Licensing scheme to drive up housing standards

Houses

A new licensing scheme for private landlords could be introduced from next year, under city council plans to drive up the quality of rented properties in the city.

Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet has today approved plans for consultation to begin over the introduction of a citywide compulsory licensing scheme for all private rented properties.

The new scheme, which could come into force in 2013, would mean all property owners who rent out their properties would need to apply for a licence, agreeing to comply with a minimum set of standards. A breach of the conditions could lead to a fine, or even the revocation of the licence.

There are over 50,000 rented properties in city and the sector is vital in meeting city’s housing needs. The plans aim to support the city’s pledge to work with the majority of responsible landlords, support their businesses and create a level playing field for all, while cracking down on landlords who do not manage their properties properly.

The licensing scheme would also help empower tenants – who currently have no way of knowing the quality of their prospective landlord – and help them make informed choices. And it would protect residents who have suffered from neighbouring properties being bought by landlords who have then let them indiscriminately to unsuitable tenants.

The proposals form part of the council’s three-year ‘Bringing Empty Homes Back Into Use’ programme, which aims to tackle void properties across Liverpool, deal with problem landlords and improve the standard of the city’s rented accommodation.

Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Ann O’Byrne, said: “It’s vital that we do all we can to work with landlords across Liverpool to drive up the quality of our private rented properties. Many areas which suffer blight in the city are characterised by large numbers of poorly managed private rented properties, leading to problems such as anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping.

“The proposed licensing scheme would recognise the majority of good landlords who manage their properties properly, while enabling us to deal with the minority who choose not to engage with us, and whose letting and management practices are poor.

“Licensing would create a minimum standard for the private rented sector, with landlords needing to show that they have adequate systems in place for their tenants – for example, to report repairs and defects. It would also enable tenants to be confident in their choice to rent, and neighbours to be confident in landlords’ ability to effectively manage their properties.

“We believe this scheme would be really beneficial for the city, but we will be consulting closely with landlords, tenants, residents and other stakeholders over the coming months, to make sure their views are fully taken on-board.”

The licensing scheme for private rented properties would build on the city’s compulsory licensing scheme for the city’s 1,250 Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), which has driven an improvement in standards and property management.

It sees landlords pay a license fee to cover operating costs, and a licensed HMO must be reasonably suitable for occupation, have a license holder of manager who is a fit and proper person, have satisfactory management arrangements and comply with set standards and licence conditions.

A fine of £20,000 can be imposed for controlling or managing an unlicensed HMO. A breach of licence conditions can carry a fine of up to £5,000 and licences can be revoked where there is a serious breach of licence conditions.

The London Borough of Newham recently became first local authority to announce mandatory licensing for private rented properties across the entire borough. It will be introduced on 1st January 2013 in response to high levels of anti-social behaviour associated with rented property, and rogue landlords carrying out illegal conversions of properties without planning or building control approval.

Formal consultation on the city council’s plans will begin in January 2013 and will last for 12 weeks. Groups to be consulted include landlords and landlord associations; residents and residents associations; private tenants; advice agencies; Registered Housing Providers; and ward members.

As part of the consultation, information will be posted on the council website and information packs provided, setting out the scope and purpose of the proposals and giving people the opportunity to leave comments and feedback.

Questionnaires will also be sent out to residents in private rented properties, and there will be roadshows at district centres and a series of drop in events at local libraries and other community venues.

The consultation is expected to be completed by April 2013, before a further report is presented to the city council’s Cabinet in May.

Liverpool’s Empty Homes programme supports the Mayor of Liverpool’s pledge to deliver 5,000 new and refurbished homes for the city by 2016. It includes a 10 point pledge on landlord issues. The pledge aims to build on the positive relationship the council has with many landlords while taking a robust stance against the small minority of poor landlords.

The 10 point pledge includes a free, voluntary register for landlords to encourage better communications with the council; a ‘Scores on the Doors’ service which recognises good landlords; and plans to set up a ‘Rogue Landlords Hit Squad’, which will seek out and investigate poor landlords and take appropriate action. It also includes a re-launch of the free Landlord Accreditation scheme CLASS, which requires landlords to meet minimum management standards, and which offers incentives to accredited landlords, including the opportunity to advertise their properties on Property Pool Plus.

The city council has also recently signed a statement of support for Shelter’s national campaign to stamp out rogue landlords.

It is estimated that city landlords invested over £1.8 million in improving their property during 2012 as a result of the Councils direct interventions. In the same period, legal action was taken against eight landlords whose property did not meet legal requirements, resulting in fines and court cost totalling more than £31,000.