Councils need more government support to tackle rogue landlords

The Guardian and ITV News recently uncovered how criminal landlords are exploiting legal loopholes to continue operating, even though they have been convicted and found not fit and proper.

In a follow up article, Metastreet was asked to comment on what more the government could do make property licensing more effective. Below are our top 5 key recommendations.

  1. Return selective licensing powers to local authorities: Since April 2015, local authorities have had to seek approval from the Secretary of State for selective licensing schemes which would cover more than 20% of their geographical area or would affect more than 20% of privately rented homes in the area. The current application process places a significant burden on applying authorities: it is bureaucratic, subject to lengthy delays, and based on unclear, outdated criteria. While acknowledging a potential role for central government in quality-checking the operation of schemes, decisions to implement selective licensing should ultimately rest with local authorities, where there is a greater understanding of local need. This would require a review of the general approval powers and changes to The Selective Licensing of Houses (Additional Conditions) (England) Order 2015.
  2. Introduce a national landlord registration scheme: This could support and complement selective licensing schemes by making it easier for local authorities to identify landlords in their area. While this would not completely remove the need for data matching and other exercises to find unregistered landlords, it would help local authorities to build a much better picture of the PRS in their areas and reduce the resources needed to start a new scheme.
  3. Introduce stronger penalties for the very worst landlords and support local authorities to step up enforcement: While local authorities can currently issue civil penalties up to a maximum of £30,000, we support calls for higher financial penalties and property forfeiture in the worst cases. The government should also look at a new fund to support local authorities with initial investment to step up enforcement.
  4. Review and simplify existing regulation around licensing: While licensing is valued by many councils and residents, landlords and many councils also find current regulations bureaucratic and costly. While acknowledging the value of selective licensing, the government should seek to simplify regulations and processes where possible. For example, reducing the mandatory application questions landlords must answer.
  5. Update government guidance on fees, licensing conditions, and enforcement policy: the government could provide improved guidance to encourage greater standardisation in the operation of licensing schemes across the country, learning from existing best practice. Areas where guidance could be updated include:

    • Fees: Licensing fees vary significantly from scheme to scheme, and government should consider introducing clearer guidance on fees, while taking into account the need to sustainably fund the costs of administering an effective licensing scheme.
    • Licensing enforcement policy: There is significant variation in how licensing schemes are enforced. Government could create a more consistent approach by encouraging councils to adopt a national enforcement policy and publishing clear guidance, as well as ensuring enforcement in this area is adequately funded.
    • Licensing conditions: The wording of licensing conditions varies outside of the mandatory conditions set by government. Government could consider introducing clearer guidance on what new licensing conditions can be set to help provide greater consistency.

A full copy of Metastreet’s PRS Licensing Research Report can be found here

Author:
Russell Moffatt

Russel Moffatt

Chartered EHP and Co-founder of Metastreet
Published:

5th November 2018

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