Selective Licensing is a hot topic in East London. Across London, we have seen a few examples of local authorities using this discretionary power and we thought we had escaped the worst.
The London Borough of Newham had piloted a selective licensing scheme in a few streets of the borough comprising Little Ilford from 2009. They reported considerable improvements around dumping and anti social behaviour, crime and prostitution and an overall improved street scene – plus improvements to housing standards.
Little did we know they had plans to expand the scheme to become borough-wide.
At an NLA meeting in Stratford in November last year, a number of landlords challenged the Mayor of Newham about choosing the whole of the borough for selective licensing when the legislation was intended to be applied to a select neighbourhood. Sir Robin Wales replied that Newham was a selective part of London. This is an imaginative interpretation of the legislation and some landlords in the borough are considering a legal challenge. We all await the outcome with considerable anxiety and I have started buying in neighbouring Waltham Forest instead. But I may not have escaped as there is a considerable likelihood of contagion to other boroughs.
Some of my colleagues across the regions have argued that selective licensing targeted at a particular problem locality can be beneficial. But were these powers really intended to become a back door route to blanket landlord licensing?
I don’t think they were.
And many landlords in Newham like me, who provide good quality homes for local residents, resent the bureaucracy, intrusion and expense that we are to be burdened with, so that the local authority can root out bad practice.
Back in 2009, the Rugg Review of the private rented sector proposed a light touch licensing scheme, where landlords could be given a registration number that could be revoked if they failed to meet legal requirements. The idea was we would pay a small fee to register online and it would be administered centrally. If there is a strong public demand for landlords to be licensed, at least I can see the logic behind such an approach.
Selective licensing used in this blanket approach, on the other hand, leaves landlords paying a license fee of £150 per property. And there is the question of administration:
– How can a borough like Newham possibly visit all 40,000 rented properties?
– Shouldn’t resources be targeted at finding the rogues and robustly applying existing enforcement powers?
It seems to me using existing selective licensing powers for blanket licensing of landlords is an abuse of the current legislation which distracts focus from the real, pressing questions:
– Should landlords be licensed at all?
– Are local authorities using it as a distraction from their failure to root out bad landlords with their enforcement powers?
– What good does it actually do?
My gut feeling is the demand for licensing is driven by the commonly accepted stereotype that we are all in it for the money and don’t give a damn about our tenants. Unfortunately, some local authority environmental health staff who spend most of their time dealing with bad landlords start to believe that we’re all the same.
I don’t want to be licensed. I want to work to shift this stereotype and help other landlords be an effective part of the housing solution in the UK.
Is it not better to compel landlords to learn and change than to simply be counted and regulated? Blanket licensing is not good policy, it is dogma.