Rogue landlords who commit serious housing offences should be fined a minimum of £30,000, council chiefs say.
Local authorities can enforce fines of up to £30,000 for offences by private landlords such as failing to license a property or not complying with an improvement notice.
However, there are no common sentencing guidelines for Magistrates when it comes to housing offences. They base their decisions on how much a landlord says they can afford rather than the seriousness of the offence.
The Local Government Association (LGA) says the most serious cases, such as fire safety breaches, should lead to fines that at least match the highest level of a civil penalty.
This will raise standards and provide consistency across the courts, they argue.
‘The majority of landlords are decent, responsible law-abiding citizens who do a great job in making sure their tenants are living in safe and quality housing,’ said Cllr Martin Tett, LGA housing spokesman.
‘Unfortunately there is a minority of rogue landlords who give those good landlords a bad name.
‘Councils want to work with landlords, not against them. But with more young people and families renting privately than ever before, we need to see reforms that will maintain and improve housing standards.
‘A key deterrent to rogue landlords would be for the Government to set common sentencing guidelines which delivers consistency across the courts.
‘It is not right that the level of civil penalty could outweigh that which is handed out by magistrates.’
Cllr Tett also called for greater freedoms to introduce private housing licensing schemes to improve rental standards for tenants.
Under the current system, local authorities have to apply to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government for permission to introduce schemes that cover more than 20% of an area or 20% of privately rented homes.
‘Many councils are already tackling issues in the private rental sector by bringing in landlord licensing schemes,’ said Cllr Tett.
‘But they are limited in how widely these can be introduced. We need to see these rules relaxed and councils given more freedom and flexibility in establishing schemes.
‘Landlord licensing schemes allow landlords to demonstrate that they are responsible and adhere to ensuring homes are maintained to a high standard.
‘It also protects and provides reassurance to tenants that they are living in a decent, safe and secure home.’