New reforms are intended to change the power dynamic between landlords and tenants as well as protecting renters from unscrupulous behaviour. Image: Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels
Naming and shaming rogue landlords on social media is the Westminster government’s latest proposal to help renters.
The power balance between landlords and renters has been tipped in favour of the former for too long and there are a raft of reforms on the way to protect tenants living in unsafe situations.
Here are five ways ministers are planning to do it.
1.Naming and shaming landlords
Social media has become an important tool in highlighting the filthy conditions many tenants in social housing are living in.
Campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa has harnessed it so effectively that the government has opted to copy him, vowing to use official social media accounts to publicly shame rogue landlords who fail to provide acceptable housing.
Will it work? Tweneboa is not so sure. He told The Big Issue: “Yes, you’re naming and shaming but what’s going to happen? What is going to be the consequence of that? Where are the teeth behind it?”
2.Ensuring the housing regulator has more power
The Housing Ombudsman has already been given greater powers under the government’s social housing white paper, which also aimed to cut red tape.
Now, as well as intervening in individual disputes, the regulator has the power to act on wider systemic issues that generate complaints after Tweneboa and an ITV News investigation uncovered widespread failures in social housing.
The ombudsman can now make recommendations to individual landlords, share information with all landlords through publications and refer issues to the Regulator of Social Housing to take action.
Only time will tell whether the changes add much-needed bite to the bark.
First announced in May 2019, the white paper is set to be revealed over the next couple of months with the main aim of ending no-fault evictions. Section 21 evictions, as they are also known, allow landlords to evict a tenant without giving a reason. This leaves them open to abuse, as landlords are able to evict a tenant after a falling out or even on a whim.
They are also a leading driver of homelessness and even landlord lobby groups have said the rules need to change but there has been little detail so far on what might replace it.
The Renters’ Reform Bill should reveal all this in the spring – but tenants have already been waiting three years. As Generation Rent’s deputy director Dan Wilson Craw put it: “The longer renters wait for the government to abolish Section 21, the more people will have their lives uprooted at their landlord’s whim.”
Another goal of the Renters’ Reform Bill is to follow in the footsteps of Scotland with the introduction of a national landlord register.
Details are currently scarce but last month housing minister Eddie Hughes confirmed the draft legislation will “explore a national landlord register”. A job advert for a policy advisor that followed revealed the government is still working on how a register can be paired with “effective enforcement that drives out criminal landlords”.
Rogue landlords can be given banning orders through the Housing and Planning Act 2016 if convicted of any of the 41 criminal offences listed, including unlawful eviction or harassment and using or threatening violence for securing entry into premises. Only 39 landlords and agents were hit with banning orders between 2018 and 2021, according to The Guardian.
But with Michael Gove’s levelling up white paper also promising “fines and bans to stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible condition”, watch this space over the next couple of months.
5. Banning sex for rent ads
Cracking down on landlords who offer free rooms in exchange for sexual acts has proven to be difficult for authorities. It was only in January 2021 when the first person was charged in a ‘sex for rent’ case in England and Wales.
Now the Westminster government is planning on tackling the issue at the source by banning adverts on social media sites through the Online Safety Bill.
In a written parliamentary answer, Minister for Safeguarding Rachel Maclean said the bill will “capture user-to-user sites, where the majority of ‘sex for rent’ advertising takes place”, forcing social media firms to take action to remove ads or face prosecution.
Under current rules, landlords can be prosecuted for inciting prostitution for gain or controlling prostitution for gain under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. But this is the first attempt at preventing ads appearing in the first place.
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