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Rogue agent and landlord legislation is working

The Government has recently taken a series of steps to encourage and support local authorities in the prosecution of rogue agents and landlords. In April 2017, the maximum civil penalty that could be imposed on landlords was increased from £5,000 to £30,000; in December, Sadiq Khan launched a ‘Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker’ in London, then in April this year, banning orders came into force for landlords and agents in England who breach regulations.

While councils and the courts have long had the power to prosecute criminals in the industry, this latest raft of measures has given crack-down efforts a much-needed boost – particularly as the money raised from fines levied by local authorities is now ring-fenced to be ploughed back into regulation. And a significant increase in the number of reports of agents and landlords being held to account seems to show that legislation is really starting to take effect.

Significantly, Foxtons was fined £35,000 in May this year, not for endangering tenants or falling short on rented property standards, but for failing to provide a London council with documentation proving that a property it was letting was safe for the tenants. Tower Hamlets Council had asked for gas, electric and fire alarm certification and had issued warnings to Foxtons over an 18-month period, but they still didn’t forward the information. Even though the property was believed to be in good condition, the court nevertheless found that the agent had “demonstrated a lack of regard for its duty to comply with legal requirements” and imposed the fine. This shows how seriously some councils are taking every aspect of health and safety compliance. The Foxtons branch now appears on the London rogue checker database.

Other agents and landlords that have been found guilty of specific breaches and fined accordingly this year include:

• May 2018: Two letting agents in Camden were fined a total of £14,000 for operating unlicensed HMOs and breaching fire safety regulations.
• May 2018: A landlord in Devizes, who was prosecuted by Wiltshire Council for 24 breaches of HMO regulations and exposing a family to dangerous living conditions, was fined £11,600.
• May 2018: A landlord who illegally extended a bungalow to provide seven “shoddily-built” self-contained units, then ignored repeated warnings from Harrow Council, was fined £371,250.
• February 2018: Easy Let in Brent was fined more than £20,000 for failing to license an overcrowded semi-detached property; the landlord was also fined £10,000.
• February 2018: Two landlords in Burnley were handed civil penalty notices totalling over £27,000 for failing to license their HMOs.
• January 2018: A landlord who owns more than 40 properties in Derby was fined more than £34,000 for having a total of 23 category one and two hazards at four flats and failing to comply with improvement notices.

Given the level of fines being handed out, you must do all you can to make sure you don’t get personally caught out and fined for falling foul of any of the several hundred rules and regulations that apply to buy to let. By far the best way to do that is to engage an agent to let and manage your property on your behalf, which means they take most of the legal compliance burden off your shoulders. Using an agent that is a member of a recognised industry body or association, such as ARLA or RICS, will give you peace of mind that they are properly trained and operate at the highest standards, protecting you, your property and your tenant.

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