Rogue landlords are a blight on the private rental sector landscape, yet more often than not they manage to evade prosecution. In a bid to tackle the problem, a database of rogue landlords was put in place in 2018 by the then prime minister, Theresa May. Local authorities can now add rogue landlords to the database and tenants can search it if they want to make sure their landlord isn’t famous for all the wrong reasons.
Sadly, freedom of information requests submitted by consumer site This is Money in August of this year revealed that a paltry 12 landlords had been added to the database. This is shocking given the government estimates a staggering 10,500 rogue landlords are operating across the UK as we type.
Rogue landlords don’t always set out to flout the law. Some of these landlords probably slip into bad habits through poor management and sheer laziness. In addition, rogue landlords are not always policed effectively and many of them slide under the radar due to under staffing and budget cuts in local authority housing departments. However, this doesn’t mean you can cast your morals to one side and profit from vulnerable tenants.
Check out the following list to see if you qualify on any of these points. And if you do, perhaps it’s time to clean up your property rental business?
You bought your property more than ten years ago and haven’t spent a penny since
Property maintenance is not usually high on a rogue landlord’s to-do list. They typically buy cheap properties – cheap because these places need a ton of work to make them liveable – and then spend no money whatsoever on them. They assume that vulnerable tenants won’t complain because they have nowhere else to go.
Sadly, this is often true. Illegal migrants, people on a low income, and vulnerable tenants with drug and alcohol issues or mental health problems struggle to find regular landlords willing to take them on. So, they fall into the clutches of rogue landlords and end up living in squalor.
As a landlord, you are required to carry out regular maintenance on your properties. This includes servicing appliances once a year and repairing them when they break down, fixing broken windows, doors, and anything else that is damaged.
Repairs should be carried out in a timely fashion, not when you can be bothered, or you’re threatened with an improvement notice from the housing department.
Tenancy agreements? What are those exactly?
Rogue landlords don’t care much about tenancy agreements. In fact, paperwork isn’t really that important to them, aside from keeping a record of rental payments. Tenancy agreements imply a tenant has some kind of legal protection and can’t be evicted on a whim. Who wants that? Tenants need to know their place and live in fear of their landlord! This is a dictatorship, not a democracy!
Landlords must give a tenant a tenancy agreement at the start of a tenancy. This should be signed by both parties. Tenancy agreements are a legally binding contract document that states what the rent is, what the responsibilities of the tenant and landlord are, how long the tenancy is, how much notice must be given, etc.
You don’t worry too much about fire safety because the holes in the roof are an effective sprinkler system
Landlords are responsible for making sure a rental property meets fire safety legislation. All rental properties must be fitted with working smoke alarms and CO alarms. HMOs must have adequate fire protection measures in place, which include fire alarms, adequate lighting in communal areas, fire barriers between communal areas and living quarters, signs and notices, etc.
Conduct a fire risk assessment in your properties. Do not let a property without appropriate fire protection measures in place. Otherwise, if your property burns down because a tenant fell asleep on the sofa after switching a chip pan on, ringing the insurance company will be the least of your problems.
People regularly mistake your rental properties for derelict squats
Because rogue landlords spend nothing on property maintenance, it’s common for their properties to be in a terrible condition. Whilst a property might not look like it’s falling to bits, chances are it won’t appear cared for in any way. Gardens will be overgrown, windows in a poor state, and external doors damaged or badly fitting.
Have some pride in your properties. Rental properties don’t need to resemble squats. Remember, you might need to sell the property at short notice, so keep on top of maintenance and monitor the external ambiance. If your properties look a mess, the neighbours won’t be happy and are more likely to report you to the local housing department.
You own a three-bed house but 18 people live there…
Rogue landlords like to maximise their rental income. They see every room in a property, with the possible exception of toilets and kitchens, as potential sleeping areas. Some savvy rogues even operate sleep rotas, so tenants that work day shifts can have the beds at night and tenants working night shifts can sleep during the day.
There is nothing wrong with letting out a three-bed house with two reception rooms to four couples, assuming you have an HMO licence, of course. But cramming more than that in there is just plain greedy. It’s also a potential fire risk, not to mention there won’t be enough bathroom facilities.
Overcrowding is a serious issue in rental properties. Be vigilant and make sure your tenants are not sub-letting their property to dozens of other people in the name of profit.
You’re on first-name terms with the local housing department – for the wrong reasons
It’s often handy to have a contact in the housing department, especially if your business model involves vulnerable tenants. But being on a list of dodgy landlords is definitely not a good thing.
If tenants start to complain about you and your properties, it won’t be long before you end up being flagged as a rogue landlord. Once that happens, housing inspectors will pay close attention to you and your buy to let business. Before long, you’ll have housing officers threatening court action and you’ll have to lawyer up. Think about how much a property lawyer charges per hour. Do you really want to pick up that kind of bill?
You have a lawyer to take care of pesky claims against you
Rogue landlords need lawyers to handle all the pesky housing officials, tenant welfare charities, and clued up tenants trying to catch them out. If you’re a rogue landlord, you better pray your lawyer is switched on and as morally bankrupt as you.
When a tenant is late with the rent, you send Big Al round with a crowbar. Problem sorted.
Show some empathy. Tenants are not all trying it on when they are late with the rent. Your tenant might have a genuine reason for being late. Perhaps a close relative died, or they were hit with an unexpected bill. Contact them and let them explain before you hit the nuclear option.
It’s always worth trying to sort things out with a reliable tenant who has previously paid their rent on time. Give them a bit longer to pay if they don’t have the money right now. See if there is anything else you can do to help, such as discount the rent in return for them doing some jobs for you. Nothing creepy, of course, because that would put you in a whole new category of rogue landlord. And not a good one, in case you’re wondering!
Your idea of an eviction process is to throw the tenant and their belongings on the pavement
Landlords must follow a strict process for evicting a tenant. You can’t just kick a tenant out if they offend you by asking you to fix the heating. You are within your rights to evict a tenant if they fail to pay the rent or trash the place, but this must be done by the book.
Section 21 notices are used when a landlord needs to evict a tenant without giving a reason. This is typically when a landlord wants to sell the property or move back in for any reason. Section 21 notices can only be issued once a fixed term tenancy has ended.
Section 8 notices are used when a tenant has broken the tenancy agreement, for example, by causing damage or falling into rent arrears.
In both cases, a landlord must apply to the court for a possession order if the tenant doesn’t leave. If there are no rent arrears, the landlord can apply for an accelerated possession order, and if they still won’t leave, you can apply for a warrant for possession, which means the bailiffs are called in.
It can take months to evict a difficult tenant, and even longer if they know how the system works and are prepared to play dirty. But this does not give you an excuse to call round with a baseball bat and throw them out. Try it and you might end up in a police cell awaiting prosecution for ABH.
Landlords also have a duty of care in respect of a tenant’s belongings or “chattels”. If you throw a tenant’s stuff out, they can file a civil claim against you for damages. Sure, you say it was a bin bag full of crap, but the court might believe their claim it was a designer suitcase full of Prada and Armani, and award damages that leave you significantly out of pocket.
You’re happy to offer attractive female tenants cheap rent in return for, ahem, favours
Sex for rent is, sadly, a thing. As far as we know, it’s usually male landlords preying on female tenants, but this isn’t always the case. We stand corrected if you have any tawdry tales to tell us. Just keep them PG-12.
Offering free or discounted accommodation in return for sexual favours is immoral and abhorrent. Don’t be that type of landlord. You might think you’re doing a young lady a favour, but seriously, she doesn’t fancy you and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up being prosecuted for sexual harassment, or worse.
Being known as a slum landlord is a badge of honour in your book
The main reason why rogue landlords operate in the way they do is because it is lucrative. It’s pretty easy to make money when you have very few expenses and you’re not paying tax on your rental income. With all that disposable income, you’re ‘da man’ when it’s time to buy the drinks!
But seriously, being known as a rogue landlord is not great for your social standing in the local community. Don’t be surprised if respectable people cross the street to avoid you. The only people who will actively seek you out are desperate tenants and journalists looking to name and shame you in the local rag.
Tax returns? Who does those anyway?
Yes, we all know tax returns are a huge pain. Most landlords would much rather do anything but submit a self-assessment form or VAT return. Sadly, landlords have to pay their taxes, just like the rest of the adult population.
But not rogue landlords! They don’t like to pay tax on their rental income. It’s all cash under the table and the taxman doesn’t have a clue. At least he doesn’t until someone makes an anonymous phone call and HMRC launches an investigation…
All your tenants pay the rent in cash. You don’t do cheques.
Rogue landlords are strictly cash-only. Or perhaps bitcoin if they are super clued up. Cash doesn’t leave a paper trail. It can be stashed in a bag under a bed and used to pay for other dodgy things.
If your business model is cash only, don’t be too surprised when HMRC run an investigation to see how you can afford your standard of living based on your alleged income. If you drive an Audi and holiday in the Maldives, but your purported income is less than £10k a year, you better ‘fess up before the fines start escalating.
You’re the first port of call for illegal migrants in need of a mattress in a shed
Beds in sheds are a thing, especially in towns and cities where illegal migrants pitch up looking for work and a place to stay. It’s a huge problem in places where rents are extremely high, like London.
Rogue landlords like to take advantage of market demand for cheap rental accommodation. They know there is always someone desperate enough to pay for a mattress in a shed, even a shared one. These landlords probably see themselves as savvy entrepreneurs. After all, why let a few square feet of garden in a popular London borough go to waste when there is space for a mattress and camping stove?
You may get away with it for a while, but vigilant neighbours and aerial drones with heat-seeking cameras will soon burst your bubble.
You like to maximise space in your rental properties by knocking down walls and building sheds in the gardens
Permitted development rules allow for some works to be carried out in residential properties without the need for planning permission. However, all works are subject to planning permission and must meet minimum guidelines for fire safety, among other things. For detailed guidance, visit the government’s planning portal.
We don’t have the space to go into great detail, but before you start knocking walls down and creating extra bedrooms, speak to your planning department. You can’t go crazy with a sledgehammer and turn a residential home into self-contained flats. Not without being prosecuted.
You try not to visit your properties too often because the stench of raw sewage is a bit off-putting
This one falls under “property maintenance”. Rogue landlords tend not to care much when a toilet backs up or a pipe bursts. They don’t have to live with the stench or mess, so why bother rushing to fix the problem?
Good landlords are on the ball when there are issues with their property. They spring into action as soon as a tenant notifies them about a broken boiler, blocked toilet, or leak. Their property is an investment and they want to protect that investment. They also care about the welfare of their tenants.
Tenants can never get hold of you because you’re usually sunning it in Marbella
You don’t have to be available 24/7, but it’s a good idea to be available during normal working hours, and if you can’t be available, perhaps because you are taking a well-earned holiday, at least give your tenants the contact details of someone who can assist in an emergency.
You hear there’s a landlord database and you’re on it. How cool is that?
We hope you’re not the type of person who is proud to be a rogue landlord. Although, if you are, you are probably not reading this article!
But if any of your professional practices tick the boxes above, it’s time for some soul searching. Ask yourself, would you treat your family the way you treat your tenants? And if not, why not?
Tenants are people too. Treat them with dignity and respect, and if you’re lucky, they will turn out to be reliable, nice people who pay the rent on time and look after your property as if it were their own.
Have you had any bad experiences with rogue landlords? Are you a rogue landlord? Tell us more in the comments!
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