Fines of up to £30,000 can now be handed out to landlords in Peterborough by the city council.
The authority has taken advantage of new government powers as it continues to target rogue landlords following the introduction of a licensing scheme in December 2016.
The introduction of ‘civil penalties’ means the council can avoid taking landlords through court if it believes they have committed certain offences under the 2004 Housing Act.
However, government guidance states that the maximum £30,000 fine be “reserved for the very worst offenders”.
The council said: “The use of civil penalties should provide the council with a more cost effective and proportionate alternative to prosecution for the specified housing offences, whilst retaining the option to prosecute for the most serious offences or for repeat offenders.”
Landlords can be fined for: failing to comply with an Improvement Notice, failing to comply with management regulations of an HMO, contravening an overcrowding notice or offences in relation to licensing of HMOs or houses.
Money collected in fines can only be spent on enforcement in the private rental sector. The landlord or property agent will have the right of appeal against a civil penalty to the First-Tier Tribunal which can confirm, quash, vary, or cancel the civil penalty imposed by the council.
The same criminal standard of proof is required for a civil penalty as for prosecution. This means that before taking formal action the council should satisfy itself that if the case were to be prosecuted in the magistrates’ court there would be a realistic prospect of conviction.
The authority would need to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that the offence had been committed.
The new civil penalties follow the introduction of selective licensing which forced landlords in Central, North, East, Park, Fletton, Bretton North, Stanground Central, Walton and Orton Longueville parts of the city to pay for a five-year licence for each of their properties.
Selective licensing came into force in a bid to tackle rogue landlords, but its introduction was met with dismay from many Peterborough landlords who felt they were being unfairly penalised.