Town hall leaders are calling for magistrates to use new powers to impose much bigger fines on rogue landlords who exploit their tenants.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said efforts to clamp down on individuals who housed people in “hell-hole conditions” were being frustrated by an overly complicated legal process that leaves local taxpayers out of pocket.
Cases have been compiled by the LGA in which the owners of “filthy and dangerous” properties had got away with no more than a “slap on the wrist” that would not act as a future deterrent to protect tenants from their abuses.
The Press Association reported that the government is legislating for a four-fold increase in the maximum fines available to magistrates.
This would allow magistrates in future to impose unlimited fines in cases, such as many landlord offences, where the previous maximum was £5,000.
According to the LGA, one landlord received a fine of £100 in a case where six tenants were left living in a “hovel” for a year with no fire alarms or proper escape routes. It said the punishments being issued were inconsistent.
Mike Jones, who chairs its environment and housing board, told the Press Association: “The current system for prosecuting rogue landlords is not fit for the 21st century.
“Criminal landlords are exploiting this and endangering tenants’ lives. They are treating the paltry fines as ‘operating costs’, which they are offsetting against the vast profits they are raking in.
“We need a system which protects the good landlords, whose reputation is being dragged down by the bad ones.
“Rogue landlords are calculating they can keep these going while the cash tumbles in and walk away after a year with a slap on the wrist.
“Councils are doing everything they can to tackle the rising levels of rogue landlords caused by the housing crisis. However, they are being hamstrung by a system racked by delays, bureaucracy and feeble fines.”
He said the majority of landlords were reputable, but there was a “growing minority of criminal operators”.
“In many cases, councils are actually being left out of pocket because they are not even recovering the costs of bringing the prosecutions,” he added.