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Landlord registration facing major challenges

Figures that emerged during one of the first legal cases brought under the Housing (Wales) Act raise serious questions about the new system of landlord registration, says Steffan Evans.


Friday November 5th saw one of the first legal cases brought before the courts under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, Tovey v Rent Smart Wales. However, it emerged at the hearing that, with less than three weeks to go until the deadline for landlord registration under the Act, thousands of landlords remain unregistered, raising serious questions about the future of landlord registration in Wales.

The case, which appeared before the Residential and Property Tribunal was an appeal from a Mr and Mrs Tovey against the decision of Rent Smart Wales, the designated Licensing Authority for Wales, to reject their application for a Landlord Licence. The couple, who submitted their applications to Rent Smart Wales back in November 2015 had their application rejected as a result of Mr Tovey’s unspent previous convictions for fraud. Under section 20 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, Rent Smart Wales is permitted to reject applications for a Landlord Licence if an individual is not a fit and proper person. One ground upon which Rent Smart Wales is permitted to find an individual as not fit and proper is if they have an unspent convicted of fraud, or if they are associated with someone with such a conviction.

The appeal was brought before the tribunal on the grounds that Rent Smart Wales should consider all factors when deciding whether someone is a fit and proper person. Mr and Mrs Tovey argued that Rent Smart Wales should have considered their 11-year record as landlords of multiple properties in the Bridgend and Merthyr areas when making their decision. To date the couple are the only people who have been refused a Landlord Licence under the Act, and with the court returning a reserved judgment, we will have to wait a few weeks before finding out whether this remains the case. Information that emerged during the case however has cast a question over the effectiveness of the entire registration and licencing regime.

Under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 all landlords in Wales must register with Rent Smart Wales, whilst every landlord that wishes to carry out a landlord function must apply for a Landlord Licence. Under questioning from Mr and Mrs Tovey’s barrister, Rhys ab Owen Thomas of Iscoed Chambers, Angharad Thomas of Rent Smart Wales revealed that thousands of landlords still remain unregistered, with less than three weeks to go until the deadline for registration.

Not only does it appear that there will be thousands of landlords breaking the law by the end of the month, but further information revealed by Angharad Thomas would suggest that Rent Smart Wales is under-resourced to deal with the issue. Thomas revealed that there are only nine enforcement officers employed by Rent Smart Wales. It would appear to be a mammoth task for nine individuals to take action against the thousands of landlords who, it seems likely, will not be acting in compliance with the Act.

These revelations raise serious questions about the enforceability of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, suggesting that concerns raised by Jenny Rathbone at the National Assembly back in September over the low number of landlords who have registered with Rent Smart Wales remain unaddressed. With such a high number of landlords not in compliance with the legislation and Rent Smart Wales seemingly under-resourced, it appears likely that a large number of landlords will be able to operate under the radar, in breach of the legislation without any action being taken against them. This will rekindle concerns expressed during the Act’s formation that landlord registration and licensing will merely become an extra layer of red tape for good landlords, whilst bad ones continue to operate in breach of the law, without any consequences.

With less than three weeks to go until the deadline for registration there would appear to be an urgent need for Rent Smart Wales and the Welsh Government to review all the options available to them so as to ensure that landlord registration and licensing is introduced effectively. With such a high number of landlords still unregistered it may even be necessary to extend the deadline for registration, so that a more rigorous communications strategy can be pursued to boost compliance. Whatever approach that the Welsh Government and Rent Smart Wales choose to adopt, if there is not a significant increase in the number of landlords that have registered with Rent Smart Wales, the scheme would appear set for failure.

Steffan Evans is a PhD student at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University

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