ROGUE landlords across Oxford have been warned after housing bosses vowed to use £30,000 fines to drive them out of business.

The new powers mean landlords who flout health and safety rules can now face penalties without a hearing in court.

Oxford City Council said it marked a major change in the battle against poor living conditions, with the authority pledging to aggressively police standards.

Enforcement boss Ian Wright said yesterday: "The era of the rogue landlord is coming to an end.

"We've been handed these new powers to put them out of business – and that is what we are going to do.

"We will force them out of Oxford. Anyone who thought they could stay under the radar will not be able to do so anymore."

Under the changes, introduced after the Government passed the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local authorities can for the first time impose fines of up to £30,000 on landlords for a range of housing offences.

This could include failing to improve a property or stop overcrowding after a notice from the council, failing to have a correct licence for a house in multiple occupation (HMO) or failing to follow HMO rules.

The fines will not require a criminal prosecution, with the council able to issue them if it has 'sufficient evidence'. The council will serve a notice of intent and invite representations, before a final notice and financial penalty can then be issued.

Landlords have the option to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal and, if the fine still goes unpaid, the council can then apply to the county court for an order requiring payment.

Inspectors have discovered cockroach infestations, damp, electrical hazards and poor fire safety in some of the homes across the city.

Last year there were 27 prosecutions in the city compared to one on average per council in England.

In December one landlord was fined £9,000 after failing to keep a property safe. Maria Rosa De Simone Ramjohn admitted neglecting her East Oxford property and putting tenants at risk of injury, breaching housing regulations 14 times.

Mr Wright said there were thought to be 17,000 privately-rented properties in Oxford – about 30 per cent of homes – and of these 5,000 are estimated to be HMOs. About 1,000 are thought to be unlicensed.

But he said 'strong messages' were now coming from central Government, adding: "There is a perception that the private rented sector has become out of control and rogue landlords are making far too much money – we have seen evidence of that in parts of Oxford.

"These changes are great news for tenants."

In a further tough change, he added, landlords could also face rent repayment orders for up to 12 months if they are found to have illegally evicted tenants, harassed them, used violence to enter properties or failed to comply with an improvement notice.

Landlord and developer Robin Swailes, whose company North Oxford Property Services manages more than 800 homes, said the measures would send a 'clear message'.

He added: "It is draconian changes, but I think it's required.

"The council has got a big stick to hit rogue landlords with and it should improve the standards and quality of properties.

"There are also carrots too, because if you are an upstanding landlord then the city council's HMO licensing scheme means you do not have to have inspections as often.

"But many people buy property as an investment for their pension and they will be very aware that if getting hit with a £30,000 fine means they would be making a loss for a considerable amount of time."

Andy Edwards, a member of Kindling Housing Co-Operative, said the changes were 'extremely positive'.

The East Oxford resident recently linked up with other young professionals to buy a six-bedroom home, after having bad experiences with HMO landlords.

The 31-year-old said: "Anything that redresses the balance of power between landlords and tennants is always welcome, but with something like this the concern is always going to be about whether the risk is just passed on through extra costs.

"What would be better is if councils could consider more alternative types of housing, such as co-ops, which mean tennants do not have to rely on someone who is letting for personal or private gain."