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‘Landlord register should work with licensing schemes – not replace them’

The government’s ‘property portal’ national landlord register, introduced as part of the Renters Reform Bill, should work in tandem with selective licensing schemes, rather than replace them.

The think tank Centre for London said it is possible for a national landlord register and selective local licensing to complement each other, seeing as they fulfil different functions.

The former should be open by design, adaptable and effective for local authorities, to save time in identifying landlords, and concentrate council resources on enforcement.

Jon Tabbush, senior researcher at Centre for London, said: “The Renters Reform Bill has the potential to be the biggest step forward for tenants’ rights in a generation, but it won’t be enough by itself to tackle the worsening problems within London’s private rented sector.

“Our research highlights the value of central government and councils working together to identify rogue landlords, and strengthening the enforcement capacity to deal with them.

“With more and more Londoners having to enter the rental market to live in the city, making sure people can do so in safe and secure conditions is crucial for preserving London’s future.”

The research said councils are currently held back from improving the quality of homes, meaning selective property licensing needs to be more widely use to protect tenants, according to London think tank Centre for London.

Around one in five (20%) privately rented homes fail to meet basic housing standards.

The report therefore recommends that the government should restore the power to design and implement selective licensing schemes to local authorities, irrespective of scheme size.

The argument goes that councils know their own areas – and how to tackle the housing issues within them – best.

The think tank said councils in London have already been successful in improving housing conditions through selective licensing.

Centre for London said the government should also invest in the local authority housing enforcement workforce.

They should increase funding for apprenticeships and graduate traineeships, as well as exploring the potential for a Housing Skills Centre to train future enforcement staff.

Cllr Khevyn Limbajee, Cabinet Member for Community Safety at Waltham Forest Council, said: “Too many private rental tenants in London experience unsafe conditions in their homes. Waltham Forest’s property licensing schemes have resulted in the improvement of thousands of properties and protected people against problems including disrepair and dampness, falsified gas safety certificates, and dangerous building work.

“This research underlines the importance of large-scale property licensing schemes in providing local authorities with the regulatory framework to intervene to improve standards and management practices in the private rented sector at the level that is required.

“Despite these successes, under current rules we must apply to the Secretary of State every five years to renew the schemes. This takes up time, money, and resources that could be better focused on directly helping tenants and landlords.”

Although there are already successful examples of property licensing schemes in the capital, the Centre argue that its usage in London is being held back by central government legislation.

Currently, the Secretary of State for Housing has to sign-off selective licensing schemes that cover more than 20% of a borough. This leads to councils having to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds, and years of officer time to get their applications approved.

The government’s own newly-tabled Renters Reform Bill aims to improve the private rented sector with added regulation. In particular, their plan for a ‘Property Portal’, or a national landlord register, would allow renters to check whether its landlords are complying with legal requirements.

The think tank backs this and the Bill’s broader aim of enforcing higher standards in the rental market, but the report is clear that any such portal could not replace selective properly licensing. Instead, it should be seen as a complementary measure, that works alongside it.

The centre’s research found that licensing schemes are able go beyond the scope of the proposed national landlord register, providing more meaningful protections to tenants.

Licensing schemes let councils set standards with legal force to improve people’s homes. An example of this is the ability to enter privately rented properties without notice to carry out inspections.

Where a national landlord register could only provide basic information about all privately rented properties and their landlords, selective property licensing schemes give access to more granular technical details and larger amounts of information about landlords.

Criteria for licences can include having a gas safety certificate, or landlords sharing details of their criminal record. Landlords’ fees are calculated to fund more staff to run and enforce the scheme. Evidence shows that they result in higher property standards and lower anti-social behaviour in areas they have been implemented.

With high demand and not enough homes, too many Londoners are living in homes which are unsuitable for them. This is made worse because local authorities don’t have the tools they need to tackle rogue landlords in their area, and maintain adequate housing standards. More than half of London’s renters have experienced their landlord failing to make essential repairs.

Local authorities should be supported by central government to use selective licencing to enforce high standards and protect tenants. This would be one of the most effective ways of tackling inadequate housing conditions in London’s private rented sector.

Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, Mayor of Newham said: “We know that London is in the grip of an ongoing housing crisis and Newham’s residents are at the sharp edge, that’s why I welcome this incisive report published by the Centre for London and their welcomed recommendations.

“In our borough, too many of our residents are suffering in the face of a catastrophic housing crisis due to unaffordable homes, high rents and insecurity facing renters.

“We have 37,000 people on our housing list, 7000 households in temporary accommodation and over half of our residents now live in the private rented sector making them especially vulnerable in the face of the cost of living crisis.”