Derbyshire Dales is one of 53 council areas which has not prosecuted a single residential landlord in three years – but there’s more to the story.
The district council’s head of regulatory services – which includes housing – Tim Braund, says that despite October’s Guardian article pointing the finger at the council, the devil is in the details.
The national newspaper had requested details on the number of landlord prosecutions between 2015 and 2017 and for the number of “non-decent” homes in each council’s jurisdiction.
Non decent homes, as defined by central government, are those which are “not in a reasonable state of repair, don’t have reasonably modern facilities and services, or have ineffective insulation or heating”.
One in five people in the UK are thought to live in homes classed as “non decent” during the past three years.
Mr Braund, in an exclusive chat with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, said that many of the non-decent homes in the district were simply older properties which had not been upgraded to have all the facilities which modern housing is expected to have.
He also said that despite the authority not prosecuting any bad or rogue landlords, it does frequently intervene on housing issues.
Mr Braund said that there is a lack of private landlords in the district because of its older population, more rural location, but more than anything else, its lack of students needing accommodation for a nearby university or college.
However, he says the largest issue is that to make a formal complaint about a private landlord, and have the council step in to carry out an inspection, the landlord has to be notified and given the chance to be present during the visit.
He says this has put off many tenants from making formal complaints.
Mr Braund also says that many of the complaints raised by tenants fall back on poor upkeep by the residents themselves.
This could be as a result of frequently drying clothes on radiators, causing dampness to spread, or rarely opening windows, leading to issues prompted by poor ventilation.
He says the council is always eager to advise residents on how to maintain their homes to prevent issues such as these.
The Derbyshire Dales has an estimated 12,410 non decent homes, all private sector housing, as of the last survey – conducted in 2009.
All the district and borough councils are currently taking part in a new survey to update this figure, and to work out the housing needs of the county.
In the past year, the district council has received 26 housing complaints, most of which are not in the private sector.
Following on from these, and after being informed that the landlord must be notified, three inspections were carried out by the district council.
Alongside this, the authority has served two notices, one of which was an emergency prohibition order, placed on the home of an elderly lady.
Mr Braund said that the house which was served with the latter order was within five miles of Matlock and was in “such a bad condition that you wouldn’t keep a cow there”.
He said that the lady had been placed in another home and that the site would be sold off.
Another site, also within five miles of Matlock, was visited as part of a police operation.
Mr Braund said that the visit to the building, which was not a house, was “part of a modern slavery investigation”.
He said it was being used to house “legitimate migrant labour” who were “being mistreated”.
The building cannot now be used to provide housing.
Mr Braun says that the decent housing standard was first put in place under the Tony Blair administration.
He says it was “a really good idea” to set a standard.
Mr Braun said: “To fall into the category of non decent, the house must need repairs which currently impact on health and safety, but also includes houses which do not have a reasonably modern bathroom or kitchen, and don’t have a reasonable level of thermal comfort, linked to issues with fuel poverty.
“Many of the homes in the Derbyshire Dales fall into this category due to their age, lots were built in the early 20th century and don’t have access to cheaper forms of fuel, such as gas, and are also much harder to heat and keep warm.
“In Chelmorton and Doveridge, they don’t get any gas, they have to opt for electricity, which is more expensive, so these homes could be classed as non-decent.”
Mr Braund says it is often a lack of double glazing – causing the house to be inefficient in retaining energy – which leads it to being classed as non decent.
He says that there is a housing health and safety rating system which ensures that houses have to be “fit for habitation” and “free from hazards”.
If these issues are found lacking in any house in the district, orders will be served on the owners.
He says: “Most of our private landlords own two, three or four houses, and they all do their best, but sometimes their best isn’t good enough.”
Mr Braund said that there had been aid provided by central government to make improvements to private housing – but that this has “all dried up”.
He says when housing complaints relate to poor upkeep by the tenant “it is not always an easy conversation”, but that the authority’s staff work with them to quash the issues.
Mr Braund said: “At the end of the day, we are no better or worse than any other council, and we have a service here to help people.
“It is a service I am quite proud of and we do what we can with the available resources.
“I would love to have a larger team which can afford to be proactive and not reactive, and go around to every house, but that just isn’t the case.”
A spokesperson for the authority said: “A rogue landlord has been defined as one who consistently flouts his or her legal responsibilities. We have a small private rented sector in the Derbyshire Dales that to some extent caters to the needs of more affluent renters.
“These tend not to cause any problems as the market regulates itself.
“Any issues with individual rented properties are dealt with as they arise and we are fortunate that we are able to work with them in most cases.
“Where appropriate, we serve enforcement notices and ensure that they are complied with, but the fact is that none of this has needed to progress to court.
“We are very different to an authority that has masses of private rented property for (say) the student sector.”
Derbyshire Dales residents who live in private-rented properties can contact the district council with their concerns by emailing email@example.com.