Rogue landlords who fail to improve living conditions for their tenants could face fines of up to £30,000 in a new council crackdown.
South Tyneside Council’s cabinet will next week discuss a new ‘Civil Penalties Policy’ to boost the powers against private landlords.
If approved, offenders could be slapped with fines between £600 and £30,000 for failings of in areas like property management, licensing and overcrowding.
Council officers claim the fines will see more cash channelled back into housing enforcement in the borough.
Fines can be given to landlords who ignore council notices and for offences linked to licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
The size of the fine will be based on several factors – including the “severity of the offence”, track record of the offender, harm caused to the tenant and financial benefit from the offence.
A report prepared for cabinet states the new fines will serve as a more “cost-effective and proportionate alternative” to prosecution.
However, the option of prosecution will still remain for more serious offences.
The report to reads: “Whilst the council recognises that the majority of landlords operate in a legal and professional manner and work to ensure that their properties meet the required standards, unfortunately there are some landlords who poorly manage and maintain property and in some cases knowingly flout the law.”
It adds: “It is believed civil penalties will act as a powerful deterrent for those landlords who might otherwise consider that the financial benefits of non-compliance outweigh the risk of enforcement action against them.
“The power to impose civil penalties will encourage landlords to reconsider poor practices which will lead to greater levels of compliance and improved housing standards across South Tyneside’s private rented sector.”
Chairman of the South Tyneside Landlords’ Association, Colin Campbell, has welcomed the new policy.
He said: “It’s a good idea and it’s about time the council cracked down on these things. Rogue landlords don’t come to ours meetings and the people who do come are generally responsible. We share information about new legislation.
“Rogue landlords need to be wiped out and taken away from the market.”
The fines plan also falls against a backdrop of council schemes to tackle housing issues and ‘eyesore’ homes in the borough.
This includes an ‘enforced sale policy’, agreed in January, which aims to bring more than 1,700 vacant properties back into use.
A new Integrated Housing Strategy, set for approval by cabinet next week, aims to raise housing standards and tackle homelessness in the borough.
Mr Campbell, who is standing as an independent candidate in next month’s elections, said HMOs were a big issue in the borough.
He said: “Hopefully it’s not just a talking shop and the council do something about it this time.”
A final decision on the policy will be made on Wednesday at South Shields Town Hall.
*The council can’t impose a civil penalty and prosecute for the same offence.
*Where a civil penalty is imposed, the council can take additional actions including ordering landlords to undertake repairs or issuing a “rent repayment order.”
*In cases where the landlord and agent have committed the same offence, the council can impose a civil penalty on both of them.
*The council can also withdraw a civil penalty and pursue prosecution instead (on case by case basis.)
What is the process?
*A ‘notice of intent’ is served which specifies the reasons for the fine and amount.
*The landlord has 28 days to provide evidence to challenge the notice.
*A final notice is then issued including the amount of financial penalty, reasons for imposing the penalty and period of payment.
*The landlord has a right to appeal with a First-tier Tribunal having powers to uphold, increase, reduce or cancel the fine.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service