Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Another Local Authority to Introduce Compulsory Landlord Licencing

The London Borough of Enfield, like other London authorities, has seen a considerable rise in the number of houses rented out by private landlords as part of the private rented sector in the last decade.

In Enfield the private rented sector now has approximately 27,500 properties rented as private sector homes, which is approximately 20% of all the homes in the borough. This represents more than double the size of this sector when compared with 10 years ago.

There are concerns regarding a pattern of anti-social behaviour, which is linked to the private rented sector. Enfield Council is extremely concerned about this association, as there seems to be no indication that the current arrangements with landlords and tenants to improve the standards of property and tenancy management are adequately addressing the reduction of levels of unacceptable behaviour. 

If the Council does not take decisive action, the indications are that the situation will continue to get worse with parts of the borough deteriorating in a negative spiral of poorer conditions - both for private tenants and their neighbours. 

As a result of these concerns, the Council commissioned specialist data analysts NKM, to analyse the levels and location of anti-social behaviour, and any correlation with the presence of private rented sector tenancies. This research has provided evidence that there is a link between the two. 

Having undertaken more work to better understand these early findings, involving additional analysis of Council data and having sought the views of key stakeholders in an engagement exercise, the Council has considered the options available to it. The Council has decided to consult more widely with tenants, landlords, support agencies and resident groups and other concerned parties on the introduction of Additional and Selective Licensing schemes. 

The Council views that the introduction of this regulation of the private rented sector will support good landlords, and where necessary enforce against negligent or bad landlord practice. The Council considers  the introduction of these policies as a last resort due to current arrangements proving to be ineffective.

The main improvement that the Council is seeking is a reduction in anti-social behaviour and an improvement in neighbourhoods, by significantly improving the management of the private rented sector. This would be achieved through Licensing, by clarifying both tenant and landlord responsibilities and the minimum standard of property management and maintenance. This will lead to better property conditions, improved tenancy management, and improved neighbourhoods. 

Enfield Council has a clear ambition that its growing private rented sector should not be associated with anti-social behaviour, but be a positive force in the borough - providing homes and contributing to cohesive neighbourhoods and sense of place. 

What’s happening now?

There is already action, on a limited scale, involving both private rented sector landlords and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) on specific issues. HMOs are typically properties where three or more unrelated tenants share kitchen or bathroom facilities, including some houses that have been split into flats or bedsits. The Council has been running a voluntary accredited landlords scheme covering the whole borough for many years, with the Council facilitating regular meetings with landlords and agents. There are currently around 70 landlords participating. 

Using the current law, the Council also regulates HMOs on a borough wide basis under a Mandatory Licensing scheme. But because most of the properties used as HMOs, in the borough, have only two floors, only approximately 40 properties are licensed. 

There is also a range of private sector enforcement work and action to combat ASB already in hand. This includes

  • Investigation, notice service and prosecution for noise nuisance
  • Bi-monthly proactive patrols, investigation, notice service and prosecution for dumped rubbish, untidy gardens, pest infestations, graffiti and prolonged display of estate agent boards
  • Communications with landlords and letting agents regarding disposal of rubbish at the end of tenancies and prolonged display of estate agent boards
  • Support for  victims of ASB and enforcement action against offenders using measures such as injunctions, Dispersal Orders, Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs)
  • Management of complex cases through Multi Agency Panel (MAP) meetings and ASBAG (Anti-Social Behaviour Action Group) both include work with tenants and landlords in the private sector.

From 23rd October this year, the Planning Department has introduced an Article 4 Direction on Houses in Multiple Occupation. This means that residential houses now require planning permission if they are used as HMOs. This regulatory action by the Council ties in with concerns over anti-social behaviour and the private rented sector.

The Council views that these actions are delivering a reduction in ASB, but that levels are not coming down as fast as we would like and remaining stubbornly high in some areas. Problems with the private rented sector are growing faster than the sector itself.  

Additional and Selective Licensing

The Housing Act 2004 provides Councils with the powers to introduce licensing of privately rented housing properties in areas. This is with the aim of improving conditions for local occupiers and the surrounding community. 

The Act also enables the Council to tackle many of the issues experienced within the PRS, through the licensing of all private landlords in a designated area, in order to ensure that a minimum standard of management is met. The Act introduced Mandatory licensing of all HMOs but this was, as referenced previously, limited in scope. The change only affected HMOs in buildings which have three or more storeys and are occupied by five or more persons, forming two or more households. The Act also enables the Council to implement an Additional Licensing scheme for HMOs not covered by the above Mandatory scheme and a Selective Licensing scheme of all other properties within the private rented sector within designated areas. 

The Council is proposing the designation of Additional and Selective Licensing schemes across the Borough as a whole, as the Council believes that this will have the level of impact required to deal with the anti-social behaviour problems that exist in the Borough, and will prevent problem tenants and landlords from merely moving to another area within the Borough.

The Council believes both license types are necessary due to the different sizes and characteristics of housing across the borough, and solely focusing on one power or one area would be insufficient.

To read the original article click here: "Another Local Authority to Introduce Compulsory Landlord Licencing"