Guest blog: “Mandatory licensing could be the way forward”

Sharon Crossland of Leasehold Life shares her opinions on Selective Licensing in Newham

In response to NLA Representative, Richard Blanco’s blog post about selective licencing in East London, Sharon Crossland of Leasehold Life has a different opinion to share…

Whilst I don’t want to get involved in the potentially legal quagmire of having to determine whether the Mayor of Newham’s opinion of the borough being selective is reason enough to extend such licencing, the view that licencing simply punishes good landlords is over-simplistic.

Firstly, getting councils to use their existing enforcement powers fails to affect the vast majority of private landlords because of the simple fact that selective licencing has received hardly any uptake (around 13 out of 300 local authorities) and the only other residential properties that are required to be licensed are Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) . Therefore, by default, landlords of these properties are already required to work closely with local authorities, but what about the rest of the sector?

The lower end of the Private Rental Sector (PRS) in which I work is riddled with landlords who DON’T want to learn, let alone change, and they THRIVE in the fact that they can operate outside of the council’s radar. This visibility issue is one that the Rugg Review proposals sought to address. So, before I again hear the argument that a licence will penalise the good landlords, and that education and accreditation is the way forward, please spare me.

I have a particularly nasty so-called ‘rogue’ landlord on my private block. The council issued a Prohibition Order Notice on it which rendered the flat unfit for human habitation. There is no electricity and it has a Category 1 Fire Hazard due to the fact that the tenant is an alcoholic and uses candles for light. He is also in charge of a gas ring. Unfortunately the Notice wasn’t actually enforced and so he is still in situ whilst the council deliberate as to whether to prosecute the landlord for breaching the Notice.

Incidentally, this same “industry professional” was convicted of being a slum landlord by Newham Council last year and fined £8,000. If licencing had been in place I could have linked Walthan Forest Council to Newham a lot quicker than finding the link between the two on the internet. This lack of licencing demonstrates how such landlords are able to operate with impunity across boroughs with no one being any the wiser.

It is only through my knowledge of the PRS that I can approach my local authority for assistance under certain elements of landlord and tenant legislation but taking the legislation to its conclusion is very time intensive because I work across two sectors.

Whilst some landlords don’t want to be licenced, many DO. Licencing could be crucial in preventing landlords from providing little or no information from the outset. At present, the Land Registry makes no provision that the name and address of the landlord be supplied at the time the property for let is purchase. Similarly, covenants of the lease are often ignored and if the landlord choses to use dodgy letting agents, the tenant may not even know who their landlord is.

If we are to weed out rogue landlords, mandatory licencing could be the way forward.

7 thoughts on “Guest blog: “Mandatory licensing could be the way forward”

  1. I understand the problems of having an alcoholic as a tenant. My tenant brought a new definition to fire doors when he removed mine and used them to start a bonfire in the garden. This did not make me a rogue Landlord. I was aware of my responsibilities and took action to renew the doors, rendering my building safe for my tenants.

    Landlords need to have a good knowledge of the copious regulations around letting property and especially a thorough understanding of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). However, a tenant is not a Category One hazard. The lack of electricity may be but only if it is not a result of the tenant not paying his bills.

    Councils are under a duty to take action if they discover any hazard in a property. The problem is that licensing will divert time away from this sort of front-line enforcement and instead put it into back-office administration.

    Landlords demonstrate their professionalism by becoming Accredited and undergoing a development course either using the on line library (free for NLA members) or attending NLA foundation courses. You might want to suggest this to the other landlord.

  2. Well said Sharon. There are just two important things that need to change about licensing – it needs to apply to the bad landlords as well as the good ones, and it needs to be applied with common sense. If those 2 changes can be made it could revolutionise the PRS.

  3. I haven’t done anything wrong so I don’t see why I should have to pay my local council a landlord tax and get nothing in return. I don’t care how over-simplistic that is: please come up witha solution that does not involve the council dipping its fingers into my pocket.

  4. Hi Marion
    I take your point about the fire doors and as a responsible landlady you acted accordingly. The landlord in my situation does not and has wilfully resisted all attempts to get him to act as a professional landlord, which includes getting any form of accreditation. The Notice re the Cat 1 fire hazard was not enforced.

    pimlico flats
    Hi Nick
    Many thanks for the supportive comment.

    Hi Tom
    As you say, a very over-simplistic response.

  5. Caroline.

    I don’t think you make a strong case.

    In the case you quote, you demonstrate that the issue is *not* lack of licensing, but lack of enforcement using existing powers, and you do not really demonstrate how licensing would help that.

    Getting councils to use their existing enforcement powers fails to affect the vast majority because the vast majority don’t need to be subject to any use of those powers. Why make unnecessary work?

    So far I have not seen *any* demonstration that licensing per se leads to improvement in standards. Perhaps this is why only 13 (actually the RLA list 20 and that may not be complete) Councils have applied.

    The UK Govt evaluation I have seen so far is here (2010), which is ‘mixed’ at best
    http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/1446438.pdf

    The Scottish Govt evaluation so far (2011 – 300 pages) is here:
    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/353982/0119289.pdf

    and one of their prominent findings is that it has not – 6 years later – removed the ‘worst’ landlords.

    When Sir Robin expects to take perhaps £10m in fees each licensing round, which will be ultimately paid by tenants, that just isn’t good enough.

    I’ll not go into too much detail here, but current Newham proposal will have 50+ FTE Council Officers sitting on their bottoms checking paperwork (125 forms a year each roughly). How is that supposed to give £10m worth of benefit?

    Why is Newham expecting it to take 2 officer days at £250 a day to essentially check a form and do a couple of transactions?

    £25 and 45 minutes to check and bank each cheque when you are processing 5,000 to 10,000 a year?
    £19 (incl £3 fee) and 30 minutes to check the land registry records for ownership of a single property when you do dozens a day?
    Ref:
    http://mgov.newham.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=26537

    Do they think landlords and tenants were all born yesterday?

    I’d say this – as proposed – is halfway between being a purely political exercise and (possibly) a cash cow. As a way of achieving the declared objectives it is a dog’s breakfast made of sirloin steak.

  6. Was it a rogue landlord or a rogue tenant? It seem that the latter is the case. Alcoholic tenant who had had his electricity cut off because he did not pay the bill perhaps ? He now uses candles and is not capable of being in charge of a gas ring or so it is implied . An incorrect interpretation of the facts and a simple prejudiced reaction against the landlord who should evict the tenant and relent to a normal tenant of which there are many. Mandatory licensing of the landlord would not improve the situation would it.

    Edward Reeve.

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