Croydon’s Labour council’s flagship landlord licensing policy is under threat, after the Tory Housing Minister – also known as “the landlords’ best mate” – this week issued a deadline of April 1 for implementation.
Labour in Croydon wanted to follow the lead of other councils which have introduced licensing schemes to curb rogue practices, including sub-standard accommodation, poor or no repair work to properties, and tax-dodging by some cash-in-hand landlords.
In Croydon, 1 in 5 residents are private renters.
“Landlords and letting agents need a proper registration scheme and to be accountable for their properties. The best landlords can only benefit from this,” Croydon Labour’s manifesto said. In Newham, the landlord licensing scheme saw a crackdown on tax-dodging landlords and helped to bring in an extra £294,434 in Council Tax.
But Croydon Conservatives – some of whom happen to be property investors and landlords – have opposed the registration scheme. They belly-ached that the scheme would see landlords’ costs increase. Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP in Croydon Central, showed where his true sympathies lay when he opposed the landlord registration scheme, calling it “barmy”.
Local authorities have powers under the 2004 Housing Act to introduce licensing of privately rented homes to help counter anti-social behaviour.
But with the General Election just weeks away, Conservative housing minister Brandon Lewis this week announced that councils would be banned from enforcing such schemes borough-wide, deliberately making them more costly to implement.
“The blanket licensing approach adopted by some local authorities has major drawbacks,” the landlords’ mate announced in a letter to all local authorities in England.
“This is because it impacts on all landlords and places additional burdens on reputable landlords who are already fully compliant with their obligations, thereby creating additional unnecessary costs for reputable landlords which are generally passed on to tenants through higher rents.
“The vast majority of landlords provide a good service and the Government does not believe it is right to impose unnecessary additional costs on them, or their tenants. Such an approach is disproportionate and unfairly penalises good landlords.”
Lewis announced that borough-wide schemes,as Croydon proposes, would not be allowed to be introduced after April 1, and only then with the approval of “Big” Eric Pickles, the Tories’ communities secretary. So much for the Conservatives’ policy of “Localism” then.
Read Brandon Lewis’s letter here: Brendon Lewis Letter
“The vast majority of private landlords offer a decent service – so I’m determined we end the ‘tenants tax’ caused by Draconian measures that do nothing to tackle rogue operators and only serve to push up rents,” Lewis was reported to say by The Independent.
Tenants’ groups have been outraged by the move, saying that licensing schemes had driven up the standards of housing in areas where they had been brought in.
“We are deeply frustrated that the Government has decided to rush through these changes without consultation with tenants’ group and local authorities, when area-wide licensing has been shown to be working to improve the private renting and drive up standards,” said Alex Hilton, the director of Generation Rent.
“Changing legislation in this points to a Coalition that is listening to landlords but not to renters.”
Recent polling found that the public actually want councils to go further in tackling rogue landlords, with 59 per cent saying they supported rent caps – a power councils have not had for decades.
The scheme proposed by Croydon Council would establish a list of accredited landlords who follow a clear code of practice.
Jones told Inside Croydon today: “People tell me time and again they think Croydon is going downhill and that they don’t think their children will want to live here. A mixture of dirty streets, homes broken up into many small flats with short-term tenancies, new developments being marketed abroad and fear of crime has led to our streets not feeling as friendly as they used to.
“The Council has already started the battle of bringing our street cleaning up to scratch and prosecuting fly-tippers. Now they want to introduce a landlord scheme which is not only good for individuals, but will be great for our community as a whole.
“If I am Croydon’s MP, our neighbourhoods will be a top priority. Labour will guarantee three-year private tenancies, ban letting agent fees and build more affordable housing, which will lead to more stable and stronger neighbourhoods in Croydon. It will allow key workers, such as nurses and care-workers, to settle in the areas they choose to live and work in for the longer term, rather than having to move around to find affordable housing.”
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