The councils failing to convict bad landlords

In Liverpool landlords need a licence to operate, and licences can be lost.

We went out with the city council’s enforcement team who told us that the licensing scheme, which has been running city-wide for three years, has helped them force bad landlords to clean up their act.

Some 47,000 properties in Liverpool are now registered with the council’s Housing department.

Since April 2015, the council has successful prosecuted 129 landlords for breaching the terms of their licences.

“We’ve got a 100% success rate” says Andrew Parsons, the council’s Head of Compliance.

“Without licensing, rogue landlords would fly under the radar and revert to old habits.”

On Renfrew Street in the North of the city, we met Jacqui Dickinson who complained to the city council about her landlord.

Liverpool Council's enforcement team inspect Jacqui Dickinson's damp kitchen. Credit: ITV News

At Jacqui’s house, the boiler is faulty, the pipework upstairs is leaking through the ceiling downstairs, her kitchen has damp, her bathroom has wet rot, the neighbourhood has a rat problem and the back door has gaps.

Jacqui has stacked bricks up in front of the door to keep the rats out - she is six months pregnant.

“We’ve had no lights upstairs for months and they just don’t care” Jacqui says.

“It’s not fit for kids here, it’s not fit for anyone”.

It turns out that Jacqui’s landlord isn’t who she thinks it is.

Paul Lea and Robert Farnham, Directors of Home Legal Services Ltd. Credit: Venmore Commercial

Her house and 17 others on Renfrew Street were bought by Home Legal Services Ltd for £702,000 in February.

The company is in the process of selling the housing on at auction.

Next door to Jacqui we met Sam Cassidy.

The house he rents sold at auction recently for twice what Home Legal Services Ltd paid for it.

The company has banked a profit but it didn’t get around to treating the damp and the black mould at Sam’s home.

The house is riddled with it, and it’s not clear if the new owner is aware.

Damp and black mould on the ceiling of Sam Cassidy's rented home. Credit: ITV News

Liverpool City Council is an example of a local authority which is taking on landlords who don’t look after their property.

But an investigation by ITV News and the Guardian has discovered that, between 2015 -2017, 53 of the 349 councils in England and Wales responsible for housing haven’t convicted a single bad landlord.

of 349 councils in England and Wales responsible for housing haven’t convicted a single bad landlord

Councils do have other powers: they can impose civil penalties of up to £30,000 on landlords.

Since April, councils can also impose banning orders and add the names of offenders to a national database.

Although to-date, the national database is empty.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that councils may be struggling to enforce the law as a result of the government’s austerity cuts.

The IFS calculates that spending by councils has fallen by 19% in real terms over the last eight years.

While some services, like adult and children social care, have been protected from funding cuts, others have been hit hard.

The IFS believes the average council’s housing budget has fallen 53% since 2009.

Funding which covers areas like enforcement and the licensing of landlords appears to have fallen by an extraordinary 87%. That’s brutal.

“Cuts of more than half are are not the kind of cuts [councils] can deal with just by efficiently savings," the IFS’s David Phillips told ITV News.

“These will mean real impacts on services, cutting the number of people they are employing to things like enforcement and to give people advice”.

  • Joel Hills explains what the Government is doing about the situation:

Back in Liverpool and it turns out that while Jacqui’s landlord has just obtained a licence for her house, the others on the streets that were purchased eight months ago are unlicensed - a criminal offence.

The city council says it has a “zero tolerance” approach to unlicensed properties and has launched an investigation with a view to prosecution.

Paul Lea, a director of Home Legal Services Ltd, said the company was trying to apply for licenses but hadn’t believed it needed to because it intended to sell the properties on.

In statement he said: “We have asked Liverpool City Council for a dispensation so we don’t have to pay the license fee again.

"The license for each property lasts for a period of five years and our understanding is that currently there is still four years left on each licence.

"The council has advised, because of the change of ownership, the rules are that the properties need to be registered again.

"That process has started.”

The Renfrew Street homes are going up for sale, months after being bought en masse. Credit: ITV News

Heather Tyrer of the letting agency Tyrer & Hart, which managed the properties on behalf of the landlords, said “When ownership of a property changes it is a legal requirement for a new landlord licence be sought.

"Since Paul Lea... purchased the portfolio we have been requesting that they licence the properties and allow us to attend to maintenance issue that the tenants have reported.”