Council chiefs in Liverpool have been given the go-ahead with a city-wide licensing scheme for all private landlords despite the fact that it goes against the original intention of the 2004 Housing Act and recent Government guidance on allowing local authorities to introduce selective licensing schemes.
The Council had said it was “looking very closely” at the wording of legislation after a Government minister last week wrote to all councils about the practice of taking a “blanket” approach to the selective licensing schemes.
Assistant Mayor and cabinet member for housing, Cllr Ann O’Byrne, told the Liverpool Echo:
“We have had confirmation from the Government that Liverpool’s landlord licensing scheme is not affected by the recently announced changes because we have already made a decision to introduce it.
“Landlord licensing will drive up the quality of the 50,000 privately rented properties in the city and help tenants plagued by rogue landlords.”
The Liverpool Echo reports that so far 1,724 landlords in the city have registered – “roughly a third” – who between them are responsible for 8,258 properties.
Minister for housing and planning, Brandon Lewis MP has said that in future new rules being introduced would mean local authorities will have to seek confirmation from the Secretary of State for any selective licensing scheme which covers more than 20% of their geographical area or homes.
The minister said that such licensing schemes can play an important role when “strictly focused on discrete areas” that have specific problems. But Liverpool’s mandatory initiative, which appears to have just scraped under the wire, requires all landlords in the city to have a five year licence for each of their rented properties, which the council says “will help to improve standards in the sector”.
However, the scheme has received a criticism from those who argue the extra costs will be passed on to tenants, leading to rises in private rents. The licences, which will last five years, are to cost landlords £400 for a first property and £350 for each additional property they let, though the fee will be reduced to £200 for those landlords in an approved landlord accreditation scheme.
The council denies that fees will cover Council workers’ salaries and says the fees, which are estimated to amount to around £15 million, will be used for “legitimate costs incurred by the council” such as compliance checks.
Meanwhile, Croydon Council intends to press ahead with its blanket borough-wide licensing of private landlords despite the Government’s proposals to outlaw the idea as it can get this through before the deadline of 1 April 2015.
Labour council leader Tony Newman attacked the letter, telling the meeting as reported by the Croydon Advertiser:
“We won’t be intimidated by a Conservative minister in the last weeks before they leave office. We will implement this scheme.”
Cllr Newman said later: “We were elected with a clear mandate to do this and we have had many months of consultation.”
He also questioned the timing of Mr Lewis’ intervention and said:
“I don’t know if the letter is aimed particularly at us but we are the only local authority putting forward a scheme at this time.”
The Croydon scheme will be one of the most expensive with landlords having to pay £750 to register for a five-year licence, a fee which will be cut to £350 if they sign up within three months of its implementation. Landlords failing to register could face prosecution and a £20,000 fine and the council could take over the management of the property.
The licence regulations require landlords to keep their properties up to standard, and make them responsible for any antisocial behaviour by their tenants. There are around 30,000 privately rented homes in the borough of Croydon.
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) March 20, 2015