How the Conservatives are letting down private tenants and responsible private landlords in Bromley
The Conservatives nationally and locally are failing the growing number of private tenants in Bromley. The 2011 census showed 16,229 households renting privately which represented 12.4% of all Bromley households. Crystal Palace (29.7%), Copers Cope (27.7), Bromley Town (22.7) and Penge (20%) wards had the highest number of private renters in the borough.
The Office of National Statistics has recently reported that there are now 21,551 dwellings in Bromley privately rented. This is up from 18,872 dwellings in 2012, an increase of 2,679 dwellings. A dwelling could range from a single letting to a house in multiple occupation. 15.43% of all households in Bromley where the overall population has grown since 2011, now rent privately. Further information will be available when the 2021 Census returns are published.
In the 2019 General Election the Conservative Manifesto (page 29) contained pledges to introduce a Better Deal for Renters by abolishing no fault evictions, introducing one lifetime deposit, and protection from revenge evictions and rogue landlords.
Generally private landlords can obtain a possession order against a private tenant if their paperwork is order even if their tenant’s rent is paid in credit. The loss of private renting is one of the biggest reasons for Bromley Council rehousing homeless households.
The Renters Reform Bill was announced in the Queens Speech in 2019 but has never been published. Recently the Government announced a further delay in its introduction. The Government paused evictions during the pandemic which have now restarted. Clearly the so-called “levelling up “agenda has been ignored. There will now be more households evicted across London.
Private tenants have very little protection against high rents. Landlords can charge rents that are paid for by housing benefit irrespective of the quality of their accommodation. The rates at which housing benefit is paid often does not cover the full amount of rent causing hardship for tenants.
In 2020/21 the government of the United Kingdom is expected to spend approximately 17.29 billion British pounds on housing benefits. You do not need to be an economics professor to work out that this bill could and should be substantially lower. If there was some limit on private sector rents and the money saved was used to build council housing. This would help to prevent evictions and would save on the costs of expensive temporary accommodation. Bromley Council is currently building council housing for the first time since 1992 in various car park sites in the Borough.
Locally Bromley Council has produced a housing strategy 2019-2029. This strategy was written by council officers. On page 24, recommendations about houses in multiple (hmo) occupation in the private rented sector were made:
The council should review data on housing conditions and develop a strategy for proactively monitoring and raising housing conditions in the borough, establishing a business case for increased investment in Environmental Health-based interventions to prevent homelessness on the grounds of housing condition.
Introduce mandatory licensing for HMOs of all sizes and invest in resources to monitor and enforce this.
These recommendations are sensible and if implemented would reduce the numbers of homeless households rehoused by the council. They would lead to an improvement in housing standards. However, Bromley Councillors have shown no willingness to implement such proposals.
At the meeting of the Council’s Executive Committee on 30 June 2021 leading councillors received a report on how to deal with the growing number of houses in multiple occupation (hmo) in the borough. Rather than using the powers to license all hmo’s the council chose to impose planning restrictions. Currently Bromley Council only licenses the houses in multiple occupation that it is required to do so by law.
In the appendix evidence is presented of problems with smaller hmo’s in Orpington which are not currently subject to licensing and particular problems in the Biggin Hill area. Details were provided of four large hmo’s which were denied retrospective planning permission. If these properties are still occupied as hmo’s and should be licensed, all the occupants may be entitled to apply for a rent repayment order if they are not in fact licensed.
Remarkably the report makes no reference to the council’s housing strategy. Nor does the report refer to rent repayment orders. The housing charity Shelter describes such orders on its website
Offences that can result in a rent repayment order
With effect from 6 April 2017, the relevant offences are:
- using or threatening violence for securing entry into premises, under s.6 Criminal Law Act 1977
- illegal eviction or harassment, under s.1 Protection from Eviction Act 1977
- failure to comply with improvement notice, under s.30 Housing Act 2004
- failure to comply with prohibition order, under s.32 Housing Act 2004
- (From 6 April 2018) breach of banning order, under s.21 Housing and Planning Act 2016
- having control of, or managing, an unlicensed property, under s.95 Housing Act 2004
- having control of, or managing, an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO), under s.72 Housing Act 2004
As an HMO licence cannot be transferred to another person, when a landlord acquires a tenanted property which requires and already has a licence, they cannot rely on the existing licence but must apply to the local authority for their own. They commit an offence if they do not.
- A private tenant can apply to a tribunal to ask to being refunded up to 12 months’ rent if the landlord is guilty of one of the above offences.
Where all the tenants in an unlicensed hmo apply successfully to the tribunal the award against the landlord can be substantial. For more details about these orders see the Flat Justice website or check their video https://youtu.be/QeCM_wx45Vk.
The BBC website has a story of 4 renters who took their landlord to tribunal and won £15,000 between them. www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/745ea8b2-2ef2-46ee-89ac-3e596b0efeb1 . In Preston a landlord was liable to repay nearly £47,000.
Flat Justice, a charity has produced helpful figures by London boroughs on the number of rent repayment applications to the tribunal. Only 1 such application has been made in Bromley, Sutton, and Bexley. For details see
Members of the public will have to look very hard on Bromley Council’s website to find any mention of rent repayment orders.
Anybody wanting to know whether they live in an unlicensed hmo, can email Bromley Council’s environmental health department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively you can consult the Greater London Authority’s website to find out whether your property needs a licence. A list of hmo registered with Bromley council is here licensed-hmos-excel-spreadsheet but it is out of date. You can search here for tribunal decisions on rent repayment orders using the 2004 Housing Act category.
There are references on the council’s website to dealing with damp and mould that are sadly out of date. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 imposes a new obligation on landlords to put and keep the tenant’s home in a state fit for human habitation. Where the tenancy agreement imposes an obligation on the landlord to keep the rented accommodation “fit to live in”, the landlord may be liable for the condensation. There is no mention of this statute on the council’s website.
If there was sufficient political will at Bromley council, any growth in problematic hmo’s could be dealt with by implementing the officers’ proposals in the housing strategy. Bromley Council itself can apply for a rent repayment border to recover any housing benefit paid. Publicising rent repayment orders on its website would encourage local residents to make such applications. Successful applications by the council and by tenants would deter irresponsible landlords. Many responsible private landlords are unhappy that local councils such as Bromley do not get tough on rouge landlords.
For an alternative approach on dealing with issues in the private rented sector, see the plans drawn up by the London Mayor Sadiq Khan and this speech by Lucy Powell MP who is the Opposition spokesperson on housing.
Dermot Mckibbin strongly advises any private tenant thinking of applying to the property tribunal for a rent repayment order to research the issue fully and to take appropriate advice.