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Government U-turn on public access to rogue landlord database

Reading time: 3 mins 51 secs

Alice Sanderson, October 26, 2018

Following an investigation into the government’s new rogue landlord database by The Guardian and ITV News, Theresa May has announced that they intend to grant access to the database for prospective and existing tenants.

Background

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that even where landlords are added to the database, they will not be made visible to the public, but today Theresa May said the government plans to make the database available to tenants.

This contrasts with the original government stance on the matter. The contents of the database were initially meant to be kept secret, with the government refusing to explain why, saying it was ‘not in the public interest’ to do so.

In response, David Cox, the chief executive of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, said “This is a truly ridiculous piece of legislation. There are no legal reasons for this database being kept secret. How on earth is a tenant supposed to know if a landlord has been banned?”

The database was designed to give details of landlords who are banned from letting out their properties under new government orders. It was initially intended for use by local and central government officials, rather than the public.

It was also revealed as part of the FOI request that the database is completely empty, six months after launching. This is despite the government estimating at its launch that there are 10,500 rogue landlords operating in England, with 600 of the worst offenders expected to be entered into the database.

Prime Minister’s statement

On Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “Our rogue landlord database has only been in place since April and has been warmly welcomed by councils as an important enforcement tool.

“As we have said, only offences committed from April this year can be included, and it can take several months to secure convictions. We are clear that we expect to see entries in the database from the new year. We also intend to make information in the database available to prospective and existing tenants.”

It is worth noting that the statement does not give a timescale for this to happen.

Legal loopholes

It was also revealed this week that rogue landlords can use legal loopholes to carry on renting to tenants even when they have failed ‘fit and proper’ tests.
Housing laws in England and Wales require prospective landlords to pass a test to ensure that they are trustworthy enough to let properties to tenants.

Due to the way the law is written, landlords in London can still let a property in another borough even though they’ve failed the test. They could also let in the same borough through an approved third party.

Response

The Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, said: “It is clear from this investigation that this legislation is too weak and is not being properly enforced. There’s no justification for treating rogue landlords more lightly than other people who break the law.”

Housing experts have also voiced their concerns on how many landlords will eventually make it to the database, as tough rules are in place for how local authorities enter the details of rogue landlords.

The shadow housing secretary, John Healey, said: “It beggars belief – six months after its launch – that none of the more than 10,000 rogue landlords ministers said should be named and shamed have yet been put on their database.

“It’s not just renters who lose out when the minister lets landlords off the hook. Taxpayers pay the price too, when millions are being spent on housing benefit to bad landlords letting dangerous accommodation.”

These statements from politicians have been backed by housing experts who are calling for a review of the legislation that polices the private rental sector.
There are numerous pieces of legislation that can be used against rogue landlords, leading to confusion and issues with enforcement.

It has been suggested by Julie Rugg, a senior research fellow at the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, that the legislation should be rewritten from scratch, rather than adding to the confusion.

This was echoed by the Residential Landlords Association who called for a thorough overhaul of the current system.

First4Lawyers

Spokesperson for First4Lawyers, Andrew Cullwick, said: “It is good to hear that the government have made a U-turn in regards to public access to the rogue landlords database.

“However, it is clear that legislation surrounding landlords is becoming far too complicated and easy to misuse, and it is in need of change. We hope that the government will use these recent revelations to act upon housing experts’ recommendations and rewrite the law from scratch to simplify it.”