Rogue landlords and property agents could be named and shamed as the Government gears up to open up the national database to the public.
The move has been broadly welcomed though there is concerns the narrow criteria for inclusion may mean it is a short list and the announcement has renewed calls from some quarters – including by CIEH – for a national landlord registration scheme.
A freedom of information request made six months after the database’s launch in April 2018 revealed that no entries had been made. And earlier this year, the Guardian reported that just four names have been submitted since the start.
However, as part of the Government consultation, a widening of the criteria for inclusion is also being looked at.
Currently, to be included landlords have to be convicted of a banning order offence, and/or have received two or more financial penalties for a banning order offence within a 12-month period. Discretion is given to local authorities to add a person under Section 30 but they must give the person a decision notice before the entry is made, and there is a right of appeal.
Independent EH and housing consultant Stephen Battersby said: “There is a bureaucratic procedure to making an entry – in my view it should be automatic as the opportunity for any defence is in the prosecution or in the civil penalty regime.
“This is a database of rogue landlords not a register of banning orders, and so it does not prevent them letting a property. A banning order follows if the landlords are serious offenders and the first-tier tribunal makes it.”
Battersby said he had argued before the database’s launch that landlords who failed to comply with an abatement notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 Part III should be included, and there should be public access.
Asked if it a rogue landlord database was enough to tackle poor behaviour by landlords and property agents, Battersby said: “No, because it depends first of all on enforcement by stretched local authorities. Unless the provisions were radically altered, it would make more sense for a national public register of landlords and managing agents. This should be less bureaucratic than the current licensing regime.
“Registration should be mandatory before letting a property and as part of registration landlords should list all the properties for which they are responsible.”
Richard Tacagni, the managing director of London Property Licensing, an information resource for landlords and letting agents, was also concerned about local authority cuts. He said: “With diminished resources, it is also unreasonable to expect London boroughs to upload enforcement actions on to two overlapping public-facing databases. Let’s see some consistency and move towards one simple and streamlined national public database.”
He added: “Widening access to the national rogue landlord database is essential to support consumer protection. Without public access, tenants cannot check a prospective landlord and landlords cannot check a prospective letting or managing agent.”
Tacagni also argued that the Government was playing catch-up with the London Mayor, “who has successfully operated a public-facing name and shame database since 2017.”
He supported proposals to include a wider range range of offences but did not support adding legal notices where the recipient fully complies and no offence has occurred. “That suggests muddled thinking about the purpose of the database,” he added.
Generation Rent director Dan Wilson Craw said: “There are definitely more offences that warrant inclusion on the database – recently we’ve seen landlords convicted under planning laws and the Environmental Protection Act, which mean they can’t be banned or added to the database.
“Ideally we would have a national registration system, which would allow tenants to check that their landlord had met certain criteria, rather than merely not having a criminal record. There would still be a major role for local authorities in identifying unregistered landlords and enforcing standards – whether or not this happens, councils need more funding.
“But registering landlords nationally would potentially create economies of scale – as well as consistency in place of the current patchwork of approaches.”
The National Landlords Association argued local authorities needed to use their powers to enforce against bad practice in the private rented sector. Director of policy and practice Chris Norris said: “It’s all well and good to open the database up to tenants, but if local authorities aren’t using the powers they have to identify and enforce against these landlords, it’s not really going to be of much use to anyone.”