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Councils call for joined-up legislation to protect renters

Words: Laura Edgar
Protect renters / iStock_000074406885

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the government to close a legal loophole that allows landlords to convert properties into multiple “tiny units” marked as self-contained flats to secure the maximum level of housing benefit payments.

The loophole abuses legal exemptions, councils said, as well as the lack of clarity in environmental health, planning and housing benefit rules. It results in “widespread abuse of taxpayers’ money” with housing tenants “living in poor and often dangerous accommodation”.

According to industry figures, private landlords gained £4.6 billion in housing benefit in 2006, but by 2015, this had risen to £9.3 billion. The LGA said the micro sub-division of properties, called the Lockdown model, used by landlords is thought have contributed to this increase. It said the loophole first started in London but its use is now spreading across the country.

Homes can be converted into a maximum of six small self-contained studios with en-suite showers and portable cooking equipment without planning permission.

When new government regulations come into force later this year, councils will be able to issue fixed penalty notices of up to £30,000 for failing to comply with improvement and overcrowding notices, as well as apply banning orders.

However, the LGA said the exploitation of the loophole will undermine these new powers.  

“Councils need streamlined housing and planning powers to stop landlords converting properties into 'micro flats' without planning permission to protect tenants,” the LGA said. The organisation also wants to see more jail sentence for the worst landlords, which would be “more effective at keeping them out of the game than issuing a fine”.

Judith Blake, LGA housing spokesperson, said: “No landlord can act outside the law and councils will do everything in their powers to ensure tenants can live in rented properties safe in the knowledge that local authorities are there to protect them.”

Blake said the reputations of good landlords are being “tarnished” by the bad ones and councils are being let down by the current system.

“Legislation needs to be more joined-up to prevent some landlords taking advantage of people at the sharp end of our housing crisis.

“Giving councils powers to be able to build more affordable homes is likely to be more successful at meeting necessary standards than the private rental sector, and help reduce the risk of tenants falling victim to potentially tragic and preventable consequences due to unscrupulous landlords.”

Blake added that councils won’t hesitate to take irresponsible landlords to court for “blatantly failing” to comply with housing laws.

* The LGA represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.

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