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Landlords continue to pay the price for anti-social behaviour. More councils are increasingly considering the introduction of private licensing schemes as an answer to these problems. However, it is the buy-to-let investors who have to pay the price.

Telford & Wrekin Council is the latest to look at introducing a licence scheme in certain districts, which would force landlords to pay £600 for five-year licences, before they could rent out properties in these areas of the borough.

The council argues the scheme is a bid to improve the standard of rental properties, as well as reduce fly-tipping, crime and anti-social behaviour. The licence would cover the districts of Hadley, Leegomery, Malinslee, Hollinswood, Brookside, Sutton Hill and Woodside, where landlords and letting agencies would have to apply for the five-year licence, at a cost of £122 a year, or £172 for late applications. These are the areas which have the highest rates of fly tipping and anti-social behaviour.

To be successful, landlords would have to comply with certain conditions such as keeping the property maintained to a certain standard, having the necessary safety certificates, making sure tenants have references, and taking responsibility for addressing anti-social behaviour at the property such as waste, pests or fly-tipping. Landlords would also have to prove they are a fit and proper person to hold the licence. If they do not comply with conditions, they can be fined up to £5,000 for each offence or face a £20,000 fine for failing to get a licence. The council acknowledged that many landlords provided well-managed properties, but some did not. Councillor Hilda Rhodes said she hoped that together the council and landlords can improve the quality of life for everyone. She said the scheme would get rid of bad landlords while offering support to the good ones. If the scheme goes ahead, it could be implemented by November.

It is argued that the licence system is just a stealth tax on good landlords, because the bad ones will either run the risk of ignoring the scheme or sell up and invest in an area not covered by a licence. Landlords feel that they are simply paying for a service which the council should already be providing, because fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour off the premises are areas covered by the local authority or police enforcement. The licence is another expense for landlords to shoulder or to pass on to tenants by increasing rents.

There are already existing laws in place to deal with bad landlords. All the scheme does is add an extra penalty or fine to offences for which landlords can already be prosecuted. Professional landlords will already be abiding by the law, whereas bad ones will just have another piece of legislation to ignore. A better option could be to educate tenants about their existing rights, so they are aware they do not have to put up with poor living conditions. This would be a far simpler and cheaper solution to the problem, rather than putting an additional financial burden on to landlords and letting agencies.

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