Leaks, Damp and Mould: What Do Housing Offences Tell Us About UK Regulation of the Sector?

July 5, 2023

Good Jobs First has recently added new data on housing offences to Violation Tracker UK: Enforcement data from the Housing Ombudsman, the Regulator of Social Housing, the London Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker as well as details of expulsions from the two government-approved property agent schemes: the Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme. These sources show that in recent years councils and housing associations have faced more regulatory scrutiny, but there are still major gaps in regulation, leaving tenants with nowhere to turn when faced with unscrupulous landlords

A photo of room with mold along the walls.
Source: Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Housing Ombudsman announced that it had ordered Clarion, the UK’s largest housing association, to pay £2,270 to a resident for leaving her with a collapsed ceiling through which rainwater was coming in. Months earlier it had conducted an investigation into the landlord, which found multiple cases of damp and mould, rodent infestations, and severe maladministration in relation to complaint handling involving Clarion residents across eight different local authorities.

Clarion has had the most frequent number of cases of severe maladministration, but it is not the only housing association with multiple failures. At least two dozen housing associations have been ordered to pay compensation to residents in severe maladministration cases over the last couple of years.

In 2021, supported housing provider 3CHA was served a regulatory notice by the Regulator of Social Housing for not meeting governance and financial viability standards, having outsourced most of its operations to third parties. The following year it was ordered to pay £1,700 in compensation to a vulnerable resident incorrectly served with an immediate eviction notice by the managing agent.

It seems that investigations by the Housing Ombudsman into housing associations are bringing to light systemic failings by these bodies to effectively respond to and act upon residents’ complaints. If these are investigations into housing associations, traditionally organisations that re-invest profits into their housing stock, what about the housing conditions of those tenants where profits are not re-invested in maintaining properties?

In May, the National Audit Office published a report into supported housing that found significant gaps in regulation allowing landlords to charge high rents without providing the necessary support to residents. One council had reported finding 323 hazards classed as serious and immediate health and safety risks across its 345 supported housing units.

Legislation to allow councils to create license schemes for supported housing providers is currently awaiting Royal assent, which should go some way towards providing better oversight of the sector.

For private tenants, despite figures last year suggesting that almost a quarter of private rentals in England were failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard, there is little to no avenue for redress.

One initiative of the current mayor of London is the Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker that collects data from London councils on prosecutions taken against landlords and agents for licensing failures, particularly in relation to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). The data includes housing offences committed by some well-known high street names such as Keatons and William Hill.

Data gathered from different sources begin to suggest signs of recidivism. LudlowThompson was fined £4000 by Wandsworth Council, the year before it was also ordered to repay unreasonable fees to a tenant at property tribunal. One estate agent was found to have unlawfully deducted wages from an employee; a few months later they were expelled from the Property Ombudsman scheme for failing to comply with their direction.

But these are, for the most part, relatively small companies and small numbers. Open Democracy revealed last year that half the councils in England and Wales had not prosecuted a single landlord for three years.

With a current boom in the ‘build to rent’ sector, renters are facing the prospect of greater numbers of corporate landlords and little to no regulatory oversight.

Lloyds Banking Group, behind the brand ‘Citra Living,’ has announced plans to buy 50,000 homes over the next 10 years. It follows several other big financial institutions such as Legal & General, Goldman Sachs, Greystar, and Macquarie into real estate. Legal & General Homes has already begun to face scrutiny, with reports of serious mould problems reported last week by a journalist in Bristol.

Last month, the long-anticipated Renters (Reform) Bill had its first reading in parliament. This bill proposes new protections for renters such as the abolition of no-fault evictions and making the Decent Homes Standard legally binding. It also promises the introduction of a new Ombudsman for private renting.

Whilst some scepticism exists as to how far the new bill will go, in general the legislation has been welcomed by housing reform groups as filling gaps in the regulation of the sector.

In the meantime, Violation Tracker UK will continue to track regulatory infringements, enabling a better oversight of enforcement actions taken against corporate landlords and property agents by various government agencies and government-approved schemes.

You can follow our work on twitter at VT__UK (two underscores), and search the database here.