There are been some interesting developments in the North of England. South Tyneside Council is calling for the introduction of Information Sharing Arrangements (ISA) in relation to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO). The idea is this may help tackle criminal activity in the region but there are concerns that it is overstepping privacy protection.
What are ISAs?
An ISA is a simple agreement between individual landlords, who own HMOs, and the police. This would allow information regarding tenants to be made available to the local police. A number of reasons have been put forward for the use of ISAs:-
• Protection for tenants living in unlicensed HMOs
• Protection for the local community from known criminals
• Saving time pursuing individuals who’ve left the property
On paper the idea of sharing information about tenants seems fairly straightforward, indeed some may wonder why it is not already mandatory. On the other hand, does this type of arrangement infringe the civil liberties/human rights of tenants? Could it possibly leave landlords open to legal action under data protection?
In this particular scenario an ISA would only be approved by the police on a case-by-case basis. If there was an open-ended arrangement with landlords then this is a different scenario. Either way, we are straying into a very difficult area of law.
Adding ISAs to council HMO licences
There is a suggestion that South Tyneside Council could look at making ISAs mandatory with all future council HMO licences. It would appear that in some areas of South Tyneside HMOs have been linked with antisocial behaviour and environmental health issues. There is however a danger; if incidents happened outside of these properties, but did not involve the individuals living there, this could unfairly sully the reputation of the landlord’s property.
This is a very difficult situation because you would expect that those living in HMOs would be known to the authorities via:-
• Electoral roll
• Benefit system
• Ownership of registered products such as vehicles
Would it not be easier for the police and council to gain authorised access to various government systems which would identify the whereabouts of those they are pursing? Is it also illegal not to be on the electoral roll?
More pressure on landlords
The very fact that a council is talking about the issue of ISAs and HMOs is concerning for landlords. Once they have the legal right to access information about tenants, where does it stop? There must also be consideration of additional time and money spent by landlords maintaining such records. Despite the fact the police suggest access to ISAs would stop them turning up at properties where suspects no longer live, it seems fairly obvious that certain properties may well be targeted by the authorities.
While in theory there are a number of perfectly valid reasons why the local authorities and police might want access to tenant information, surely the information should already be there on government systems? Bring landlords into the fold as “insiders” would not have a positive impact on tenant/landlord relationships. There must also be a whole array of potential legal issues regarding data protection, privacy and human rights?