Local Government South East

Licensing Considered by Luton Council

luton
India Cocking
Written by India Cocking

Luton are hosting a Landlord Forum on Tuesday 25th July 2017, 18:00 – 20:00, at the Town Hall, 1st Floor Committee Room 2. The RLA’s Policy Manager, John Stewart, will be attending this event to discuss our views on Luton’s proposed licensing scheme – see you there!  

This week Luton Council announced the start of a Selective Licensing Consultation. Luton has proposed this licensing scheme in five of its wards, the consultation ends Friday 15th September 2017.

Selective Licensing was introduced under the Housing Act 2004. The Housing Act 2004 says that before introducing selective licensing to any area local Councils must consult with all affected people, such as tenants, residents, landlords, managing agents, businesses, Police, Fire Service, local Councillors etc.

Selective Licensing applies to all private rented sector houses that are not licensed under HMO licensing, this includes non licensable HMOs. An area may be designated for selective licensing either (i) if the area is (or is likely to be) an area of low housing demand or (ii) the area is experiencing a significant and persistent problem caused by anti social behaviour that local authorities attribute to private sector landlords failing to take action to combat against unruly tenants. A designation can last up to five years.

Alongside the licence fees, landlords will also have to declare that they are a fit and proper person to hold a licence and holders of the licence will be required to comply with licensing conditions, some of which are mandatorily imposed by the Housing Act, and local licensing conditions from the council itself.

Luton list the reasoning behind this proposal as poorly managed, overcrowded, unsafe accommodation. Alongside a problem with anti-social behaviour, poor quality rented housing and, landlords they describe as “irresponsible and unscrupulous” causing unstable communities due to having “no interest in the community and often rent(ing) to tenants who are not properly vetted”  so areas become less attractive.

The wards that are being considered for this licensing scheme are; South, Biscot, Dallow, High Town, and Farley. The council have not set a proposed fee structure, which is ill-advised, however Luton Council claim that it will be similar to the fee structure in place for their Additional Licensing scheme. The fees for this scheme are £110 per house plus £110 per bedroom. The RLA will be questioning the council on their failure to properly announce the fees they are proposing to charge landlords

We urge our members to make an official response to this consultation, to get their views, opinions, and experiences heard by the council and to ensure landlords are represented in the council’s decision making process. The RLA responds to all local government consultations, our responses can be found here. Our response to Luton will be published but if you would like any advice about making an official consultation response in the meantime, do not hesitate to get in touch.

All the consultation information can be found on Luton’s website here.

To keep up to date with news, licensing, events, and information on Luton Council visit the new and improved Local Authority Network here.

For more information:

About the author

India Cocking

India Cocking

India is the Local Government Officer for the RLA. Having completed her degree in International Politics at Aberystwyth University, India is currently working on updating and maintaining the Local Authority Network. This is of importance as it strengthens communication and understanding between landlords, local authorities, and the RLA. India is working towards gathering concise and clear data from all 435 local authorities on their licencing, fees, news, events and contact details.

Before joining the RLA India worked at Martin and Co Lettings Agent in her home town of Derby, the Welsh Assembly, and her local MP, alongside helping her parents run the family buy-to-let business.

5 Comments

  • Additional licensing in Luton should be welcomed (in theory) if it applies to all private landlords in the area and raises standards. In practice it will only apply to good landlords who are registered/affiliated with the council anyway – the landlords who already maintain their properties and have good working relationships with their tenants. The rogue and absentee landlords will still largely get off scot-free because there are insufficient council staff to track them down. It will cost my business in the region of £2000 to license my properties – for which I will receive no benefit whatsoever. I am not at fault, so why must I pay?

    See you at the Landlord Forum on 25th July

  • The good landlords like myself are not at fault and rogue landlords are getting away with every legislation that exists as the council are not using any resources to combat the rogues. Anti social behaviour is not being tackled because of a Police force that is not fit for purpose and anti social minority are getting off scot free.

  • Around 40 “good landlords” and agents attended the very animated meeting last night, with two officers from Luton BC’s housing team trying to convince us that “no decisions had been made yet”. We know that all councils have budget problems, but it was clearly disingenuous (even dishonest) for them to keep saying that this scheme was not all about the money to be raised. No-one believed that the scheme would touch or even identify the “rogue landlords” or help their vulnerable tenants. The council already has all the legal powers they need to prosecute the rogues, but have failed badly in doing so, and a licensing scheme won’t change that. If (when) the scheme failed to meet its three publically stated objectives of (1) improving the worst of housing stock, (2) reducing anti-social behaviour and (3) reducing fly-tipping, then would they scrap the scheme? No way could anyone imagine the council stopping that source of income once it began. Even getting the council to approve the spend so far (website, “research paper”, publicity) was done dishonestly, using unfair/emotive photos of mould, dirty bathtubs, toilets and kitchen sinks (all clearly tenant issues) to blame the PRS per se as the cause of all problems. Consultation? No. Tick-box? Clearly. Will the scheme work? No. Will it be scrapped if it doesn’t work? No. Once the money rolls in, which councillor would vote to stop it?

  • As Richard says, the meeting on 25th July at Luton Borough Council’s offices very animated – verging on angry. I have followed up by completing LBC survey and sending comments to the selective licensing email address (see below).

    At the meeting, there was a PowerPoint presentation showing several Luton properties in dire state of repair. It seemed as if the Council assumes all landlords act that way, renting out properties in unsafe condition. All our properties are presented to tenants in the condition we would expect ourselves and we have high standards. We would welcome the opportunity to give Luton councillors a PowerPoint presentation showing the work we have carried out in our properties. We have spent several thousand pounds repairing and upgrading each of our properties before renting them out including: re-wiring, replacing boilers, new kitchens, new bathrooms, new hobs and ovens, new carpets, floor tiles, laminate floors, new double-glazed windows, front and rear security doors, interior and exterior painting and decorating, new garden fencing and paving slabs. We can also provide evidence of insulation and damp proofing. The stairwells in these houses are steep and narrow and we always install handrails.
    We self-manage our properties; we talk to our tenants and have a good business relationship with each of them. We carry out repairs as soon as they are notified to us. In addition, we carry out general maintenance without requests from tenants. Now Luton Borough Council proposes to introduce a licensing scheme to cover all privately rented houses in certain areas of the town. If the scheme did apply equally to all landlords then it would be a great idea and we would be keen to support it. In reality, only the good landlords who have made themselves known to the Council will be charged in the first instance. Non-compliant landlords (rogue and absentee landlords) will continue to operate ‘under the radar’ and escape licensing for many years unless reported by their tenants. Few tenants complain to the Council because they fear they will be evicted. Those criminal landlords who are prosecuted (15 cases last year) are ‘tip of the iceberg’ because the court procedures take so long.
    Where only a small number of a group are charged and the majority are not and there is no direct benefit accruing to the person for such a payment, this becomes a stealth tax. There is no other way of describing it. It is unfair and good landlords will be penalised.
    Before introducing such a licensing scheme, every effort should be made by the Council to compile an accurate database of all private landlords. One attendee at the meeting suggested this could be done by comparing the Land Registry entry with the names of the Council Tax payers for each address. Where there is a discrepancy, the likelihood is that the property is tenanted. Working from such a database would be a much better way of finding non-compliant landlords.
    It became clear at the meeting that the Council intends to inspect every house for which there is a licence application. However, it was stated that only 2 extra staff would be employed to carry out this work. In view of the large number of private landlords involved, it is obvious that the Council will have insufficient staff resources to inspect all houses requiring a licence within a reasonable time scale. This is unacceptable. Landlords will require assurance that it will be permissible to rent out properties while a licence application is pending.
    We were also told that the requirements for a licence would be different from a normal HMO licence. Fire doors, thumb-turn locks etc would not need to be fitted but a current EPC, gas certificate and electrical certificate would be necessary (which we have anyway) and we would have to prove we are ‘fit and proper persons’ to be licence-holders. This new style licence will be at a different level compared with the current HMO licence and should come at a much-reduced fee. Whatever the standard fee, a substantial discount should be offered to good landlords, ones who are currently on the list of accredited landlords (see Nottingham licensing scheme), in recognition of the work they have already done in raising standards. When we put this point to the meeting, we were told that the Luton Borough Council Landlord Accreditation Scheme ‘had not really worked’. Why not?
    That being the case, we would propose that the Council gives a substantial discount on the licence fee to landlords who are members of organisations such as the Residential Landlords’ Association.
    Alternatively, there should be a system whereby the standard fee is paid when the licence application is submitted by the landlord, and a rebate returned after the property has been inspected and found to be well-maintained and safe.

  • Does anyone know if the ruling at Hyndburn have any effect on the implementation of this scheme in Luton?
    I live 10 miles away from my rentals in the next county, I like to think I keep well informed but the first I have heard of this was 2 evenings ago when the managing agent emailed me to say this scheme was now in place. There must be numerous landlords that don’t live in the county that have not and will not hear about the scheme. Why was a letter not sent to each household in the licensing area address to the Property Owner/Landlord at any point during the consultations or indeed after, that would try to inform the landlords of this. It seems now we have 6 weeks to get our application in place. Also once we have a licence wouldn’t it be great if Luton Borough Council could stop telling tenants that are in arrears or who are in the process of being evicted by Landlords for anti-social or criminal behaviour to STAY PUT. This is terrible advice, not only obviously for the landlord, by it does the tenant no favours, it puts pressure on, and clogs up the courts with dragged out evictions, police and bailiffs and leaves tenants with such a bad history that they can pretty much write off renting privately in the future. Council workers; you are not being good Samaritans, you are actually causing the tenant more issues in the future. It would be good if accredited landlords had their court fees reduced for evictions relating to anti-social criminal behaviour and arrears in licensed properties.

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