Landlords have been accused of fuelling immigration in the latest attack on the buy-to-let sector.
Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said rogue landlords were helping to create a shadow housing market where illegal immigrants were being crammed into unhealthy living environments.
His comments come as the Government announced proposals to clamp down on overcrowding and bring an end to what it described as ‘ruthless’ landlords who exploit their tenants and charge ‘extortionate rents’ to live in cramped conditions.
It plans to extend licensing to smaller and medium sized properties, with fines payable by landlords who fail to make the grade.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “It is simply unacceptable that people are living in cramped, unsafe accommodation provided by landlords who are more interested in a quick profit than the safety or welfare of their tenants.
“The actions of these rogue landlords are helping fuel illegal working, benefit fraud, and illegal immigration by creating a shadow housing market that carries dangers to people’s health as well as communities.
“The Government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and these measures will further strengthen councils’ powers to tackle poor-quality privately rented homes in their area.”
The proposals intend to make it easier for local authorities to raise standards in houses used as shared homes by:
• Making the rules apply to more shared homes, including those that are one to two storeys; current rules apply to homes of three storeys
• Ensuring rules apply to poorly converted blocks of flats and flats above and below shops, which are often exempt
• Setting a minimum size of rooms in line with existing overcrowding standards
The new rules will enable local authorities to take strong action against rogue landlords and letting agents. There are more than 4.4 million households renting privately, according to official figures. Since 2013, nearly 40,000 inspections have take place in properties, with more than 3,000 landlords now facing further enforcement action or prosecution.
The Government insists the measures will not hamper the majority of landlords.
The action that local authorities could take includes creating a database of rogue landlords and letting agents, and keeping track of those who have been convicted of housing offences.
Banning orders will be sought for the most prolific and serious offenders, while local authorities will be able to issue civil penalty notices of up to £5,000.
They will also be able to extend rent repayment orders to cover situations where a tenant has been illegally evicted or the landlord has failed to rectify a serious health and safety hazard in the property.
Under the new rules, they would also be able to apply a more stringent ‘fit and proper’ person test for landlords letting out licensed properties, such as houses in multiple occupation, to help ensure that they have the appropriate skills to manage such properties and do not pose a risk to the health and safety of their tenants.
While the vast majority of landlords comply with the law and provide a good service, the Government says the new rules are necessary because ‘some unscrupulous owners are exploiting the most vulnerable people’ by providing illegal and unsafe homes.