A group of leading campaigning and regulatory figures have joined forces to recommend key measures for local and national government to adopt if the burgeoning problem of the ‘shadow’ private rented sector is to be tackled.

Their report, launched today at a virtual meeting attended by key figures from parliament, local authorities, enforcement bodies and campaigning groups, is seeking to combat the rising tide of illegal evictions, harassment, and abusive and threatening behaviour carried out by a growing criminal minority within the PRS.

“The current regulatory framework fails to deal with the kind of landlords who have no intention of complying with the law,” says one of its co-authors Julie Rugg (right).

“Too often we call these landlords ‘rogue’ but this doesn’t describe their activities adequately – they are criminals for whom this is a business model.”

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Rugg says these landlords and often letting agents can be pigeonholed into several categories.

These include those ripping off tenants through rent-to-rent scams and illegal sub-letting; corporate corner-cutters; organised criminals who knowingly operate dangerous and over-crowded properties; lettings connected to sex trafficking and cannabis farms; and landlords who employ violence and intimidation.

Ben Reeve-Lewis, also a co-author of the report, says the nature of criminal landlords is changing rapidly as technology enables organised criminal landlords to become more difficult to identify and track.

“It’s not a few rotten apples as it used to be – it’s systematic organised illegal activity,” he says.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Make online renting portals that landlords are able to directly upload to without filtering more culpable for the property listings they publish and introduce property MOTs and unique identification numbers to help achieve this.
  • Put a duty on police to stop illegal evictions.
  • Create a fund to help authorities recruit more enforcement teams with the relevant skills – austerity has severely reduced this.
  • Force authorities to adopt a multi-agency approach – too many criminal landlords take advantage of councils whose different enforcement arms don’t work together effectively.
  • Amend housing legislation to introduce joint and several liability for housing offences to include the property owner and/or letting agent.
  • Introduce a right to expert statutory advocacy for private renters faced with criminal behaviour by landlords.
  • Ban Section 21 evictions.

During the launch Chris Norris of the NRLA, a lone representative of landlords at the event, said that local authorities must be given more money to tackle the shadow PRS and that relying entirely on the fees from licensing schemes was unfair on compliant landlords.

The Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector report is jointly published by the University of York and Cambridge House Research and funded by Trust for London. It is backed by, among others, the Mayor of London, Generation Rent, Karen Buck MP, James Murray MP and the NRLA.

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