The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) and Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), a ‘local democracy think tank’ have recently published a joint research document outlining steps that local councils/authorities can take to improve the private rented sector in their areas of influence.
The LGiU and ESC have presented a series of seven recommendations for the entire sector; three suggest that Central Government has a responsibility to acknowledge the growing importance of the PRS and a further four being directed at local authorities working with private landlords within their constituency.
The document is titled “House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector”.
The recommendations for Central Government are:
1. Reduce the red tape on local authorities:
The RLA has always been a champion of reducing the regulatory obligations on private landlords that can be seen as restrictions on landlords trying to provide a good service to their landlords.
However, the document is suggesting that allowing local councils to implement Additional / Selective licensing schemes or compulsory accreditation more easily in a bid to ‘regulate’ the PRS in their boundaries. The argument for this is the need to monitor and take account of poor conditions.
2. Address the need for better data:
This is an area that the RLA is starting to take upon itself because of the lack of clarity and reliable data within the PRS.
The LGiU and ESC have several suggestions on how to attain better data sets with the most convincing suggesting that the councils use data that is already available to them such as local council tax returns; Nation and Local Land Property Gazetteer; mapping data available through Ordnance Survey’s Public Sector Mapping Agreement.
3. Promote best practice sharing through sector bodies:
This is something that the RLA tries to provide its members through the dissemination of information, advice, and training opportunities. We are currently exploring the potential of our members providing anecdotal information to support other members who may be experiencing similar instances in their work.
The document provides using the ‘Knowledge Hub’ website as an example of the sort of platform for helping councils.
Ultimately, giving the councils more chance to focus on engagement or enforcement is the aim and providing an accurate sector-led guidance would ‘…avoid duplication and support greater efficiency in the long-term.’
The following four recommendations are intended to help local councils focus their energies and resources efficiently.
4. Engage with the best landlords to encourage self-regulation:
Although this seems contrary to the first recommendation for Central Government above, the understanding is that these ‘best landlords’ work with/for the local councils as a high-functioning representative to the council for private landlords in the area. This implies a lot of personal time and work, but will also be supplemented by incentives that could attractive to professional full-time landlords.
Some of the incentives that the paper is proposing include:
- Special PRS Champion status above and beyond standard accreditation
- More influence in local decision-making
- Potentially preferable rate of council tax on their properties
Many landlords would respond positively to incentives and that more should be available for those that are not necessarily the biggest but serious about their responsibilities.
5. Empower tenants:
The LGiU & ESC state in their report: “Well-informed and supported tenants are one of the best guarantees against poor conditions in the sector.”
The RLA urges members and landlords to provide prescribed and other relevant information to tenants to convey clarity and adhere to legal obligations. Landlords and tenants are mutually reliant and it is in the best interest of private landlords to provide a good service to their tenants and good communication is a crucial aspect of this.
Finally, a well-informed tenant will alleviate the burden of responsibility on landlords somewhat and would provide ‘rogue’ (criminal) landlords with more blocks in taking advantage of vulnerable groups.
6. Make better use of resources outside the council:
‘House Proud’ argues that minimum property standards and community awareness of criminal activity warning signs would result in businesses and local residents to report instances of non-compliance of landlords.
This would require, however, the council having the ability and incentive to follow up with enforcement. A prerequisite that councils are currently struggling with, though could be amended through previous proposals.
7. Communicate strong political leadership on the issue:
“It is important to establish clarity about what the local authority expects from the private rented sector in a locality.”
Not only is this form of determinism from the local councils a welcomed step, it is imperative that the council sticks to its guns. The RLA has received calls from concerned landlords subscribing to schemes and not experiencing the services proposed or enjoy the benefits projected. The RLA believes that Central Government must provide the platform for local councils to act effectively and responsibly.
The document was published on the 12th of September 2013, and is titled “House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector”; click to view.
The RLA will take the steps to consider the proposals and monitor any Government action to implement or debate the proposals. If you have any views of your own we urge you to write in with your thoughts and perspective on the topics.