Sheds with Beds and Why More Regulation of Landlords Would Probably be a Waste of Time and Money

Synopsis: David Lawrenson of points out how recent experiences of  “rogue landlords” letting out “sheds with beds” goes to show why more regulation would probably be a waste of resources.

As if any more sign was needed that there is a huge shortage of accommodation it must be the emergence of the “sheds with beds” story.

It now seems that in many urban areas rogue, so called “landlords” are renting out “sheds with beds” without planning permission.

Aerial photographs of an area in Southall show back gardens full of shacks, which various newspapers claim have been built to cash in on immigrants coming to the UK looking for work. According to one report, in one such shed, four people living in it said they were paying £500 a month each.

In one interview with The Sun newspaper a spokesperson for Ealing Council identified this as a growing problem right across London.

But it seems the councils’ hands are somewhat tied because they have to give written notice of enforcement before they can enter a property. The “landords” simply then just remove the tenants and the beds making it very hard (at least according to the council) to prove the buildings are being used as accommodation.

Or the “landlords” often claim the person living in an outbuilding is a relative because family members may be permitted to stay in an outbuilding without planning permission being required, according to the councils.

However, one wonders how much checking of familial relationships the council is doing and whether perhaps in some cases it is being held back by a  fear of upsetting local community groups.

Slough and Ealing

The problem is also evident in Slough where council workers have identified and entered 2,000 suspected sheds with beds since 2009. In other boroughs too, the same problem has been reported.

According to one newspaper report, in the past 18 months, Ealing Council has carried out 399 investigations into outbuildings. Eleven enforcement notices have been issued, but only one person in the borough has been prosecuted for breaching a planning notice.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government confirmed that ministers are in discussion with local councils over this issue and added: “Local authorities already have a wide range of enforcement powers to clamp down on beds in sheds and take steps to ensure that people renting them are not exploited through living in poor or dangerous conditions.”

Obviously, it seems their enforcement powers need to be somewhat beefed up.

Clearly, good landlords would want no truck with this kind of behaviour.

Policy Levers

But what really worries the private rented sector is the concern that even if there was more control of private landlords activities in the private rented sector, then this sort of rogue behaviour would probably still be going on unchecked, whilst the law abiding private landlord majority would continue to pay their dues to whatever regulatory body was put in place.

In fact, this is exactly what has happened with the Scottish landlords’ registrations scheme – lots of money spent (£16m and counting as at April 2010), lots of new civil servants employed, lots of landlord “taxed” but only a handful of rogue “landlords” bought to book.

It’s always been our opinion that registration of landlords is OK, but only if councils are absolutely zealous in their attempts to close down rogue landlords for good.

And being zealous does not mean sitting and waiting for national newspapers to tell them something is wrong and then suddenly finding that they need more powers to act effectively.

Registration and Accreditation

As one Scottish landlord observed, “No tenant has ever asked me to prove I am registered” and as this English landlord says, “No tenant has ever asked if I am accredited.”

And yet, lots of money will doubtless continued to be sunk on the landlord registration scheme in Scotland and the landlord accreditation schemes in England and Wales.

Still, it keeps some civil servants in jobs I guess.

But the real shame is that while the civil servants huff and puff and tick the boxes on their wee registration schemes and their accredited landlord registers, the rogue “landlords” can continue to abuse the weakest tenants with impunity– all too often the illegal immigrants with little English and no rights.

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