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Engaging and Communicating with Landlords

Communication increases compliance and helps prevent costly enforcement action

An obvious priority is being able to identify and communicate effectively with landlords.

Benefits

  • Communicating with landlords to inform them of their responsibilities can lead to greater legislative compliance
  • Greater compliance and highlighting issues early can prevent the need for costly enforcement action

Challenges

With the private rented sector growing and the majority of landlords having small portfolios, with 1 or 2 properties, the scale of the task of engaging and communicating with landlords in a local authority area can seem daunting.

There is also the challenge of landlords that are disengaged from the local authority, both those that are trying to avoid detection and registration, and those that are ignorant and unaware of the regulations that they need to follow.

Who are your landlords?

You may not know who all the landlords are in your area. Consulting your database on registered landlords can provide many of their details, however you may want to take steps to find out if there are any unregistered landlords operating and then contact them too. You could do to this by:

  • Collecting data from other services at your local authority (e.g. the council tax or housing benefit teams or from information provided by tenants accessing advice services)
  • Searching advertisements for tenants placed by landlords and comparing their names to your registration database. Two of the more frequently used places to check would be Gumtree and Facebook
  • Advertising the PLSO contact details for tenants to report unregistered landlord themselves

There are also commercial suppliers such as GetRentr operating out of England but covering the whole of the UK, have started to provide services to help local authorities by collecting and using data to help quickly identify potential bad landlords.

The Local Borough of Brent is currently running a pilot study to help identify landlords by recruiting ‘champions’ in charities and community groups working with hard-to-reach communities. They are equipping and training these champions to be able to provide information to those they work with about tenant rights and local authority powers.

Pressure on resources

Pressures on resources can make it difficult for individual authorities to engage with landlords beyond core enforcement duties. Some routes of contact and methods of communication are more labour intensive than others but, there are positive examples across Scotland of authorities collaborating on a regional basis to deliver joint communications to landlords.

Checklists

Sample checklists for a range of topics are already available in the resources section of this toolkit to save you time and can be tailored to your local needs and emailed to landlords or provided at face-to-face events/meetings.

Sharing of resources

Event costs

For example, the three Ayrshires hold annual Pan-Ayrshire:

  • Landlord forums
  • Tenant forums

The Pan Ayrshire Landlord Forum has been opened up to Dumfries and Galloway landlords in 2019 and it will be called the South West Scotland Landlord Forum. They also hold a Regional Forum which consists of the three Ayrshires and Dumfries and Galloway which feeds into the Scotland Housing Network National Landlord Registration Group.

Training

Some local authorities utilise training provided by Landlord Accreditation Scotland which is an organisation that offers dedicated training for landlords and letting agents and can arrange for training sessions for landlords to be held in your area.

Dundee offer training places to landlords in neighbouring local authorities too – as well as being a good way to share resources, this offers landlords operating across different local authority areas, more convenient locations and dates/times to suit their needs.

Dundee City Council is happy for letting agents to attend their training too as it acts as an incentive for the agent to remain registered with the local authority, in addition to the Scotland wide Letting Agent Register. This offers Dundee City Council an easy method of keeping a record of who is responsible for the management of properties in Dundee.

Knowledge

In London, local authorities have developed a pan-London ‘rogue landlords database’ to share information about landlords who have not complied with the relevant standards. This helps to decrease the problems caused by landlords who operate across multiple areas. There is currently a pilot study running in Manchester which is looking at how to increase the involvement of tenants experiences and opinions in the running of the PRS. It is hoped that an increase in collaborative working, including tenants’ voices, will lead to raised standards in the PRS. Interventions like this will usually require seed funding to establish their potential benefits, and funding may be available from institutions such as the Nationwide Foundation.

General Data Protection Regulation

Even if there is the will and resource available to invest in communicating with landlords, staff can face challenges around General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Particularly with the newer GDPR rules, no central guidance is available on application of the rules regarding contacting landlords.

Interpretation must be made at a local authority level, in consultation with Data Protection colleagues. However, the Statutory Guidance notes that many local authorities consider that the legislative duty to provide advice and assistance does provide the legal basis for approaches such as mass emails.

With the “opt in” emphasis of GDPR staff should utilise each opportunity through all routes of contact to gain permission from landlords for their details to be stored and to specify how they can be contacted for the purposes of providing resources, advice and information about their duties as landlords.

A simple email to the landlords on a local authority’s register asking for opt-in for more general information could easily create a spreadsheet of landlords happy to be contacted.

You can download a template landlord database declaration to use to gather landlord details and their authorisation to contact them in connection with relevant matters.

Reducing enforcement by achieving greater compliance

Enforcement of PRS regulations is undoubtedly a key role that local authorities have. However, if it is possible to avoid enforcement by ensuring compliance, local authorities can directly save resource as well as prevent problems for both landlords and tenants.

The Scottish Regulator’s ‘Strategic Code of Practice’ highlights that “regulators should be enablers and carry out their activity in a way that helps businesses and regulated bodies to comply and also grow sustainably”. The Code of Practice suggests taking a ‘preventative approach’ and ‘tackling problems early’. This can guide and provide a rationale for local authorities increasing early engagement with landlords – thus reducing the need for enforcement actions.

Where enforcement has become unavoidable, you may wish to consult ‘Section 7 – Enforcement’ in the Scottish Government’s document ‘Landlord Registration: statutory guidance for local authorities 2017’

Success

To overcome these challenges and be successful in fulfilling your wider help and advice role, local authorities will need to:

  • use multiple points of contact
  • adopt different methods of communication
  • promote engagement as an attractive option, including any incentives you are able to offer

As with local authority budgets and capacity, PRS markets vary across the country. Using local and market knowledge, reflect on the list below to identify which options would be most effective for providing help and advice to your landlords locally:

Routes of Contact

Landlord Registration

As a first port of call local authorities can provide good practice advice and offer assistance to landlords during the registration application and renewal processes. This may also present an opportunity to provide landlords with leaflets or information on managing and improving tenancies.

However, you may benefit from finding alternative ways to find and engage with landlords in your area. If landlords find it easier to contact you they are more likely to highlight issues before they become too serious.

As long as you comply with GDPR, you could contact landlords on your registration database to inform them about local forums, training sessions or accreditation opportunities.

Landlord Forums

Several local authorities host forums for landlords, with relevant speakers, resources, networking opportunities, Q&A sessions and an important face-to-face opportunity for landlords to connect with local authority officers. You could try partnering with neighbouring authorities as with some of the examples above, particularly when landlords regularly have properties in more than one authority area.

Training Sessions and Webinars

When appropriately pitched to meet a need for landlords, providing training sessions and webinars (particularly where large numbers of landlords don’t live locally) can be a great way to both upskill the sector and encourage engagement. You may want to partner with Landlord Accreditation Scotland to help put on suitable training.

Accreditation Opportunities

Not all landlords will be interested in accreditation, but where possible authorities can positively support those that are interested to achieve a recognised standard, pushing up standards and promoting the authority as a source of help for the sector.

may want to consider providing additional benefits for landlords to gain accreditation, for example Dundee City Council allows landlords who undertake accreditation to advertise on their council’s Homefinders webpages.

Online letting sites

Increasingly informal sites such as Gumtree are used by landlords to advertise properties. Shelter’s PLSOs found making contact through the websites and describing the support that they could offer to be a useful way to engage with those that wouldn’t normally approach a local authority. 

Methods of Communication

Social Media

Promoting help and advice available on existing local authority social media channels can be an effective way to reach a new audience, particularly ‘accidental’ landlords who may not proactively be looking for information or resources.

Email

Sending out regular newsletters with sector updates and links to resources is a relatively easy and cheap way to reach a potentially very wide audience. For Shelter’s PSLO, responding to newsletters was the most common way for landlords to connect with the service. However you will need to ensure that your contact list complies with GDPR.

Council website

If your authority does not already provide help and advice for landlords on easily searchable and accessible web pages, it is worth considering whether this could be an option. Why not adapt some of the resources from this website and make them available?

Face-to-face

Creating opportunities for authority teams to meet landlords, such as through forums, has been found to be very important in breaking down barriers and encouraging take-up of the full range of resources that are offered.

Mail

When sending out letters to landlords during the registration process there is the opportunity to add in information about the support and advice that you are providing for landlords and other pathways for engagement. Stories of good practice alongside examples of successful enforcement action can encourage landlords to ensure that what they are doing is up to scratch.

Diagram showing increased communications leading to improved private rented sector conditions

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