Industry News

Councils step up action against private landlords


ocal authorities across the country are ramping up the pressure on rogue landlords in a concerted effort to improve

property conditions and information for tenants. Among the councils at the forefront of recent

initiatives are Greenwich and Newham in east London, Leeds and Wolverhampton. In some instances, schemes are being designed with representatives of good PRS landlords. In the capital, Greenwich has approved an

extension of its licensing scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), with increased charges and a wider coverage of properties. Meanwhile their near neighbours at Newham Council are demanding additional freedom and powers over bad landlords in its campaign to improve the standard of rented housing in the borough. Newham already has an enviable record of

tackling landlords who flout safety considerations and put tenants’ lives at risk. But the future of its boroughwide licensing

scheme is at risk and the council is demanding that ministers allow local politicians and local people the powers to put rogue landlords out of business. In the last four years Newham has prosecuted

over 1,000 landlords and issued 415 cautions. It has also reclaimed nearly £2.5m in unpaid council tax.

Extended licensing Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said that

Whitehall should not decide how local councils take action against bad landlords. “The Newham experiment has shown that with political will, local authorities using local knowledge, local staff and local enforcement are the best placed to police the public rented sector – and drive rogue landlords out of business.” South of the Thames, Greenwich is looking to

follow suit by extending its HMO licensing scheme borough-wide and applying licensing to all HMOs, including house and flat shares occupied by three or more people who are not all related, even if they occupy the property on a single tenancy. The scheme also includes properties referred

to as ‘section 257 HMOs’ which are buildings converted into self-contained flats where less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied. An estimated 6,500 properties will need to be

licensed under the additional licensing scheme which comes into force on 1 October 2017. It follows a public consultation from November 2016 to February 2017 which attracted over 300 responses but demonstrated a huge divergence in opinions. Almost 80 per cent of landlords and letting agents that responded were opposed, while the public gave it 80 per cent support. New licensing fees have more than doubled

as they rise from £144.23 for each bedroom in a HMO, to a new fee of £377 per habitable room making them the second highest fees in

London, just behind Lewisham. The council says a reduced fee of £116 per habitable room could apply if all discounts are applied.

Incentives In the north, Leeds City Council is hoping a

mixture of carrot and stick will work after launching a new ‘light regulatory touch’ rental standard for all private sector properties in the city – allowing it to focus its resources on tackling rogue landlords and poorly maintained properties. The new scheme was launched in May after

the council worked with several landlord bodies (including the NLA, the RLA and Unipol Student Homes) to develop a single overarching standard to sit alongside existing recognised accreditation schemes. The council will now concentrate its

regulatory resources on those landlords who showed no sign of meeting the standards voluntarily and taking action against rogue landlords through a new Rogue Landlord Unit. By signing up to the new rental standard,

landlords will benefit from lower licensing and regulatory fees, as well as access to council officers for expert advice and support. Other benefits include access to the Leeds

Homes newsletter to advertise their properties, business parking permits for landlords and free disposal of tenant generated waste at council amenity sites. It also allows landlords access to the council’s Private Tenant Letting Scheme, which can help find tenants for empty homes.

Star ratings In the west midlands, Wolverhampton City

Council has launched a ‘Rent with Confidence’ star rating scheme to help tenants make informed choices about the quality of private landlords’ accommodation and the services

they offer. ‘Rent with Confidence’ was piloted a year ago

with the aim of encouraging greater customer choice and to raise living standards. It followed a review of private rented sector housing in the city conducted two years earlier. Its most visual aspect is a five-star rating

system, similar to schemes used by councils and the Food Standards Agency to rate restaurants and fast food takeaways. Ratings are published on the website for tenants and landlords to view, along with up-to-date information on legal notices served on landlords. The rating system is based on five key

principles: the property, its maintenance, legal compliance of the property and the landlord, continued professional development and the landlord’s investment in the city. Each element is weighted and added together providing a final score and associated star rating. The best landlords are highlighted and

education and support, where required, is provided to help them maintain and improve their top star status. At the other end of the spectrum, rogue and criminal landlords are being hit by a more robust enforcement policy and further use of the council’s legal powers. So far almost 650 properties and more than 200 landlords have been star-rated in the first six months of the programme since its launch. Stars are awarded to landlords who comply

with the law and who rent out property above the minimum statutory standards, with financial incentives for five-star landlords. Three to five-star landlords are given access to

a new property website portal, where only council-approved properties are advertised. The council will be looking to work with star-

rated landlords to provide a wider private rented offer in the city that residents feel confident renting from. | HMM July 2017 | 19

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