Six months since its introduction, and Croydon Council’s flagship landlord licensing scheme is still not functioning fully.
The Labour-run council continues to boast of its “ambition”, but the slow-to-implement licensing scheme demonstrates that council leader Tony Newman and senior staffer Jo Negrini are, yet again, having problems with another key word from the local authority lexicon: “delivery”.
Under the controversial landlord licensing scheme, the owners of every privately rented home in the borough had a legal obligation to register with Croydon Council before October 1, 2015, and pay a fee of £750 per rental property for a five-year licence.
The fee was, we were told, to pay towards the administration of the scheme. There were some discounts on offer in landlord fees, but if all 30,000-plus private rental homes in the borough were registered on time, that would mean a cash injection to Croydon Council last autumn of several millions – a decent bit of capital to kick-start the scheme and ensure that it is properly resourced.
“Through the application process, the council will determine that the proposed licence holder is a ‘fit and proper’ person to manage their properties,” the council website states.
The penalties for failing to register under the council system, landlords were warned, are steep. “Landlords renting a property without a licence face fines of up to £20,000, while those that fail to comply with licence conditions can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000.”
Croydon has yet to prosecute any landlord for failing to be licensed.
Landlords who have been in contact with Inside Croydon tell us that, although the registered and paid their fees in time – to take advantage of the “early bird” discount offered – they still await receipt of their licence certificate.
And nearly six months after the deadline for landlords to register, and sources within Fisher’s Folly, the council head offices, have informed Inside Croydon that tenants seeking to confirm that their landlord is properly registered are unable to get an answer to their enquiry.
This failure of a fundamental facet of the scheme is suggested to be because the council’s already overworked staff after years of job cuts – and in the midst of the latest round of redundancies – are not able to cope with the additional workload created by landlord licensing, which is being administered by the “Place” department which is run by the increasingly powerful Negrini.
Problems with implementing the licensing scheme came to light over the planning application by the owners of The Ship pub in South Norwood, who were seeking retrospective approval for the flats which they had carved into the local landmark building, and some of which failed to meet some pretty basic housing regulations. They had been rented out despite the lack of planning permission; if the landlord applied for a licence, it might have been expected that the properties could have been refused because of their non-compliance.
But a disconnect between planning rules and housing legislation means that, although the flats in the ship don’t meet planning regulations, the council still has to issue a licence to the landlords.
The situation highlighted other, systemic problems within the council. According to Rachel Lawrence, of the Save The Ship Campaign, “For those that want to check if their landlord is breaching housing regulations and is a fit and proper person, the short answer is: you can’t.
“It appears that the council’s lovely new computer software isn’t up and running and they’re drowning in paperwork.”
This is all a bit embarrassing for Newman, Negrini and deputy council leader Alison Butler, who is supposed to be leading on the licensing scheme.
Because a policy which was sold to the electorate as ensuring that residents could be protected from rogue landlords is already failing in its terms and conditions.
There’s an added complication, too. Around the time that Croydon began its landlord licensing scheme, the Tory Government introduced its own new measure, the Right to Rent, which came in on February 1 and requires all private landlords to check that their tenants are in the country legally.
It is a law which smacks of East Germany under the hated Stasi. Given the number of asylum seekers who arrive in Croydon and requiring accommodation after reporting to the Home Office at Lunar House, this new law could create considerable additional problems for the borough’s newly licensed landlords.
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