Only one council in Norfolk fined rogue landlords since new powers were introduced to 'root out crooks'
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 January 2019
Only one council in Norfolk and Suffolk enforced new powers to fine rogue landlords last year, leading to criticisms local authorities are not doing enough to "root out crooks."
Since April 2017, councils across the region have had powers to issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 against landlords found to have breached a range of laws - such as failing to fix problems with damp, faulty wiring and mould - as a quicker and cheaper alternative to prosecution.
But figures from a Freedom of Information Act request showed only one council across Norfolk and Suffolk issued civil penalties in 2017/18.
Figures show Norwich City Council issued three civil penalty notices against private landlords in the first year that they were able to, while the other councils which responded to the FOI - King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Broadland, South Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Mid Suffolk, Breckland, and North Norfolk - did not issue a single penalty.
But Norwich City Council said it has issued a higher number of penalties - around 11 - of which four have been paid and seven are being appealed.
A council spokesman said: “So far we’ve issued 11 final notices which shows we’ve been one of the most active councils when it comes to issuing penalties to landlords.
“Our approach has been to focus on some of the worst properties and ensure work is carried out so that tenants feel safe and offending landlords are brought to account.”
There have been a number of reports of tenants living in squalid, damp and sometimes dangerous flats. Last year, this paper investigated the litany of problems reported at a block of flats in St Faith’s Lane, Norwich.
The council has issued fines to landlords of a large four-storey house in multiple occupation (HMO) with 10 bedsits, where the fire doors to the bedsits were in poor condition and could not be relied on to resist fire and smoke.
Penalties were also issued to landlords for failure to licence an HMO despite numerous reminders, hazardous living conditions in a poorly converted garage and a large four-storey HMO without a protected means of escape, hazardous living conditions and overcrowding.
In the same FOI request, made by Residential Landlords Association (RLA), two councils commenced prosecutions against criminal landlords - Ipswich with 14 and Breckland with one.
David Smith, RLA policy director, said: “Either the number of problem landlords is not as high as some suggest, or councils across the Norfolk and Suffolk have been unable to enforce the extensive range of powers they already have to root out criminal landlords.
“We call on the government to bring forward a long term programme of funding for councils to ensure they can properly enforce the powers they have to root out the crooks.”
Councils across Norfolk have adopted policies to use financial penalties as an alternative to court proceedings, with some claiming issues were resolved without the need for penalties.
A spokesman from Broadland District Council said: “We use an initial informal approach with landlords to ensure works progress at properties. Where an informal approach is not successful, we will initiate enforcement processes and serve necessary notices where required.
“If these notices are not adhered to, the Council will look to initiate summary proceedings in a Magistrates Court.
“Through its approach to date, the council has achieved compliance in residential properties without resorting to the financial penalty option.”
A Breckland Council spokesman said: “The standard of housing in Breckland is generally very good, however when we are made aware of possible issues we will investigate and take action.
“In the first instance, we will always seek to work with landlords to make the necessary improvements. As such, it is very rare that we need to take formal legal action but we will consider this if landlords are unable to make the changes need to maintain safe, good-quality housing for residents.”