Rogue landlords who exploit vulnerable tenants should face having their properties confiscated, an influential committee of MPs has recommended.
The most vulnerable tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory evictions, rent increases and harassment so they can pursue complaints about repairs and maintenance in their homes, according to a report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.
Chairman Clive Betts said: "We've focused on the minority of people in properties which don't meet the decent home standard, that's a quarter of properties.
"The really bad landlords are letting properties in really poor condition and in some cases are putting the health and the lives of tenants are risk.
"So in those cases we want to see tougher action against them, higher fines and ultimately – for the really bad landlords – let's confiscate them so they don't use the property in future to make ill-gotten gains at the expense of their tenants and the expense of the public."
The committee heard how, in some areas, up to 25 people could be found living in houses with just three bedrooms, while some landlords are charging rent of up to £500 for a bed in a room with four bunk beds.
"There are plenty of good and very good landlords out there, the problem is with the bad ones who are making life a misery for people," said Hannah Williams, who set up a website called RentalRaters.com where tenants leave feedback about landlords and their properties.
"This could be a watershed moment for the rental sector. Having the power to confiscate a property from a terrible landlord really does shift the power imbalance."
Rent increases, harassment and retaliatory evictions are just some of the ways rogue landlords can make life extremely difficult for tenants.
"The key thing really is about enforcing what laws are already out there, and this report picks up on the fact there's a lack of appetite and there's a lack of resourcing to actually take the rules and regulations that currently exist," said Douglas Haig from the Residential Landlords Association.
"There's nearly 150 acts with 400 regulations around the private rented sector in general, so it's not like there's a dearth of legislation protecting people. We support anything that is going to enable systems effectively without too huge a cost for the compliant landlords to find and get rid of those bad landlords."
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The committee also heard evidence that some local authorities have insufficient resources to undertake their enforcement duties.
It found that six out of 10 councils did not prosecute a single landlord in 2016.