Landlords prepared to challenge the council at the High Court

Landlords in the local area say they will not be moved in their fight against the council’s proposed licensing scheme and are prepared to take legal action in the High Court if the scheme is approved.

At a meeting arranged by Southern Landlords Association (SLA), held at the White Rock Hotel last Friday (February 20), landlords, agents, along with Hastings and Rye MP, Amber Rudd, were united in the view that Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) proposed Selective Licensing Scheme (SLS) left a lot to be desired.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) want to introduce a scheme in ten wards where private landlords will be required to pay for a license to rent their properties at a cost of around £400.

Tony Richard, National Landlords Association (NLA) representative was also in attendance and said the NLA and the SLA were determined to get a fair deal for local landlords. He said: “The meeting highlighted the unanimous concerns local landlords have in regards to the SLS scheme proposed by HBC.

“HBC has not fully explored alternatives to a SLS. An existing scheme tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB) involving HBC, local social housing associations and police, which currently does not include the private rented sector, was notably excluded from the council report. It is highly relevant to the local issue of licensing and is likely to be a far more cost effective alternative to licensing, which draws on the experience of all sectors involved in the provision of and management of the town’s housing.”

Mr Richards said the poor quality of data and evidence provided by HBC was brought into question by barrister, Andrew Lane, who described the council’s report and consultation as “particularly weak”, adding: “It’s concerning that HBC is unwilling to accept this when there’s little evidence to support their justification for the scheme, which hinges on claims that the incidence of ASB is higher in areas of the town that include a concentration of private rented housing.

“It’s well known that the highest incidence of ASB actually occurs in the social housing sector and this does not fall under the proposed new legislation.

“Private landlords have just one statutory power with which they may tackle the worst problems of ASB. It’s called eviction and it’s a process that can take weeks and often months to achieve, and it simply just re-locates the problem to the next street.”

Mr Richards said they understand HBC desperately needs more housing at affordable rents, but unfortunately the consensus was that landlords’ costs will increase and rents will rise should the proposal go ahead, which will then price many more tenants out of an already limited supply of housing and this is something HBC should be trying to avoid.

He added: “Many of those attending felt that the only option was to raise money for a legal challenge, a view shared by local MP, Amber Rudd, who also reiterated the growing concern at Westminster over councils abusing their licensing powers.”

Amber Rudd said what she took from the meeting was that landlords are upset that HBC are not engaging with them on potential schemes to improve the quality of all housing in Hasting and are prepared to work with HBC, adding: “I am urging the council to work with the landlords for the benefit of the tenants. They are currently failing to do that. The landlords were concerned and clear that this scheme could adversely effect tenants as the additional costs will be passed on to the tenants.

“It will become a ‘tenants tax’. My particular concern is that the current ‘indicated’ amount of £415 per property will raise over £4 million and the council have failed to demonstrate what this money is for.

“They have not answered my inquiries to set out how this estimate is arrived at. What is it for?”

A legal challenge against HBC would take the form of a judicial review at the High Court, similar to a challenge made by landlord Constantinos Regas against Enfield Council’s proposed licensing in December last year which resulted in the scheme being quashed.

With just five weeks to go before the council make their decision Hastings Borough Council Leader Jeremy Birch said they are waiting for the results of the consultation before commenting further but reiterated that the indication from responses to the public consultation was that many are in favour of Selective Licensing. He said: “We’ve just finished the consultation and 80 per cent of those who responded support the scheme.

“We are going through the details and will be taking a decision on March 30. We will also consider the costs of the licenses.”