Thu 11 Dec 2014
The additional and selective licensing debate: Why it matters
North London landlords are celebrating the outcome of a legal challenge against a controversial landlord scheme designed to curb anti-social behaviour that will affect 40% of rented property in the borough. On the 11th December the case was quashed by a High Court Judge.
The scheme, known as additional and selective licensing, requires landlords to hold a £500 five-year licence on each property they own from the local authority. The fee is required to be paid up-front and is non-transferable.
Enfield council defends the scheme as a technique for improving housing standards, reducing overcrowding and confronting absentee landlords, all of which they maintain is necessary to reduce Anti Social Behaviour (ASB).
But landlords say otherwise.
Landlord’s Response to Additional and Selective Licensing
Constantinos Regas, a landlord who is leading the Campaign Against Landlord Licensing in Enfield, launched a judicial review to appeal against the scheme. He said: "We all want good standards but the council has not engaged with us or listened to us all these months.”
Regas successfully applied for judicial review, winning the opportunity to challenge the additional licensing of Homes in Multiple Locations (HMOs) though not the selective licensing scheme which covers single private households. The latter he intends to appeal. Mr. Regas also has challenged the limits these schemes introduce to tenants privately renting, such as needing to display the license on their property and forbidding vans to be parked in driveways.
Estate agents, who typically compete for sales, are making a show of solidarity on the issue, which would require huge upfront costs to multiple landlord owners. Sales and letting agents, such as Anthony Webb, are supporting the fight against Enfield Council and have pledged money towards the Campaign Against Landlord Licensing Legal Fund. Anthony Webb held a meeting in their Southgate Estate Agency in October, attended by over 80 local landlords, to help generate support and funds to help fight the case
The Council Responds
Enfield Borough Spokesman claims that the licensing of the privately regulated rented sector is “much needed” and that they will fight any challenge to the decision. They quote incidents of environmental crime, housing conditions, overcrowding and ‘bed in sheds’ (a term used to describe structures in back gardens of homes that are rented out even though they are not meant for living accommodations.) This licensing would, according to Enfield’s consultation document, “create environments that promote community safety.”
Enfield Council hopes to deal with anti-social behaviour through an Anti-Social Behaviour team (ASB team) that is part of the Council’s Community Safety Unit, who seek to take a joint working approach with landlords to effectively tackle any complaints from or against their tenants.
Who is really to benefit from this scheme?
The risks of the plan include landlords passing the cost of the scheme onto their tenants, and local authority mismanagement of the schemes, including being unable to effectively regulate crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Manchester had selective licensing for five years that ended in 2011 because it didn’t effectively reduce poor property conditions or anti-social behaviour. Furthermore it penalises landlords who are operating credibly, which, statistically, is most of them.
The limits that the schemes introduce for tenants renting privately are another point to consider. If the area truly faces antisocial challenge, is a driveway not a safer place to store vans for the residents who need them to maintain their living? Is the mandatory posting of licensing a step too far?
The National Landlords’ Association has said: “The issue of ASB cannot be addressed by licensing – as it does not deal with the underlying issue of ASB.” NLA believes that it will negatively affect the community by discouraging landlords to remain there. There are further concerns that banks will stop lending in certain licensing areas, as Nat West has done in a few cities. This in itself is harmful for regeneration.
In 2013 a study from Environmental Health News, which is the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, surveyed 12 authorities and discovered that money received for selective licensing schemes was being used to fund the recruitment of housing officers, as well as bring prosecutions, rather than address anti social behaviour. Hemming v Westminster Council clarified that the fees can only cover the admin costs for the scheme (with no profit and no contribution to enforcement).
“Before declaring a selective licensing area, the local housing authority must consider whether other courses of action that could deal with the issues effectively have been tried,” said British labour Politician Phil Wilson. The question remains, have alternative actions been tried?
Today (Thursday 11th December) the Judge quashed the new scheme – More details to follow.
Tony Ourris is the Director of Anthony Webb Estate Agents
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