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Rogue Landlords Who Rent Out ‘Tiny’ Studio Flats to be Investigated

Rogue Landlords Who Rent Out ‘Tiny’ Studio Flats to be Investigated

The chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee has pledged to investigate private landlords who are renting out miniscule-sized flats to homeless people.

Clive Betts told the BBC that the practice, which involves landlords converting family homes into several flats and renting them out to homeless people on housing benefit, was “an abuse of the system.”

A BBC investigation uncovered that the practice means properties in London’s outer zones were more expensive to rent per square foot than those in upmarket inner London areas, such as Chelsea and Kensington.

The investigation suggests that landlords are exploiting a loophole that enables them to avoid the need for planning permission by installing a sink in each room, allowing the rooms to be registered as independent studio flats.

Landlords pocket housing benefits due to loophole

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents over 370 councils in England and Wales, has previously criticised the legal loophole that enables landlords to convert rooms in a house into tiny “flats” and rent them out to members of the public in order to receive large housing benefit payments which are paid directly to landlords on behalf of tenants.

The LGA said that the loophole allows landlords to avoid detection while also subjecting housing tenants to poor and often dangerous living conditions.

Landlords do not currently require planning permission to convert a house into shared accommodation for up to six people if they fit the rooms with cooking equipment and en-suite showers. However, the electricity supplied to each dwelling is often run on hot-wired supplies, creating serious fire hazards for residents.

The conversion of rooms into “single studio flats” by these landlords is believed to be one of the main reasons behind them garnering a total £9.3bn in housing benefit in 2015 – double that of the £4.6bn total pocketed in 2006.

Call for prison sentences for rogue landlords

The LGA has called on the government to enforce prison sentences for the worst cases, instead of subjecting offenders to fines, which often amount to only £1,000 in situations where the health and safety of tenants has been put at risk.

It said that the financial gains to be had from the exploitation of the loophole ensured that the cost of the fines to landlords was of little deterrent.

‘Reputation of good landlords is being tarnished’

Commenting on the abuse of the legal loophole by landlords, LGA housing spokesperson Judith Blake said: “No landlord can act outside the law and councils will do everything in their powers to ensure tenants can live in rented properties safe in the knowledge that local authorities are there to protect them.”

“However, the reputations of all good landlords are being tarnished by the bad ones and councils are being let down by the current system. Legislation is not keeping pace with the ingenuity of landlords to exploit loopholes which need to be closed as soon as possible. Legislation needs to be more joined up to prevent some landlords taking advantage of people at the sharp end of our housing crisis,” she said.

She added: “Giving councils powers to be able to build more affordable homes is likely to be more successful at meeting necessary standards than the private rental sector, and help reduce the risk of tenants falling victim to potentially tragic and preventable consequences due to unscrupulous landlords . . . Councils won’t hesitate to take irresponsible landlords to court for blatantly failing to comply with housing laws and any tenants who suspect their landlord of criminal behaviour or who have been evicted illegally should contact the housing team at their local council.”

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