Property licensing is a vital housing tool, but it must be made easier for all

Property licensing is the best tool available to housing authorities to tackle criminal landlords and drive up PRS standards, however it must be made easier for all. Greater innovation is urgently required to help local authorities, tenants, communities and landlords receive the maximum benefits of property licensing. Here is why.

The PRS has boomed in recent years, many parts of the UK have seen a doubling in size. Many good landlords, including professionals and institutional investors, have entered the sector. However, it has also attracted undesirables who seek to make maximum profit by cutting every available corner and putting tenants lives at risk. We must tackle this public health issue head on.

Education and incentives will help encourage landlords who mean well but lack the necessary skills and understanding. Regulators, government, landlord groups and industry experts should work together to help close this knowledge gap. Unfortunately, this approach is not enough to fix the whole problem.

For a determined minority of criminal landlords, ‘nudges’ and education are just not appropriate and a much more direct approach is necessary. Licencing has already been used successfully in sectors where significant harm to others can be caused by reckless individuals and businesses acting without due consideration for others in search of profit. The same applies to the growing PRS.

A number of progressive housing authorities have already made the shift, including Newham, Waltham Forest and Brent. They have already deployed licensing at scale to proactively identify criminal landlords and by using the extra powers licensing offers to drive them out of business.

However, licensing still has its critics. Many landlords and agents find it too bureaucratic and costly. In particular, the current crop of online licensing software is clunky and badly designed, taking too long for landlords to complete applications and failing to support authorities to efficiently process large numbers of applications, resulting in much frustration on all sides. A big step forward is required in this area.

Licensing application software issues is compounded by a lack of enforcement against those landlords who fail to license or breach licensing conditions. These offences are hidden behind closed doors and tenants are in the main too fearful to complain. This leaves authorities in the difficult positions to proactively find hidden unlicensed landlords, often without the intelligence to complete the task. However, to not succeed leaves good landlords feeling like they have paid a penalty for complying with law. It really doesn’t have to be this way. A number of councils have already demonstrated that it is now possible to use council data in combinations with artificial intelligence to identify accurately and efficiently those who commit housing offences. Not to mention the others benefits of this intelligence led approach.

For good landlords to accept licensing and for tenants and the wider community to realise the many benefits, it’s vital that licensing innovation and new skills are rapidly spread across the housing authority sector. If we can’t, the only winners will be the criminals.

Russell Moffatt

Russel Moffatt

Chartered EHP and Co-founder of Metastreet

12th February 2018

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