Whilst some local authorities have either implemented landlord licensing schemes or are holding consultations about them, one council in Cambridgeshire has shelved the plans entirely. Plans for the scheme in Wisbech have been abandoned, after a vote in favour of the scheme was lost at another meeting.
The Conservative group, which has a majority on Fenland Council, could not agree on the plans which would have required landlords to pay £575 for a five-year licence and show they are a ‘fit and proper’ person to be a landlord. It would have affected 2,400 rented properties. Opponents to the licensing scheme argued it would only move problems elsewhere and drive illegal or rogue landlords deeper underground. Why would a bad landlord who is already providing poorly-maintained properties suddenly start paying attention to this new legislation when he or she has ignored existing regulations regarding rental homes? The Wisbech proposal was opposed by 85% of landlords questioned by the council and the National Landlords Association. Instead, the council is going to create a task force to explore ways of tackling private rentals in Wisbech and to improve enforcement of existing regulations.
This seems a far better solution, because increasing the financial burden on good and law-abiding landlords does not seem an appealing way to penalise the rogue ones. All it would mean is another piece of red-tape for landlords to comply with and extra cost, which could be passed on to tenants through increased rents.
Selective licensing was intended to address the problems of poor quality rental housing, which could be in an area where many of the tenants are on benefits, and to reduce the level of anti-social behaviour in such areas. This seems a lofty ideal to eradicate social problems, simply by setting up a licensing scheme.
Some of the conditions that need to be met in order to get a licence are already covered by other regulations. To be granted a licence, the house needs:
a valid gas safety certificate, if applicable
safe electrical appliances and furniture
working smoke alarms
written statement of the terms of occupation to be given to the tenant
references from tenants
These are all conditions that a professional landlord would already have in place. It seems, therefore, as though landlords or letting agents are being seen as ‘cash cows’ to raise money for hard-strapped local councils, by making it obligatory for them to have a licence for each house they rent out. Good landlords will already be abiding by these laws, because their reputation is on the line if they fall foul of the regulations. They will know that a well-run rental property means satisfied tenants who are then more likely to take better care of the home and pay their rent on time.
Tenants who feel they are being mistreated or that the landlord is ignoring health and safety issues can take action by reporting issues to their local authority or the Health and Safety Executive. There is also plenty of free advice from Shelter and Citizens Advice, who can also help with legal proceedings. It seems as though there is no need for another layer of bureaucracy by introducing licensing schemes.