Enforcement and Regulatory Policy for Private Sector Housing
4.0 Role of the Council in dealing with Private Sector Housing
4.1 This section outlines the main functions that the Council performs to enforce and regulate relevant legislation.
Inspections and other visits
4.2 The Council has a statutory duty to keep housing conditions in the private sector under review. Inspections will be carried out in response to complaints from tenants as well as targeted inspections of properties that have been identified as having conditions deemed to be a risk in terms of danger to the health and safety of occupants.
4.3 Inspections will also be undertaken where it appears the actions of poor landlords have contributed to the blight and decline of communities.
4.4 Alongside the duty to keep housing conditions under review the Private Sector Housing Team will also investigate any instances of Statutory Nuisance which ought to be dealt with under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
4.5 The Private Sector Housing Team will also carry out visits to investigate any allegations of harassment and illegal eviction.
Dealing with Requests for Service
4.6 The Private Sector Housing Team will respond to complaints from tenants and other residents regarding problematic private properties and allegations of harassment and illegal eviction, taking appropriate enforcement actions in line with the relevant legislation and regulations.
Houses in Multiple Occupation
4.7 Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) can be broadly defined as houses in which, three or more unrelated occupants, forming two or more households share facilities.
4.8 There are many houses in Stockton-on-Tees in which more than one household share facilities. As HMOs are higher risk than single family homes, the conditions, facilities and management are regulated, with some HMOs subject to licensing:
- Mandatory HMO Licensing - a licence is required in HMOs that consist are occupied by five or more persons, in two or more households sharing the facilities. Further details can be found in the Council's HMO Policy
4.9 Overcrowding can be a difficult issue for the Council to address as unlike any other hazard it is not feasible to ask the landlord to add another room to a property in the same way they may be asked to repair a roof for example.
4.10 Instances of overcrowding will be dealt with and remedies will be required to be implemented by a landlord wherever practicable. However where this is not possible cases will be referred to the Council's Homelessness and Housing Solutions Team who will provide support to the household to find alternative suitable accommodation to prevent homelessness.
4.11 Empty homes are not just a wasted resource. Neighbours of empty homes can be badly affected by the physical, social and environmental problems associated with empty homes including deteriorating housing conditions, accumulations of rubbish, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. They also represent a potential housing resource that is currently under utilise as well as a loss of revenue to the Council.
4.12 For more information please refer to the Council's Empty Homes Delivery Plan that outlines the Council's approach to dealing with empty homes.
Harassment and Illegal Evictions
4.13 The Council is aware that there are a small number of private landlords or lettings agents operating within the Borough who do not conduct themselves within the requirements of legislation relating the private sector accommodation. These landlords and agents sometimes resort to using harassment and/or illegal eviction to force tenants to leave their properties.
4.14 Illegal eviction can often be prevented through mediation with the landlord. The Council favours this approach unless there are other mitigating factors such as violence, which would deem it unsuitable.
4.15 On occasions where a landlord continues to harass or illegally evict a tenant despite being advised that they may be committing a criminal offence the Council will take action in line with relevant legislation.
Dealing with different tenures
4.16 The Council understands that different tenures need to be dealt with in different ways to meet their needs. The Council's approach is set out below:
Private Landlords and Tenants
On receipt of Requests for Service the Council will generally seek the views of tenants and landlords before taking any enforcement action and will take into account any applicable representations; however there may be times, such as in an emergency, where this may not be possible. The Council aims to engage proactively with landlords through a process of support and encouragement and will seek to utilise informal approaches to alleviate problems wherever possible before progressing formal action. The Council provides a wide range of assistance to help landlords comply with their legal responsibilities. Further details can be found on the Council's website.
In certain circumstances the Council can act against owner occupiers without their consent including, but not limited to the following situations:
- the property condition problem adversely affects someone else/impacts on an adjoining property
- where tenants are also living in the property
- where there is a danger to the health and safety of the public or visitors to the property
- to protect the health and safety of a vulnerable or elderly owner occupier, if all other means of resolution have been exhausted.
Where the Council has received complaints from leaseholders requesting assistance in taking action against another leaseholder or freeholder, the Council's assistance will be limited to:
- Category 1 and high Category 2 hazards identified under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System where a leasehold flat is tenanted
- contraventions of the HMO Regulations, which may necessitate action being taken against the leaseholder themselves
- statutory nuisances, serious or emergency situations affecting common parts of or multiple flats in a leasehold block
- in other situations it may be appropriate to refer the leaseholder to other advice services provided by the Council, Leasehold Advisory Service or a Solicitor who specialises in leasehold law