Agenda item

Non Cabinet Members' Debate

To enable non Cabinet Members to debate an issue  of relevance to Brent for which notice has been provided in accordance with Standing Order 34 and to receive reports from Cabinet members, where required, on issues previously raised.

Decision:

The following motion was agreed as an outcome of the non-cabinet member debate:

 

This Council notes:

 

The important work carried out by the Private Housing Enforcement team:

 

·         Brent has an estimated 36,000 privately rented properties. The Private Housing Enforcement team carry out between 30-40 planned inspections per week, plus an additional 10-15 unannounced inspection raids.

·         Brent Council has won 140 landmark prosecution cases against rogue landlords, agents and sub-letters since 2016. The convictions have resulted in more than £1.1m in court fines and costs.

·         A total of 901 PRS Properties have been improved as a consequence of their interventions, since January 2018.

·         Brent Council is registered with, and a member of the Housing Ombudsman Service. We also contribute to the renters’ advice service: Advice 4 Renters, and enforcement officers give A4R’s advice leaflets to tenants when they visit. They also signpost tenants to A4R’s website, or SSP Law (solicitor firm contracted by Brent Council to advise tenants).

 

This despite the Council operating against a backdrop of prolonged austerity. We therefore also note:

 

·         The average price paid for property in Brent in the last year stands at nearly half a million pounds. Consequently it is no small wonder that the proportion of people renting privately has doubled since 2004; half of 18-35s, 1 in 4 families with children, and growing numbers of older people now live in privately rented homes [1].

·         That most of England’s 11 million renters are on tenancies with fixed terms of six months or a year; after this period has ended, landlords can evict their tenants with just two months’ notice, without giving them a reason. These ‘no fault evictions’ were introduced under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act; before this, renters had much greater security and it was difficult for landlords to evict tenants who paid the rent on time and looked after the property.

·         Evictions are the number one cause of homelessness with 80% of evictions on no-fault grounds, and 63% of private renters who were forced to move in 2016 evicted not due to any fault of their own but because the landlord wanted to sell or use the property [2,3,4].

·         The recent Guardian and ITV investigation into rogue landlords operating in Brent, and note how a number of these criminals wilfully exploit loopholes within existing legislation.

·         The London Mayor’s online “rogue landlord checker” is available to all Londoners and has received more than 1,000 entries from local authorities.

·         That Karen Buck MP’s private members bill on “Homes (fitness for human habitation)”, which seeks to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. We also welcome the progress of the tenants’ fees bill through Parliament.

 

This Council believes:

 

·         That housing is intrinsically linked to poverty and life chances. Children need secure homes from which to excel in their schooling. Adults need a secure home in order to work, flourish, and take part in society to their fullest potential.

·         The Government has been forced into a U-turn after a Guardian and ITV News investigation revealed that not a single name had been entered into the government’s new rogue landlord database system in more than six months since its launch – and that even when landlords’ names were listed, the public would not be allowed to see them. [5]

·         Landlord licensing is not fit for purpose until universally implemented, and the problem of rogue landlords is far-reaching beyond borough boundaries. We need an effective scheme, local authorities that are properly resourced and improved tenants’ rights. A national regulatory framework would ensure consistent regulation for all landlords across the country and stop the rogues from switching local authorities.

·         To fix this broken system, we need a complete rebalancing of the power relationship between landlords and tenants. The underlying issues of the housing crisis will only be solved by the construction of social and genuinely affordable housing on an unprecedented scale, with legislative teeth to punish rogue landlords.

·         Mass homelessness is a national disgrace, and removing its leading causes should be a priority.

·         Alongside tackling homelessness, abolishing Section 21 no-fault evictions would help to make renting more secure, improve standards, increase tenant confidence and ultimately contribute towards making renting a viable long-term alternative to home ownership or social rent for the millions who currently cannot access either.

·         Renters Unions would make it easier for tenants to defend their rights, and for existing unions like the London Renters Union to defend their members.

 

This Council resolves:

 

·         To support the abolition of Section 21 no fault evictions.

·         To note that the Council will continue to serve improvement notices and emergency remedial action notices on landlords where private rented homes fail physical inspection, which can restrict the scope of private landlords to serve retaliatory section 21 notices.

·         To call for the tightening of legislation so landlords can’t use property agents to hop from borough to borough.

·         To support new renters’ unions to allow renters to organise and defend their rights, and to make the housing market fairer.

Minutes:

In accordance with Standing Order 34, the Mayor advised that the subject chosen for the Non Cabinet Member debate was on the Private Rented Housing Sector.

 

Members were advised that the motion submitted as the basis for the debate had been circulated with the supplementary agenda for the meeting and that the time available for the debate was 30 minutes.  The Mayor then invited Councillor Donnelly-Jackson to introduce the motion.  As context for the debate, Councillor Donnelly-Jackson highlighted there were an estimated 36,000 privately rented properties in Brent. Whilst the Private Housing Enforcement Team was undertaking important work in carrying out inspections and had recently secured a number of significant prosecutions against rogue landlords which had attracted national media attention, their resources were increasingly stretched as a result of the Government’s current climate of austerity.  Highlighting her personal experiences of living in private rented accommodation within the borough, which she pointed out were experiences shared by many others, Councillor Donnelly-Jackson was keen to seek the Council’s support in ensuring private rented sector tenants had access to appropriate advice alongside the promotion of renters unions.  In addition she was keen for local MPs to be encouraged to support Karen Buck MP in the House of Commons debate she was sponsoring on 6 December 18 regarding the use of section 21 evictions in the private rented sector.  She therefore urged all members to support the motion put forward for debate.

 

The Mayor then opened up the debate to other Members, with the following comments made during the discussion that followed.

 

Councillor Johnson, speaking in support of the motion, advised that he had also been responsible for raising a number of concerns direct with the Mayor for London, as a member of Citizens UK, regarding the operation of rogue landlords in the private rented sector.  A number of these concerns had been recognised by the Mayor of London who as a result had established an online “rogue landlord checker” system.  Councillor Johnson was also supportive of the need for more consistent regulation of landlords.  Whilst noting the efforts made in Brent with the introduction of the mandatory licensing scheme for HMOs and selective landlord licensing in certain wards he was keen to ensure this was rolled-out across the whole borough in order to ensure landlords could be properly held to account.  Alongside these initiatives he highlighted the importance in addressing the demand for the supply of genuinely affordable housing as another means of mitigating the concerns highlighted for action.

 

Councillor Long, also spoke in support of the motion, highlighting concerns around the support available to tenants particularly those renting without any form of tenancy agreement.  Whilst the Council had introduced a landlord licensing scheme she pointed out that the focus of the scheme was in managing the physical standard of properties rather than on how tenants were being treated.  As with Councillor Donnelly-Jackson she also highlighted a number of specific examples in terms of practices operated by rogue landlords and how difficult it was for tenants to seek support, guidance and advice on their rights.  As a result of a recommendation made by the Housing Scrutiny Committee the information on the Council’s website had been updated but Councillor Long felt still required further improvement.  The support available from the Citizens Advice Bureau was recognised, but concerns were raised about the extent of additional support beyond that.  Whilst the Council had engaged a firm to provide assistance to tenants facing difficulties with their landlords this contract was shortly due to end with interim arrangements in place from January 19 onwards and it was hoped the new arrangements would include the necessary resource to gather evidence and support prosecution of rogue landlords.

 

Councillor Kansagra then spoke advising that whilst broadly supportive of the motion there was a need to recognise that the problem of rogue landlords had unfortunately been one experienced for many years and not created as a result of austerity.  Whilst the examples provided had highlighted significant issues he also felt it was important to recognise that not all landlords operated in this way.  There were, he felt, many examples of decent landlords who had also had to deal with problems created by tenants including non-payment of rent and damage to property.  Whilst supportive of the motion he therefore felt there was a need for a balanced debate.

 

Councillor Dixon then took the opportunity to highlight the timeliness of the motion given the work being undertaken by Karen Buck MP in relation to the promotion of her Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Private Members Bill.  The Bill was seeking to amend relevant sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 by extending its obligations to cover almost all landlords and to modernise the fitness for habitation test.  Under the proposals within the Bill, if a landlord failed to maintain their property to the required standard tenants would have the right to take legal action against them.  Having highlighted the extent of work being undertaken in relation to promotion of the Bill, Councillor Dixon advised she welcomed the focus on the issues highlighted within the motion.

 

As further examples of the type of housing problems being experienced Councillor Choudhary, in support of the motion, briefly outlined two issues he had recently been supporting tenants in his ward seeking to resolve.  Whilst the issues had required different responses he advised he was grateful to officers for their support in dealing with them.

 

Councillor Stephens spoke in support of seeking an extension to the landlord selective licensing scheme across the borough, as a means of addressing problems also being experienced by tenants in his ward.  He was keen to ensure as clear as message as possible was provided for tenants in relation to their rights and how they could access appropriate advice and guidance including, as a suggestion, considering the role Estate and Letting Agents may be able to play alongside other services such as Trading Standards with as wide a range of options considered as possible.

 

Councillor Mashari also took the opportunity to highlight the significant problems being experienced in the Welsh Harp and Neasden areas by the operation of rogue landlords.  Whilst grateful to officers for their efforts in securing the high profile prosecution against a particular landlord operating in that area, which had attracted national media attention, she remained concerned at the way in which some landlords were operating in certain key areas of the borough as a form of micro-economy.  It was therefore felt that the issues being identified needed to be tackled on a strategic basis by the Council with support being expressed for the motion and also the further extension of the landlord selective licensing scheme across the borough.

 

Councillor Maurice advised that he also shared the concerns being expressed about the operation of rogue landlords in the borough, given their exploitation and impact on the more vulnerable members of society.  Whilst recognising this as a problem experienced for many years, he supported the efforts being made to identify and prosecute these individuals highlighting, as an example, the vast majority of decent landlords and also efforts he made with local residents to report HMOs causing concern.

 

As a final contribution to the debate, Councillor Murray felt it was also important to highlight the impact which the provision of affordable and secure housing had in relation to providing a stable background for children and young people.  He therefore urged all members to support the motion with the Council, he felt having a duty to continue using all powers available to prevent and prosecute rogue landlords.

 

As no other members had indicated they wished to speak the Mayor then invited Councillor Southwood, as Lead Member for Housing & Welfare Reform, to sum up and close the debate.

 

Councillor Southwood began by thanking Councillor Donnelly-Jackson for bringing the motion forward for debate which she felt had highlighted a number of key issues.  The experiences highlighted were unfortunately not dissimilar to ones shared with her during a recent visit to Advice for Renters with people appearing to feel they had no choice but to put up with such poor conditions due to fear of losing their accommodation in such difficult economic circumstances.  In terms of responding to the issues highlighted, Councillor Southwood outlined two key areas for action which she was pleased had also been identified during the debate and within the motion.  The first of these was a need to increase the supply of affordable social housing, which the Council was continuing to address and the second was extension of the selective landlord licensing scheme across the borough.  Plans were being developed to apply for the extension of the scheme on a borough wide basis, despite the Government having originally declined such an application.  In the meantime she assured members that the Council would continue to make use of its full range of investigative and enforcement powers to assist in protecting those living in the private rented sector from sub-standard property conditions and rogue landlords.  She concluded by advising that as Lead Member for Housing she wholeheartedly supported the motion and would be willing to write to local MPs urging their support for the Private Members Bill and House of Commons debate regarding the use of section 21 evictions in the private rented sector.

 

As an outcome of the debate Members therefore unanimously RESOLVED to approve the motion (as set out below):

 

“This Council notes:

 

The important work carried out by the Private Housing Enforcement team:

 

·                Brent has an estimated 36,000 privately rented properties. The Private Housing Enforcement team carry out between 30-40 planned inspections per week, plus an additional 10-15 unannounced inspection raids.

·                Brent Council has won 140 landmark prosecution cases against rogue landlords, agents and sub-letters since 2016. The convictions have resulted in more than £1.1m in court fines and costs.

·                A total of 901 PRS Properties have been improved as a consequence of their interventions, since January 2018.

·                Brent Council is registered with, and a member of the Housing Ombudsman Service. We also contribute to the renters’ advice service: Advice 4 Renters, and enforcement officers give A4R’s advice leaflets to tenants when they visit. They also signpost tenants to A4R’s website, or SSP Law (solicitor firm contracted by Brent Council to advise tenants).

 

This despite the Council operating against a backdrop of prolonged austerity. We therefore also note:

 

·                The average price paid for property in Brent in the last year stands at nearly half a million pounds. Thus it is no small wonder that the proportion of people renting privately has doubled since 2004; half of 18-35s, 1 in 4 families with children, and growing numbers of older people now live in privately rented homes [1].

·                That most of England’s 11 million renters are on tenancies with fixed terms of six months or a year; after this period has ended, landlords can evict their tenants with just two months’ notice, without giving them a reason. These ‘no fault evictions’ were introduced under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act; before this, renters had much greater security and it was difficult for landlords to evict tenants who paid the rent on time and looked after the property.

·                Evictions are the number one cause of homelessness with 80% of evictions on no-fault grounds, and 63% of private renters who were forced to move in 2016 evicted not due to any fault of their own but because the landlord wanted to sell or use the property [2,3,4].

·                The recent Guardian and ITV investigation into rogue landlords operating in Brent, and note how a number of these criminals wilfully exploit loopholes within existing legislation.

·                The Government has been forced into a U-turn after a Guardian and ITV News investigation revealed that not a single name had been entered into the government’s new rogue landlord database system in more than six months since its launch – and that even when landlords’ names were listed, the public would not be allowed to see them. [5]

·                The London Mayor’s online “rogue landlord checker” is available to all Londoners and has received more than 1,000 entries from local authorities.

·                That Karen Buck MP’s private members bill on “Homes (fitness for human habitation)”, which seeks to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. We also welcome the progress of the tenants’ fees bill through Parliament.

 

This Council believes:

 

·                That housing is intrinsically linked to poverty and life chances. Children need secure homes from which to excel in their schooling. Adults need a secure home in order to work, flourish, and take part in society to their fullest potential.

·                Landlord licensing is not fit for purpose until universally implemented, and the problem of rogue landlords is far-reaching beyond borough boundaries. We need an effective scheme, local authorities that are properly resourced and improved tenants’ rights. A national regulatory framework would ensure consistent regulation for all landlords across the country and stop the rogues from switching local authorities.

·                To fix this broken system, we need a complete rebalancing of the power relationship between landlords and tenants. The underlying issues of the housing crisis will only be solved by the construction of social and genuinely affordable housing on an unprecedented scale, with legislative teeth to punish rogue landlords.

·                Mass homelessness is a national disgrace, and removing its leading causes should be a priority.

·                Alongside tackling homelessness, abolishing Section 21 no-fault evictions would help to make renting more secure, improve standards, increase tenant confidence and ultimately contribute towards making renting a viable long-term alternative to home ownership or social rent for the millions who currently cannot access either.

·                Renters Unions would make it easier for tenants to defend their rights, and for existing unions like the London Renters Union to defend their members.

 

This Council resolves:

 

·                To support the abolition of Section 21 no fault evictions.

·                To intervene to suspend Section 21 notices when private rented homes fail physical inspection.

·                To call for the tightening of legislation so landlords can’t use property agents to hop from borough to borough.

·                To support new renters’ unions to allow renters to organise and defend their rights, and to make the housing market fairer.”

Supporting documents: