Landlords and MP challenge council’s licensing scheme

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Representatives from local landlord groups and Amber Rudd MP, met with Hastings Borough Council to challenge a licensing scheme which could result in a charge to landlords of more than £400 for each rented property.

Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) proposed Selective Licensing Scheme (SLS) is aimed at licensing all rental properties in 10 wards; Braybrooke, Castle, Central and West St Leonards, Gensing, Maze Hill, Old Hastings, Ore, Silverhill, and Tressell.

The 10 week public consultation on the scheme - aimed at improving the standards of privately rented properties and dealing with anti-social behaviour (ASB) - closed on January 5. At last week’s meeting, representatives of landlord groups asked HBC to justify the fee and explain what the money will be used for and what it will achieve.

A spokesman for local landlord group said whilst they don’t disagree in principle to licensing, the proposed fees will lead to an increase in rent, adding: “Under proposed fees, HBC say it will cost £332-£415 per dwelling to cover the scheme’s running costs, which is effectively the landlord completing an application and the issuing of a paper licence. How can this be justified? There is no requirement to actually inspect properties that have been licensed and the fee cannot be used for inspections or enforcement action. Therefore how can HBC claim that the scheme will improve standards in properties?”

Southern Landlords’ Association (SLA) say whilst they applaud HBC’s efforts to improve housing standards, Selective Licensing is not the way forward. A spokesman said: “HBC already have the powers to control poor property conditions and do not require licensing to give them additional powers.”

Andrew Palmer, HBC’s head of housing and planning services said the meeting was a useful addition to the consultation and, though the results are yet to be fully analysed, the vast majority of those responding were in favour of the scheme with more than 80 per cent of respondents, including a number of local landlords, stating that there was a licensing need. He added: “We are aware that a number of landlords object in principle to the scheme and others are concerned about the cost of a licence or what they might be required to do in order to get their property up to a licensable standard. Landlords have a statutory duty to let and manage their homes properly and alas too many in Hastings do not. The results are often neglect, poor housing conditions and anti-social behaviour. The Council has little time for these rogues and where we can, we will seek redress for tenants through the courts. Nevertheless our existing powers are not sufficient for the size of the problem and that’s why we believe licencing may be necessary.

“We recognise that many landlords are not like this and we commend them and support local businesses that do value their tenants. We are not seeking to penalise good landlords and will consider the level of the licence fee in the light of the consultation. Despite a fair degree of misinformation put about by some rogue elements the scheme is not about feeding the councils coffers, the scheme is none profitmaking and the fee can only by law be set on a cost recovery basis. There is no evidence from schemes operating elsewhere that licensing should increase rents and we believe the vast majority of good landlords will not seek to pass the cost on to their existing tenants.”

Mr Palmer said along with the results from the consultation they will consider factors such as the area the scheme covers, fee structures, phased payments, discounts and exemptions and once the final report has been made and presented to Cabinet a decision will be made about whether the scheme will go ahead or not.

Amber Rudd said it was encouraging that landlords and council officers agree that licensing could deliver better quality properties in Hastings, adding: “However, the officers failed to demonstrate why the proposed sum of £415 would be necessary. This would raise over £4million. The equivalent charge in Scotland is £11, after a one off registration. The opposition from landlords is not to the principle of the scheme but to the cost, which will be passed on to tenants and lead to higher rents. They urged HBC to consider the impact on low paid tenants that these additional charges will have on people’s ability to pay.”