BARRATT HOLMES on some surprising statistics regarding the borough’s private landlords
The Labour-run council’s controversial landlord licensing scheme, which has collected an estimated £6million from the borough’s private landlords, has made just a single prosecution in the past 12 months.
Those figures suggest that either the council inspectors, if they exist, are doing less than the bare minimum to protect tenants in sub-standard accommodation, or the borough’s private landlords are paragons of responsibility.
According to Alison Butler, the council cabinet member responsible for introducing landlord licensing in Croydon, “the scheme is working well”.
The single prosecution figure in Croydon comes from a Freedom of Information request filed from City Hall politicians for London-wide statistics on how well, or not, similar licensing schemes are functioning across the capital.
It became a legal requirement of private landlords with properties in Croydon to register, and pay a £750 fee per property, by October 1, 2015, “As part of its drive to make Croydon a better place to rent, Croydon Council has designated the borough a private rented property licence area. Through the application process, the council will determine that the proposed licence holder is a ‘fit and proper’ person to manage their properties”.
The penalties for not complying with the system, the council threatens, are heavy. Landlords renting a property without a licence face fines of up to £20,000, those that fail to comply with licence conditions can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000.
According to the council’s own figures, in 2016-2017 the council completed 3,473 inspections of private housing and 806 inspections of council-owned homes, all as part of the council’s “drive to make Croydon a better place to rent”.
The 2004 Housing Act provides a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) which assesses 29 housing hazards and the effect that each may have on the health and safety of occupants of the property. If a hazard is a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety, this is known as a Category 1 hazard.
Croydon’s landlord licence inspectors, according to the FoI response, did not record any information on the number of Category 1 hazards in private rental properties.
This may seem odd: how might the inspectors be expected to compare whether a landlord is complying with their requirements to improve a property if they don’t bother writing down its faults?
This, according to Alison Butler, is her scheme “working well”.
The council did manage to record the number of Category 1 hazards in its own housing stock: 184. The may seem worryingly high, from 806 inspections. It also demonstrates that the council’s property inspectors are capable of recording Category 1 hazards.
All of the failings of the council properties were reported to contractors to carry out repairs, according to the council.
The FoI response tells us that Croydon Council “formally served 32 improvement notices to landlords in private sector housing. In addition, 257 informal notices were also issued in the private sector housing”.
And those 3,473 inspections of private rented accommodation led to a single prosecution in a 12-month period.
“The scheme is working well,” according to Alison Butler.
Butler’s remarks were made yesterday, in response to a resident on Twitter who claimed to be living in an unlicensed property. The resident, as they have been asked to do by the council, had checked the landlord register for their address. The address is not listed. So they reported this to the council’s landlord licensing team. Five times.
“Evidently, the scheme does not work,” was the view of “Albert”.
The cabinet member for housing contradicted this private renter who had turned to the council for help and protection under the law. “The scheme is working well,” was Butler’s response. “Actions have been taken in hundreds of cases,” Butler claimed of a system which had made a single prosecution in the past year.
Either Butler is lying, or she is being badly let down and misinformed by council officials about the effectiveness of the landlord licensing scheme in which she and the Labour group on the council invested so much political capital.
Certainly, based on the research conducted on behalf of London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, the picture across London is of local authorities doing barely anything to protect the interests of tenants renting privately.
Pidgeon’s office describes the situation as “just a threadbare patchwork of enforcement against London’s rogue landlords”.
Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, said, “Last year the housing charity Shelter revealed that 1 in 20 renters believe they have recently rented from a rogue landlord and 60 per cent of renters had experienced either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks.” Though not in Croydon, natch, where the landlord licensing “scheme is working well”.
Pidgeon, not unreasonably, wants basic standards to be upheld for London’s 2million private renters.
“My survey demonstrates that where mandatory licensing has been introduced, the resources this provides can result in a step-change in enforcement activity.” Such as in Croydon, where with an estimated £6million in licence fees, “the scheme is working well”?
Croydon is among 25 boroughs in London which prosecuted fewer than 10 landlords for providing unsafe accommodation in 2016-2017. One council, Newham, was responsible for 57 cent of prosecutions under the 2004 Housing Act across the whole of London.
Yet Whitehall had not decided by last month whether Newham would be allowed to renew its licensing scheme in 2018. Croydon’s licensing scheme is due to expire in 2020.
“Within London’s private rented sector there is now a need for a proper and robust framework of regulation across the entire city,” Pidgeon said. “The data clearly demonstrates that only a rigorous regime of licensing will result in the enforcement needed to put an end to the problem of rogue landlords that exist across every part of London.”
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