Response to Newcastle Council’s proposal for selective licensing

 

Introduction

  1. The National Landlords Association (NLA) exists to protect and promote the interests of private residential landlords.
  2. The NLA represents more than 40,000 individual landlords from around the United Kingdom. We provide a comprehensive range of benefits and services to our members and strive to raise standards within the private rented sector.
  3. We seek a fair legislative and regulatory environment for the private rented sector, while aiming to ensure that landlords are aware of their statutory rights and responsibilities.
  4. We thank Newcastle Council for providing us with the opportunity to comment on the selective licensing proposal.

Summary

  1. Having considered the evidence presented, and having undertaken our own evaluation of the circumstances faced by the residents of Newcastle, our position can be summarised by the following brief points:
      • While the government is reviewing Selective Licensing we believe that the consultation should be delayed until the results are published. This will allow the council to modify the scheme and consult on the findings and deliver a better outcome.
      • We don’t believe that it should be delayed due to the HHSRS (health and housing rating system) review, as property that is not meeting the current legal standard the council should have taken action and should not wait for the introduction of selective licensing.
      • The introduction of selective licensing is not a solution in itself – the support for landlords and to tackle issues in the consultation do not appear in the consultation document. This lack of supporting documentation shows the council is unprepared to introduce selective licensing.
      • The consultation does not take into account the Hemmings v Westminster Council or the Brown v Hyndburn court cases.
      • Landlords have very limited authority when dealing with matters related to antisocial behaviour, especially if it happens outside the curtilage of the property. Equally they have little powers post the tenancy beginning on the fabric of the building if the tenant does not allow access.
      • The scheme will lead to a further displacement of problem landlords and tenants in Newcastle; this can be seen from previous schemes around the country. Those that are criminal will move to areas where the local authority is not focussing.
      • We would look to see an annual summary of outcomes, e.g. improvements of behaviour and fabric of buildings.
      • The council has failed to say how it will prevent malicious claims of antisocial behaviour being made, which could result in tenants losing their tenancies. Can this be provided?
      • One of the growing challenges in the private rented sector is sub-letting/rent to rent. This can result in landlords being victims of crimes.
      • The council has not published its strategy for dealing with chaotic and antisocial tenants. This should run in conjunction with the current proposal.
      • The larger of the two proposals – to cover the majority of private rented housing unless adequately resourced from the local authority will fail.
  2. We contend that the consultation is paused while the review in selective licensing is completed and restarted when this report.

General feedback on proposals

  1. We believe that any regulation of the private rented sector must be balanced. Additional regulatory burdens should focus on increasing the professionalism of landlords, improving the quality of the private rented stock and driving out the criminals who act as landlords and blight the sector. These should be the shared objectives of all the parties involved, in order to facilitate the best possible outcomes for landlords and tenants alike. Good practice should be recognised and encouraged, in addition to the required focus on enforcement activity. This is not the case here. The approach of targeting all landlords will create animosity and an unwilling by many landlords to work with the council. This is not a desirable outcome from either side.
  2. The proposal does not take into account rent-to-rent or those who exploit people (both tenants and landlords). Criminals will always play the system. For instance, there is no provision for landlords who have legally rented out a property that has later been illegally sublet. We would suggest that the local authority allocates resources to tackle the problems that criminals may cause. Often, landlords are victims, just as much as tenants. What support will the council provide for landlords to whom this has happened?
  3. Newham reorganised the entire council services to deliver their licensing scheme. A joined-up coordinated approach within the council and police will also be required. The council should look to provide a joined-up approach, this has not been developed. Additional costs in relation to adult social care along with children’s services and housing will undoubtedly be incurred if the council’s goal is to be achieved, this has not been shown in your working.
  4. The issue of overcrowding is difficult for a landlord to manage if it is the tenant that has overfilled the property. A landlord can tell a tenant how many people are permitted to live in the property, and that the tenant is not to sublet it or allow additional people to live there. But beyond that, how is the landlord to manage this matter without interfering with the tenant’s welfare? Equally, how will the council assist landlords when this problem arises? It is impractical for landlords to monitor the everyday activities or sleeping arrangements of tenants. Where overcrowding does take place, the people involved know what they are doing and usually are criminals, not true landlords. The council already has the powers necessary to deal with this problem. This should be shared across the local authority and neighbouring authorities, as the problem will not be a Newcastle issue alone.
  5. Landlords are usually not experienced in the management of antisocial behaviour and do not have the professional capacity to resolve tenants’ mental health issues or drug and alcohol dependency. If there are allegations about a tenant causing problems (e.g. antisocial behaviour, creating poor property standards) and a landlord then ends the tenancy, the landlord will have dispatched their obligations under the selective licensing scheme, even if the tenant has any of the above issues. This just moves the problems around Newcastle   if the tenant seeks rehousing elsewhere in the area, but does not actually help the tenant, who could even become lost in the system. There is no obligation within selective licensing for the landlord to resolve an allegation of antisocial behaviour. Rather, a landlord has a tenancy agreement with a tenant and this is the only thing that the landlord can legally enforce.
  6. While it is not the majority of cases, there is a minority of tenants looking to exit a property will deliberately damage a property seeking a social property or to not pay rent. This needs to be taken into account in any scheme.
  7. Newcastle Council has many existing powers. Section 57(4) of the Housing Act 2004 implies that a local authority must not make a designation ‘unless (a) they have considered whether there are any other courses of action available to them […] that might provide an effective method [for Newcastle Council to deal] with the problem or problems in question’. The council already has powers that can be used to rectify the problems and, hence, the ability to tackle many of the issues that it wishes to overcome in all parts of Newcastle. These include:
    • criminal behaviour orders
    • crime prevention injunctions
    • interim management orders
    • empty dwelling management orders
    • improvement notices (for homes that do not meet the Decent Homes Standard)
    • litter abatement notices (section 92 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990)
    • fixed penalty notices or confiscation of equipment (sections 8 and 10 of the Noise Act 1996)
    • directions regarding the disposal of waste (e.g. section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990)
    • notices to remove rubbish from land (sections 2–4 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949).
  1. At the commencement of a tenancy, the landlord outlines the tenant’s obligations in relation to noise (and other matters, such as waste disposal, compliance with relevant laws and having consideration for neighbours). Throughout the period of a tenancy, the landlord can manage a tenant only to the extent of their mutually agreed contract for living in the rented property – not a tenant’s activities in the street outside the property or in neighbouring streets. If a tenant does not allow access to the property, the landlord will also have problems managing the state of the property. We believe that a property should meet the legal minimum at the start of a tenancy. If the property does not, then the landlord should face the full force of the law. The same applies to household refuse and antisocial behaviour issues, these should be explained at the beginning of the tenancy.
  2. Often when tenants are nearing the end of their contract/tenancy and are in the process of moving out, they will dispose of excess household waste by a variety of methods. This includes putting waste out on the street for the council to collect. This is made worse when the council does not allow landlords access to municipal waste collection points. Local authorities with a large number of private rented sector properties need to consider a strategy for the collection of excess waste at the end of tenancies. We would be willing to work with the council to help develop such a strategy. One example is the Leeds Rental Standard, which works with landlords and landlord associations to resolve issues.
  3. We would also urge Newcastle to look at the similar to that of Doncaster when they have introduced licensing. This has delivered better outcomes for landlords and tenants, as well as improving the fabric of the building stock and conditions for tenants. The scheme has pushed criminals out of the sector which has benefited the legal landlords who operate.
  4. We would also like to see the council develop a strategy that includes action targeted towards specific issues across Newcastle, rather than just a specific area within a licensing scheme. As noted in the consultation, specific problems exist in all properties across the borough. This can be through improving energy efficiency, smoke alarms we would also support the approach in Leeds which we supported. We would highlight other schemes around the country that deliver an improved housing stock, while at the same time drive out the criminals.