New communal licence will see rents rise in Hastings, landlords say

Hastings Borough Council
Hastings Borough Council

Residents in areas of Hastings will face higher rents after a new communal licence was introduced by Hastings Borough Council, according to three landlords.

The Additional Licensing Scheme, which forms part of the Housing Multiple Occupancy (HMO) scheme, came into force in Castle, Central St Leonards, Gensing and Braybrooke wards on May 4, 2018.

Landlords were given four months to apply for the licence at a cost of £400. This would then rise to £1,000 if no application was submitted in that time.

Landlords who already had the HMO licence – under a similar 2011 scheme which ran until 2016 – were also able to renew it for £400 if they applied within four months.

One landlord, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told the Observer the ‘only losers’ from the new licensing scheme would be the tenants themselves.

She said: “We have to cover our costs and this new licensing scheme is just an added cost we need to cover.

“I think Hastings Borough Council sees landlords as an easy target because nobody likes a landlord and it’s a good way to make some money.

“This added cost has to be covered by someone and unfortunately that will have to be my tenants.

“I have no issue with the licence itself but the fact the cost will increase by £600 after four months seems a bit heavy.”

Hastings Borough Council said the scheme was introduced after a 2016 stock condition survey found only 50 per cent of houses in multiple occupation in the town had mains wired smoke detectors. Only 61 per cent of those had a protected escape route and one in seven (14 per cent) had one or more category one hazard, according to the survey.

The HMO licence differs from a selective licence – which covers the individual flats themselves.

Hastings Borough Council said: “An HMO licence is required by the owner of the building and will include all the common parts i.e. the stairs, passageways, fire doors, means of escape, gardens and anything else used in common between different flats. The HMO licence will also include any flats directly controlled by the licence holder which are let on a lease (or tenancy) of 21 years or less.”

Landlords required to pay £1,000 for a HMO licence would be those who failed to licence the property under the previous scheme or those who failed to licence the HMO under the new licencing scheme (four months from May 4, 2018), according to the council.

Three landlords who spoke to the Observer each accused the council of being ‘underhanded’ in the way the new licensing scheme was rolled out.

The first landlord added: “The only way I found out about this new charge was by going on the council’s website. The council had not written to landlords so I think they were hoping we wouldn’t look until the four months were over and we had the chance to pay £400. By that stage it would be £1,000.”

Hastings borough councillor Andy Batsford, lead councillor for housing, insisted ‘all landlords’ had been written to about the scheme.

He said: “Fees were agreed following a public consultation in March 2017 and all landlords were written to advising them of the scheme and fees in November 2017.

“As a local landlord, they would have been very aware of the implications of failing to license. I am disappointed that the landlord feels justified in passing this cost on to the tenants. All of the concerns they raised were brought up during the licensing schemes consultation, and have proven to be not true as well as raising the standard of accommodation across the whole town.”

However, the second landlord, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had attended a meeting in November 2017 when the scheme was first mentioned.

She said Debbie Watts, a housing renewal team leader at Hastings Borough Council, told landlords the new scheme would come into effect in November 2018 – a month after the licence fee would be upped to £1,000.

When asked for a comment, the council did not address the claim Ms Watts had announced the incorrect dates.

In a document relating to the implementation of the new licence, the council said 72 responses to a questionnaire were received by the end of the consultation period from March 11, 2017, to June 9, 2017. These included 45 responses from landlords or letting agents, 17 from owners or other interested parties and ten from tenants.

While considering why the response rate was so low, Hastings Borough Council said it was likely the National Landlord Association had not objected to additional licensing.

However, the third landlord, who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, believed the response turnout was low as many landlords were ‘kept in the dark’.

He added: “The council has been underhanded with the whole thing. I have spoken to other landlords who have been happy to pay the £400 because they understand the importance but the way the council has rolled it out has been disappointing. Why does the cost need to go up?

He said he had already had to pay roughly £7,000 to cover the cost of the selective licence which covered the individual flats but insisted no member from the council had come to inspect his property since paying the fee.

He said: “My buildings are all fire safe but I paid this fee and I have yet to see one member from the council coming to inspect.

“There is not a great deal of money in Hastings and this new scheme will mean me having to increase my rent.

“I think the council needs to make some more money and decided to go over landlords because nobody likes a landlord.”