Talks to begin on landlord licensing

Houses

Liverpool is driving forward with plans to become the first city in the country to introduce a citywide licensing scheme for private landlords, in a bid to drive up the quality of private rented properties.

The Mayoral Cabinet will be asked to approve plans, on Friday 22 November, for a 12-week independent consultation to begin over the introduction of the scheme.

It 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 around 50,000 rented properties in Liverpool 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 them 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.

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. Poorly managed properties lead to problems such as low demand, anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping, and are a real blight on our neighbourhoods.

“We are already carrying out a range of work to tackle this issue, and the licensing scheme would be another major step forward, setting out our commitment to build on our positive relationships with good landlords, while making it clear that we will not tolerate unsatisfactory property conditions and poor standards of management.

“We want to make sure Liverpool has a good quality private rented sector, which tenants can be confident in, and we believe this licensing scheme can play a major part in helping us achieve that. We will be consulting fully with landlords, tenants, residents and other stakeholders over the coming months, to make sure their views are fully taken on-board.”

Proposals for the licensing scheme were first put forward at the end of last year, and since then, the city council has been collating an extensive range of evidence from a range of internal and external sources to produce a comprehensive business case, ahead of launching the consultation.

Groups to be consulted would include landlords and landlord associations; residents and residents associations; private tenants; advice agencies; Registered Housing Providers; and ward members.

The extensive and fully inclusive consultation process would set out the scope and purpose of the proposal and give people the opportunity to leave comments and feedback. It would use various methods of communication to publicise the proposal including questionnaires for residents, tenants, landlords and businesses, and a series of drop in events at local libraries and other community venues.

Consultation on the plans would begin early in the new year. Following the consultation, a further report would be presented to the city council’s Cabinet, and if given the go-ahead, the licensing scheme would come in later in 2014/15.

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.

Factfile

• 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’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; have setup a ‘Rogue Landlords Hit Squad’, which are seeking out and investigating poor landlords to take appropriate action. It also includes the 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.