Labour’s licensing scheme in doubt as Tories back landlords

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.

Housing generic“This just shows how far the Tories will go to protect vested interests,” Sarah Jones, the Labour parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central, told Inside Croydon.

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.

Eric Pickles: has an odd notion of "localism"

Eric Pickles: has an odd notion of “localism”

“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.

Sarah Jones: Tory moves against landlords' licensing shows their vested interests

Sarah Jones: Tory moves against landlords’ licensing shows their vested interests

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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Housing, Sarah Jones MP and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Labour’s licensing scheme in doubt as Tories back landlords

  1. davidcallam says:

    “We will build more affordable housing.”
    There’s the Labour pledge, and a very helpful one, but Sarah Jones, or any other Labour spokesperson, needs to spell out: what they mean by ‘affordable’; how many homes they intend to build; over what period of time; and how it will be financed?
    I fear there will be no promise to provide substantial amounts of social housing of the sort built and managed by local authorities and housing associations, and sold off at silly prices by successive governments, because there is no public money to fund it.
    Alison Butler, Croydon Council’s housing supremo, is due to make a major policy statement to cabinet on Monday evening. It will be interesting to see if she is prepared to be specific about money: sadly, I doubt she will.
    On the wider point, the council has a number of long-standing powers under health and housing legislation which it could invoke if it was serious about making life difficult for dodgy landlords. It’s too easy to blame Brandon Lewis and Big Eric Pickles. Let’s see some enforcement applied to slum landlords in Croydon, with extra cash allocated where necessary. Requisitioning a few of the worst examples of rented properties will work wonders on the attitudes of other negligent owners.

  2. “We shall build homes for all EU citizens” that is what they are trying to say David. And let the landlords increase rent (fees).

    Socialist democrazy of Croydon.

  3. IF David Callam has ever done casework where the Council is actually really keen to prosecute and enforce BUT the tenant wont for fear of eviction and harassment, then he would see exactly why a licence scheme is badly needed – so every landlord knows what the standards are and know that regardless of their tenant that they will be prosecuted if they fail to deliver decent standards.

    I would go as far as saying that every street has a problem house where the landlord has a high turnover of tenants and you see the result in uncared for gardens, dumped furniture etc.

    David may think we live in a dictatorship where the Council can just “requisition” property let by bad landlords but we don’t!

    We also have Agents acting illegally, I had a case in 2013 where an Agent based on South Norwood High Street had broken in to a tenant’s home, and the police were not interested.

    A licence scheme will enable a systematic approach to poor housing and the good land lords will have to fork out a minor, tax deductible fee, to help the system work.

    • The good landlords will pass on that minor, tax deductible fee, to who?

      It is not a bad thing to regulate against landlords who only want their rent and don’t take care of the properties they let.

      The only issue I have is another charge on the landlords who will not only deduct it as an expense for tax reasons, they will also increase the rent.

      As long as this not a war on landlords then I am sure you have good intentions. People do invest their money in properties because the returns on pensions are not good enough.

      I hope you don’t penalise these people in their old age.

      The socialist republic of Croydon under a Tory leader (cuts will put the Tories to shame)should find other ways to balance their books.

      Perhaps you should use this minor fee to fund Upper Norwood library.

  4. Peter Rogers says:

    There’s a whole street of social housing sitting empty next to Haling Grove Park, if they can’t use the housing stock they’ve got they’re hardly likely to build more
    Affordable housing could mean absolutely anything depending on how you measure it

  5. My view is that the bringing in three year tenancies would have far more of an impact than landlord licencing ever will. If a tenant has a greater degree of security they are likely to live for longer in their home and as a result have a greater investment in their community.

    I feel to lay all the blame on landlords is a dangerous game . It’s the almost always the tenant who is responsible for paying council tax, keeping the property clean and tidy and responsibly disposing of waste at the end of the tenancy. Of course there are landlords who need to do much more, and I see plenty of poorly maintained properties, but it is a two way street.

    Here in Thornton Heath I see far too many tenants who live somewhere for six or 12 months before dumping all their old belonging onto the street when they move out (or buy a new mattress). This isn’t a problem that can be blamed on the landlord, they really can’t be held responsible for the day to day behaviour of tenants.

    I don’t think there is an easy answer to the above problems. Landlord licencing may have a small effect, but until more tenants feel they have a greater stake in where they live I really can’t see an end to the current problems.

  6. Rod Davies says:

    Surely the good law-abiding landlords have absolutely nothing to fear from this. In fact if they collaborated more with each other and the local authorities they could avoid some of the problems they have serial “bad tenants”. Good landlords surely want to be part of their local communities, as in cohesive communities the other residents are likely to warn them if undesirable activities are going on in their premises.
    So if vested interests have pressure the Conservative minister into watering down requirements, it suggests that there is an enormous block of landlords who don’t want to work with communities, and are solely interested in a “quick buck”. I wonder just how many landlords are not declaring the full income they obtain from their tenants?
    Also landlords have a legal obligation to service & maintain gas & electricity supplies in their properties, and every tenant needs to be assured that this is done. A local registry of landlords could also be used to track that properties are safe & maintained (https://www.gov.uk/private-renting/your-landlords-safety-responsibilities).

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