house. When the landlord put the rent up by almost £100 per month, she tried to leave but was hit with a bill for arrears and damage to the property. The landlord refused to return her £700 deposit and attempted to charge her for redecorating the house.

Helen maintains the property was left in a good state and that the work she was billed for was not carried out. She has tried to take her landlord to court to recoup her deposit but was unable to secure legal aid to do so and has never received any of her deposit back.