Government forces councils to water down regulations on private landlords

Landlords have reacted with delight to the end of the local licencing schemes

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Indy Politics

The Government has forced councils to water down local regulations on private landlords, arguing that licencing schemes brought in to curb rogue practices are “draconian”.

While privately rented housing is largely deregulated, some councils have set up mandatory local licencing schemes to make sure landlords comply with certain regulations in their area.

Landlords in a borough can be denied a licence if they break rules around anti-social behaviour or ensuring a properly is in good state of repair.

But Conservative housing minister Brandon Lewis this week announced that councils would be banned from enforcing the borough-wide schemes.

Scrapping the blanket licences would hopefully mean more people would rent their homes from landlords, he added.

“The vast majority of private landlords offer a decent service – so I’m determined we end the ‘tenants tax’ caused by draconian measures that do nothing to tackle rogue operators and only serve to push up rents,” the minister argued.

“I want councils to take targeted action and focus their efforts on tackling that small number of landlords who make their tenants’ lives a misery – and help create a bigger, better private rented sector as a result.”

Landlords reacted with delight to the news that they would no longer have to comply with the licencing regulations.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlord Association, said landlords were “fed up” with having to get licences.

“We’re delighted [the Government] have listened to our case because at present the driving force behind licensing landlords seems to be the political will of a given local council, regardless of the evidence,” he said.

“Landlords are getting fed up with being unfairly targeted and made responsible for problems such as anti-social behaviour when in reality they have little effective control over the issue, except by eviction.

“Many local councils won’t like this decision one bit,” he added.

Councils will now only be able to create “targeted” schemes that cover very small areas, and only then with the specific consent of the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Tenants’ groups accused the Government of ignoring the people who had to live in the houses and said the licencing schemes had driven up housing standards in areas where they had been brought in.

“We are deeply frustrated that the Government has decided to rush through these changes without consultation with tenants’ group and local authorities, when area-wide licensing has been shown to be working to improve the private renting and drive up standards,” said Alex Hilton, the director of the campaign group Generation Rent.

“Changing legislation in this points to a Coalition that is listening to landlords but not to renters.”

Recent polling by Survation found that the vast majority of the public actually want councils to go further in tackling landlords.

59% of those polled said they supported state-enforced rent caps – a power councils have not had for decades. Only 10% of the population said they would be against such mandatory rent controls.

Newham London Borough Council, which pioneered landlord licencing, accused the Government of 'strangling' councils.

 “The Housing Minister Brandon Lewis’ announcement strangles councils’ abilities to tailor the scheme to local needs. A strong evidence base is already required for borough-wide licensing - this is unnecessary central Government interference," said Councillor Andrew Baikie, the borough's mayoral advisor for housing.

“Good landlords have nothing to fear from private rented sector licensing. In Newham landlords have told us they are grateful for the scheme because it is ridding the borough of ruthless, rogue landlords who are only focused on making money by exploiting tenants. We know that because of our tough action through licensing some of the landlords who we’ve banned have been selling up their properties and leaving the borough.

“Our drive has always been about ensure that tenants are living in safe accommodation, that they are secure in their legal rights and that the borough’s streets are not blighted with anti-social behaviour.”