The law is finally protecting renters from rogue landlords. Now ministers must enforce it

Most of these are nice guys, honest. Image: Getty.

With home ownership a distant dream for a growing number of people, and access to social housing increasingly rationed, more and more people are being forced to rent from a private landlord.

Life as a private tenant can be tough. In much of the country, rents are eye wateringly high and difficult to pay for even those on middle incomes. And our renting laws leave millions of families stuck in short-term tenancies, unable to put down roots in a home they know they will be able to live for the long-term.

But if that wasn’t bad enough, too often private renters get shoddy service. For too many that’s not having their basic rights met, but for some it’s criminal.

Research from Shelter reveals the extent of this problem, and shows that an estimated one million private renters have been victim of law-breaking landlords over the past year. When surveyed, the equivalent of over 600,000 renters say a landlord has entered their property without permission or notice, over 200,000 say they’ve been subjected to harassment, and shockingly 50,000 reported that their landlord has thrown their belongings out of their property and changed the locks.

Of course, only a minority of landlords engage in these illegal practices – but to date, far too many tenants have been forced to put up with them. Our advisers frequently hear from renters facing landlords looking to bend and break the law – and more often than not, renters feel vulnerable and powerless.

Take Linda from Chesterfield. After leaving a property she wanted her deposit back. She wasn’t having any joy, so used a template letter from Shelter’s website and contacted the landlord formally – which she did twice and was ignored both times.


Linda escalated the issue to the small claims court, followed a number of different legal routes and had to pay for legal advice in order to eventually get it back. You shouldn’t have to be a part-time housing lawyer to get your deposit back, and yet our survey shows that over 370,000 people over the last year have paid a deposit, which has not been protected by a government scheme.

Linda’s story also highlights that we’re not just talking about a London issue here, but a problem across England. Our survey showed that, whilst the highest proportion of complaints came from London, one in six renters from the East of England were victim to law breaking landlords, one in seven in the North East and one in eight in the South West.

New enforcement powers introduced earlier this year are an opportunity to really crack down on the rogue landlords who persist in the sector. For the first time, it is going to be possible to ban rogue landlords from letting out property. And, if they breach a ban, there will also be the new threat of a custodial sentence for the worst offenders.

Making legislation more robust in favour of renters is clearly a move in the right direction. Not only is it necessary in order to protect people, but it would be popular as generations slide back into a system of renting instead of home ownership.

There’s more that renters themselves can also do. What’s clear from our research is that renters too often don’t know their rights, and so power can weigh in favour of rogue and irresponsible landlords who know how to play the system and manipulate their tenants. Renters can change this by getting in touch with organisations like Shelter and understanding their rights and their legal situation more thoroughly.

Campbell Robb is chief executive of the housing charity Shelter.

This article was originally published on our sister site, the Staggers.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.