It was announced this week that the Government was protecting tenants by improving fire safety regulations in the private rented sector. However, at the same time they are making it more difficult for councils to introduce borough-wide landlord licensing that help to protect tenants from rogue landlords
The announcement from Brandon Lewis which has been met with glee from the National Landlords Association, is deeply concerning for those of us, including many local councils, who wish to see tenants better protected.
There were some positive aspects to the announced changes: the Government are extending the criteria for selective licensing. In order for councils to introduce selective licensing at the moment, they must demonstrate that the proposed area is suffering from a signification problem with either low demand or antisocial behaviour. However, the private rented sector has grown massively – with more people privately renting than living in social housing. The problems that councils have to tackle with the PRS are now different. In recognition of this, the Government is making it permissible for councils to introduce licensing if an area has both a high proportion of privately rented accommodation and has one or more of the following: poor property conditions, an influx of migration, high levels of deprivation and high levels of crime.
It is therefore baffling that in the same Statutory Instrument, the Government then makes it even more difficult for councils to implement these schemes by prohibiting councils from introducing these schemes if the licensing will apply to more than 20% of the geographical area or 20% of privately rented homes in the area without prior permission form the Secretary of State. Not only does this take away autonomy from councils (from a Government that has supposedly championed Localism) who know what is needed in their area but it means that it is almost impossible to do licensing without this permission. The only way councils won’t need permission from the Secretary of State is for extremely small licensing schemes, defying much of the logic for these schemes. Licensing makes it easier for local authorities to tackle criminal landlords. Instead of spending vast resources on prosecuting negligent landlords, they can simply deny them a licence. This puts the onus on the landlord to sue the council in order to operate in the borough. If the scheme has to be that small, it won’t be cost-effective for a council to implement.
It is also frustrating that the Government are playing up the rhetoric that has been bandied about by the NLA and RLA that this is a ‘tenant tax’. Bad housing is as damaging to health as a dodgy prawn sandwich and no one complains about the cost of food regulations. The cost of the licence is tiny in comparison to the rents being charged – with most licences costing less than £1 a week. It is therefore highly unlikely that any costs would be passed on; if they are it is a minimal amount to pay for the knowledge that your home is regulated and will be well managed, of a decent condition and that your landlord won’t be allowed to exploit you.
We need the Government to stick up for renters and redress the balance of power that is vastly weighted in the favour of landlords - restricting licensing can only undermine that goal.