Landlord Licencing in my Borough
My local authority, that of the London Borough of Waltham Forest became a private rented property license area in 2014. Eighteen of the 22- flats on my block are sublet and I let some time elapse before I contacted the council to see how things were progressing. Just before I did so, myself and my partner (RMC Director) received a letter about a particular application. I thought it was the first one because before a license can be issued, the Housing Act 2004 requires all interested parties to be consulted on the proposal.
It subsequently transpired that a number of landlords on my block had applied for licensing before we received any such notification. On querying this, I was advised that the council rely on the applicant filling in the application properly and correctly. Often people miss off these details or supply something completely different. For example, one of our landlord applicants incorrectly stated the freeholder as being the managing agent, along with their corresponding address!
Note: I supplied the correct freeholder address for future reference.
Another landlord was granted a License with no input from us whatsoever which was somewhat annoying. This was a landlord where both the current (and the previous) tenant kept reporting the need for a replacement front door, which was extremely ill-fitting and can easily be forced if anyone has the intent to do so. This leads to not only difficulty with keeping the flat secure but keeping it warm in the winter. I inquired as to whether the licence could be used as leverage in terms of being able to get it reduced to a lesser term if repairs/replacements were not acted upon. I was advised that although it would be the councils decision to make, it would be unlikely that they would reduce the licence to a lesser term for this reason alone although I don’t know if adding any other repair issues would make a difference.
I then started raising further questions on issues which related directly to the circumstances of our particular block of flats.
1: What Happens If Landlords Are Not ‘Fit And Proper’ To Be Granted A License?
I started with asking what happens if any interested parties consider certain landlords not to be ‘fit and proper’ to be granted a license. I was advised that in such cases an ‘intention to refuse’ notice will be issued under s88 of the Housing Act 2004 (grant or refusal of licence). It is possible (within the 14 day consultation period) to nominate someone else to be the licence holder and responsible for the property. If an alternative is not nominated, they will not receive a 5 year licence. The license could be varied if there are concerns about the landlord and they would need valid reasons as to why we did not agree with a license being issued. They could potentially issue licenses of 1 year (instead of 5) in order for these issues to be sorted.
Note: Although there is no legal definition of who is a fit and proper person, the authorities must consider whether the person has been convicted of offences involving fraud, violence, drugs, notifiable sexual offences, the practicing of unlawful discrimination and the contravention of any housing or landlord and tenant law.
2: Who Deals With Anti-Social Behaviour Under Private Sector Leasing?
My second question was where flats are let on council-led schemes such as Private Sector Leasing who deals with issues of anti-social behaviour? The answer was that it will be the agent and the Temporary Accommodation Team who would deal with any such issues. Additionally during their audit and compliance stage they will pick up issues as they go more in depth with their investigations.
3: Can An Unlicensed Landlord Demand A Rent Increase?
Whilst I understood that a tenant could appeal against a rent increase, (which must be put in writing giving one months notice) I wanted to know if a rent increase demand would be viewed as null and void where a landlord is operating without a license. The answer was that whilst such a demand could be made without one, the council suggested it would be less enforceable.
4: What Is The Licensing Time-Frame?
I have lost track how long landlords on my block have operated without a license and even those that have applied have yet to be dealt with. So, I tried to get on a fix on the process once the council has received all the information they need. The reply was that they are currently investigating all unlicensed properties that have been reported/found within the borough. In doing so, landlords will receive a warning letter advising them to apply ASAP or be subject to prosecution. They are getting through them but there is an exceedingly high number of unlicensed properties that they are visiting weekly and tackling road by road to try to resolve the issue. Properties will be inspected and landlords warned of their private rented licensing scheme and the urgency of them receiving a licence.
As they also stated, the scheme has now been in place formany months and there are hardly any excuses that are acceptable for properties to stay unlicensed.
Note: This article will be updated as I raise more queries.