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Over 300 landlords prosectued in licensing areas

Tom Wall17/12/2013 - 13:00

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The government is reviewing the rented sector
The government is reviewing the rented sector

A special EHN investigation has revealed that the 16 English local authorities with selective licensing regimes have prosecuted 217 landlords for failing to obtain a licence and 87 landlords for HMO and hazard offences.

EHN surveyed the authorities and discovered that selective licensing schemes are being used to fund the recruitment of housing officers, to drive up standards and to prosecute hundreds of rogue landlords. At least three other authorities are consultation on introducing selective licensing schemes.

Bob Mayho, CIEH principal policy officer, said: ‘The survey shows an increasing number of local authorities are considering going down the selective licensing route to tackle areas of deprivation, low demand and poor quality housing.’

Stephen Battersby, former CIEH president and chair of National Private Tenants Organisation, said: ‘The survey seems to indicate that selective licensing was an an effective tool to improve conditions in the private rented sector and reduce anti-social behaviour.’

Map of local authoraties with selective licensing. Click on the pins for details. 


Since 2004 councils have been able to establish selective licensing schemes, which require all private landlords to obtain a licence, in areas blighted by low housing demand or significant and persistent anti-social behaviour.

Newham took more legal action than any other council. Since its selective regime came into force in January it has prosecuted 74 landlords for license offences and 63 landlords for other offences under Parts 1 and 2 of the Housing Act 2004.

Leeds, which introduced its scheme in October 2009, prosecuted 42 landlords for license offences and six for HMO and hazard offences. Only Hartlepool, Hyndburn and Bristol have not prosecuted any landlords. Durham did not repond to the survey.

Six of the authorities have self-financing fee structures, which have enabled them to recruit 28 additional housing officers. Blackpool, which charges £670 for its licences, recruited eight extra housing officers and Newham, which charges £500 for its licences, has recruited six extra housing officers. Thanet has also recruited six officers. Blackburn, Gateshead, Hyndburn, Wolverhampton, Sunderland, Salford and Stoke did not employ additional members of staff.

Most of the councils surveyed provided evidence that selective licensing had driven up management and property standards in the private rented sector. Leeds, which has one scheme covering 1,812 properties in the Cross Green and East End Park area of the city, said enforcement action had forced a minority of landlords to ‘sell their properties and leave the area’.

There is now ‘less churn of properties in the area’ and ‘void rates have slightly reduced’. Evidence also indicates fewer incidents of anti-social behavior in the area and waste, fly-tipping and graffiti complaints have fallen.

Stoke, which has one scheme covering 900 homes in the Tunstall area of the city, said all landlords have had to pass a ‘fit and proper person test’. Nearly all the properties in the licensing area had either category 1 or 2 hazards so action was taken against the landlords.

‘Only three landlords have had to have an improvement notice served on them for failing to carry out the works, all other landlords have completed or are completing repair work.’

Blackburn, which has three selective licensing schemes, said it had inspected all licensed properties and has required landlords to carry out work in a large number. All landlords have been required to meet gas safety and electrical safety minimum standards.

Hartlepool said statistical analysis indicated that there had been a reduction in anti-social behaviour, a reduction in long-term empty homes and a reduction in the number of complaints about disrepair and housing.

Newcastle, which has two schemes, said a number of landlords had sold their properties and ‘more reliable landlords’ have started to carry out refurbishment works.

‘Thirteen properties have been the subject of management orders, one was sold as a consequence, the remainder have had fit and proper property managers appointed. Landlords are keen to work with the council and we have had fewer complaints about property conditions and management practices since licensing standards were introduced.’

Middlesbrough said the number of anti social behavior incidents fell by 26 per cent between 2006 and 2008

Blackpool said a number of landlords failed its ‘fit and proper person’ test and the inspection programme led to improved conditions.

Gateshead, which has three schemes, said the turnover of residents in the licensing area has reduced over the five-year period and that the number of empty properties in the area has nearly halved.

Anti social behavior rates have reduced and the number of properties that meet the decent home standard has increased.

Sheffield, Waltham Forest and Peterborough are currently considering introducing selective licensing regimes.

Despite selective licensing being used to raise standards, Mr Mayho warned that the process was too costly and bureaucratic.

‘Many colleagues working to improve standards in the private rented sector tell us that the licensing approach is fraught with difficulties and carries with it high levels of bureaucratic burden,’ he said.

The government is considering the licensing regime as part of a review of conditions in the PRS.

‘We would urge that they bring forward proposals to ease the operation of the licensing framework and reduce costs and bureaucracy. Councils should also be allowed, in line with the principles of localism, to determine the criteria by which they might declare selective licensing schemes,’ said Mr Mayho.

According to Mr Battersby selective licensing is one of the tools that can be used to protect tenants in the private rented sector.

‘Authorities should consider whether it would be appropriate for them. It should certainly not be dismissed out of hand,’ he said.

But he warned that selective licensing could not be used to fund recruitment.

‘I do not think you can use selective licensing to bolster recruitment, but to be effective the authorities need to have the right staffing levels to ensure effective implementation of the regime.’

The survey, he added, raised some interesting questions, which should prompt further research.

‘Why some local authorities have taken a substantial number of prosecutions and others have not? And how many bad landlords have been "squeezed" out of the market, and indeed whether the same outcomes could have been achieved by other means?’

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