Controversial selective licensing plans are still being seen by local authorities as the way forward in improving poorly-managed private rental properties.
The latest to jump on the licensing bandwagon is Telford & Wrekin Council, which is proposing to introduce five-year selective licences, costing just over £600, in Hadley, Leegomery, Malinslee, Hollinswood, Brookside, Sutton Hill and Woodside. Landlords could be fined as much as £5,000 for each offence of not complying with the licence conditions, and a £2,000 for failing to license a property in a designated area. Councillor Hilda Rhodes said the scheme weeds out bad landlords while supporting good ones. However, as has been pointed out many times before, the bad landlords will continue to ignore rules and regulations, while the good ones have to pay out even more to do their job responsibly.
Wrekin Landlords Association is fighting against the proposal, which it claims is badly thought out, and it has launched a petition to stop selective licensing in Telford. It argues the scheme is just another tax and could lead to some landlords selling up rather than paying the fee. Chairman Bernie Lewis said it appeared as though the council was blaming landlords for anti-social behaviour. Instead of pointing the finger at landlords, local authorities could use existing laws to crack down on anti-social behaviour and littering.
In a separate incident, a landlord has been ordered to pay £800 for various breaches of his selective licence. Durham County Council prosecuted Stephen Halliday of Bingley in Yorkshire, regarding his property in Ferryhill. The court heard he had failed to supply the council a copy of a gas safety certificate, tenancy reference checks and to notify the local authority of changes in tenancy.
Furthermore, local authorities can choose to levy a financial penalty of up to £30,000 for any breach of the Housing Act 2004, regarding houses of multiple occupancy, which could include not having a licence, breaching the licence conditions or breaching housing health and safety rating system enforcement notices. These penalties are for each offence. For example a landlord who did not have a licence, did not have a gas certificate and had a dirty property could face a fine of up to £90,000.
Landlords will need to be aware of what is required from them under the Housing Act, so they do not risk a hefty fine. These fixed penalties could be a more effective way of tackling rogue landlords rather than introducing licensing schemes. So landlords will need to make sure they comply with all their obligations, while local councils need to develop a clear strategy on how they intend to tackle problems in the private-rental sector. They will need to set guidelines on when they will impose financial penalties rather than prosecute, argues David Smith, Residential Landlords Association’s policy director.
Specialist software is available to help landlords make sure every stage of the rental process is logged, including inspections, contracts, licenses and certificates. In this way, landlords will be working within the regulations and will have the evidence to back it up.