Time for council to take action

IT is long, long overdue for Hastings Borough Council (HBC) take some real action on disrepair in the private rented sector in the borough (your item ‘Crack down on rogue landlords’ in the Hastings Observer, March 28).

A recent Freedom of Information request elicited the response that over a three-year period to March 2013 there were 2,188 complaints about disrepair.

How many of those resulted in some action? A derisible 135! According to East Sussex in Figures (http://www.eastsussexinfigures.org.uk), there are approximately 6,700 properties in the private rented sector in Hastings.

So nearly one in three have received a complaint about disrepair over three years. Further, ESIF shows that 11.1 per cent of private properties in Hastings are considered unfit for human habitation. I suspect the vast majority of those will be in the private rented sector.

Unfit housing in Hastings is nearly three times the national average and the same over the average across East Sussex. The situation is a scandal and someone in HBC ought to be held to account.

‘Evict Rogue Landlords’ may be a catchy project title but is a bit silly, because you simply cannot evict a landlord, rogue or not! The title is rather frivolous and plays down the very real problem of disrepair suffered by far too many people in the Hastings borough.

I am a volunteer at Hastings CAB and have heard of some horrendous examples of disrepair. Some clients are too frightened to complain because they fear being evicted without the money available to find new accommodation, largely because of the usurious non-refundable admin fees, credit check fees etc charged by letting agents.

This is in addition to having to find a deposit and rent in advance as well as fighting to try to get their existing deposit returned. And eviction by a landlord is permissible for almost any reason once the initial tenancy agreement has expired.

The CAB has compiled a list of more than 50 instances in the last few months alone and is working with the Hastings office of Brighton Housing Trust and East Sussex Trading Standards to try to get something done. Hopefully this can be combined with Shelter’s new initiative to get some real action on disrepair in Hastings.

In my personal opinion, to make sure that this initiative works with even minimum effect, firstly, a definition of ‘Rogue Landlord’ must be established. Ideally this will be any landlord who does not carry out essential repairs quickly. Secondly, all landlords should be licensed and it should be unlawful for any one to rent out property without a licence.

At the moment only landlords renting out properties in multiple occupation (Housing in Multiple Occupation - defined as properties with three or more unrelated people residing) need to be licensed.

There should be no reason why landlords should not be charged a fee for licensing their property and for re-licensing every time there is a change of tenancy. At say, £200 for initial licence and say £50 for re-licensing multiplied by 6,700 private rented properties should surely generate enough revenues for even Hastings Borough Council to run a half effective department.

Thirdly, landlords should not be able to evict a tenant simply because they have complained about disrepair. They should not be evicted where there is justifiable complaint about disrepair, perhaps where the disrepair has been advised to, and accepted by, the local authority.

This though I suspect would require a change in the law. I understand that Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) is looking at the issues within the private rented sector with a view to presenting some proposals in the autumn.

Perhaps the local MP could sharpen her whip and encourage some of her parliamentary colleagues to incorporate this change—and many others to make sure that private rented tenants can live in decent accommodation.

I D TOMISSON

Hill View

Station Road

Crowhurst