The most comprehensive review of private sector renting in England was conducted by Julie Rugg and David Rhodes of York University in 2008 where national landlord licensing was first suggested.
Commonly referred to as the ‘Rugg Review’ it made particular reference to the need for ‘light touch’ landlord licensing as there were inadequate sanctions available where a landlord was judged to be in serious breach of the regulations. The review suggested that landlords who chose not to respect the regulations should be excluded from the sector and it should not be possible to operate without a permit or a licence.
A low annual fee would provide a landlord number which would appear on all official landlord and tenant documentation.
All this would also deal with the issue of landlord visibility (or more accurately, the lack of it). The trade bodies appeared to initially be in favour of this but the government (at the time) went too far in their own proposals for national licensing so it was never adopted. It is however worth noting that one of the government’s key observations in support of their own licencing proposals was that ‘whilst landlord associations were a vital source of advice, training and support for landlords, membership of these organisations represented only a minority of all landlords in England and confusion is often created for potential members by the range of landlord organisations available’.
‘This also means that prospective tenants have no way of getting any information about their prospective landlords up front unless they belong to any of these organisations’.
What we currently have today in terms of licensing is that of selective licensing introduced in 2006. An area has to be identified as particularly risky but it can also be designated if it is either one of ‘low housing demand’ or, under s80(6) of the Housing Act 2004:
- The area is experiencing significant and persistent problems caused by anti-social behaviour;
- Some (or all) of the PRS landlords who have let premises in the area are failing to take proper action to combat the problems;
- When combined with other measures taken in the area by the local housing authority or others with the authority, making an area a designated area will lead to a reduction or the elimination of the problem.
It was the London Borough of Newham that decided to expand on this by extending its requirements to cover the whole of the borough. The National Landlords Association raised a number of issues concerning whether licensing a whole borough under the selective licensing framework was actually legal. They also felt it would not make any difference other than to punish good landlords and stated that whilst landlords have limited resources to deal with ASB situations, local authorities do have enough resources at their disposal and should enforce them more vigorously. These resources are:
- ASB Co-ordinators who can make an application to the Court for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) and getting the tenant to sign up to an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (which has all I’ve ever been offered and in only one situation);
- Envirocrime Units who work in tandem with the police dealing with issues such as fly-tipping, graffitti, dog fouling and abandoned cars;
- Environmental Health Officers: Under s80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (summary proceedings for statutory nuisance) EHO’s will take ‘all reasonable’ steps to assess whether noise constitutes a statutory nuisance. If it does (and is likely to reoccur) a noise abatement notice can be served and if it is ignored then the offenders can face court action as well as the confiscation of the equipment if that is what is causing the problem;
- Premise Closure Orders which are requested by the police and resulting in the courts being able to temporarily close any premises (and common areas) associated with serious and ongoing ASB and/or nuisance. This is however a fundamental difference between accreditation and licensing in that the former is purely voluntary but once an area has met the criteria for the adoption of Selective Licencing, landlords must obtain a license.
I have always been a supporter of landlord licensing if can bring so-called ‘rogue landlords’ into the public domain as they always operate well under any radar and there are continued efforts being made to try and eliminate them from the sector.
In 2015 the (then) Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new licensing scheme to crack down on unscrupulous landlords and we now have a ‘rogue landlord’ database which lists half of all landlord prosecution under the Housing Act 2004 between 2006 and 2014.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 has also given councils more power to deal with such landlords. But will they use them in these times of austerity? It remains to be seen.