Whilst a lot of us will know someone who has had a few grumbles about a property they have rented, news stories about real landlords from hell are not uncommon. We aren’t talking about minor problems that haven’t been fixed for a short time or withholding some of your deposit for a petty reason. No, this is far more serious. Rogue landlords are guilty of forcing tenants to live in unacceptable and dangerous conditions; in fact a recent study by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health showed that one million rented homes in the UK are unsafe to live in. However, it is not only the conditions of the properties that that we have to worry about, these landlords from hell use harassment and even illegal eviction against their tenants, with 90 percent of environmental health officers reporting that they had encountered these behaviours from landlords.
Earlier this year a landlord in Reading was convicted of thirteen offences in relation to one property he had rented out. On this occasion the landlord had not maintained the supply of gas to the house, leaving tenants without sufficient hot water and heating. He also failed to fix dangerous electric sockets and broken appliances, including a cooker, as well as leaving the ceiling in a state of disrepair. As this landlord was unable to pay the fine of £665, an additional day in prison was imposed upon him – he was already serving a four year sentence for another offence. Many would argue that this is too lenient a punishment for his omissions, which could have had serious consequences. Indeed, neglect by some landlords has been fatal. In March a landlord was convicted after a mother and daughter died in a fire at one of his rented properties. He failed to provide adequate smoke detectors and alarms, and had not ensured there was an escape route from their second floor flat.
Whilst landlords from hell may think that harassment and the threat of eviction pays, this is not so. A court case from 2011 saw one such landlord fined over £20,000 after making the lives of one set of tenants a misery over a 30 month period. The harassment campaign started after the tenants approached the council after their requests for repairs were ignored by the landlord. The utilities were initially cut off from the property and after a series of events, culminated in the landlord changing the locks and removing their property while they were out at work. Such events can have a devastating effect on people’s lives and for this couple led to the breakdown of their relationship.
However, when life is already tough, difficulties with a landlord can have a bigger impact. To add insult, it would appear that rogue landlords are targeting groups already considered as vulnerable, such as the elderly, those with a disability and who already have difficult social circumstances. These people may either be too frightened or unsure how to complain, or may feel they have no choice other than put up with atrocious conditions, as they have nowhere else to go. While unscrupulous landlords may think that they can take advantage of people who are less likely to lodge complaints against them, tightening up the law means that their behaviour is now less likely to go unnoticed.
Although the majority of landlords are reputable, the minority who aren’t still works out to be a significant number in the country as a whole. The problem largely lies in the motives of the people who are becoming landlords. Many have jumped on the bandwagon of buy to let mortgages, seeing it as an investment for the future, but without familiarising themselves with the rules and regulations and the need for rent guarantee cover that govern private rentals. Landlords who think they can cut corners on the condition of their properties to maximise their income should think again, as prosecutions against landlords is on the increase.