A Labour council in Oxford wishes to introduce a landlord licensing scheme city-wide, in a proposal which requires approval from the government in order for it to be implemented.

Earlier this month, controversy was sparked by the decision by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to refuse permission for Liverpool council, a Labour controlled authority, to continue its current city-wide scheme for a further five years. 

Now, the council in Oxford, which is also Labour-controlled, is campaigning for a landlord licensing regime to be implemented across all of the city’s 20,000 properties which are rented privately. The council hopes that artificial intelligence will be used to identify which properties it suspects are privately let, but are not registered for doing so. 

Oxford Council hopes to expand its current licensing scheme which manages HMO landlords, in the aim of covering all the 20,000 homes which are privately rented in the city. The scheme would include a £600 licence, which would be valid for five years. If all buy to let landlords in the city paid this licence fee, the total revenue for the council would be approximately £12 million. 

The council wants to develop what it has called a new enforcement model, led by intelligence which uses an algorithm to identify which properties within the private rented sector are unlicensed and let. Oxford Council also hopes to be given additional power to penalise rogue landlords with fines for letting property which does not meet the legal minimum standards in energy efficiency. 

Oxford Council also wants to employ the services of a new lawyer who will specialise in tackling rogue landlords. Its focus will be on those landlords who attempt to avoid paying fines and penalties for failing to satisfy the minimum standards in both energy efficiency and safety for tenants. 

Professional inventory software, such as that developed by InventoryBase, can ensure that landlords can prove that their properties are let to a safe standard at the start of a tenancy.

The council was awarded £71,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in January 2020 in order to fund the new lawyer it wishes to employ and test the new algorithm in the AI system. Oxford Council also received new powers to tackle poor energy efficiency in rental properties last month. 

A portion of these new funds will be used for hiring two new officers who will test the new algorithm. This will be done by visiting 1,000 rental properties across Oxford over a period of three months. They will then analyse if the algorithm has correctly predicted that these are privately rented homes. If the system has failed to predict correctly, then the officers will be required to adjust the algorithm in order to improve its accuracy.

 Oxford Council has also stated that it will work on detailed proposals which will extend the landlord licensing scheme for landlords in the upcoming months, with its aim being to conduct a public consultation during the summer.
However, the authority will require approval from the government. If this is granted, then this new regime is likely to start in either late 2020 or early 2021.

Each year, Oxford Council conducts approximately 700 inspections in HMO properties located across Oxford. Between the years of 2011 and 2016, the council issued 47 formal cautions and pursued 82 prosecutions against rogue agents and landlords of HMOs. 

In 2017, local authorities were given the power to issue fines to rogue agents and landlords, with Oxford Council claiming to have issued 57 fines for offences in HMO properties, including letting unsafe, cramped and unlicensed properties. 

Oxford Council states that there is a growing trend for rogue letting agents and landlords deliberately avoiding compliance with the city council’s licensing rules for HMO properties, while continuing to let substandard or dangerous homes to vulnerable tenants.