The Conservative government is about to embrace a Labour manifesto policy on landlord licensing that, only a few months ago, was being dismissed by the then Tory housing minister as “nonsensical”.
It will come as no surprise to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader that the aforementioned housing minister who was so opposed to a seemingly sensible policy of ensuring that private landlords provide decent accommodation for their tenants is none other than gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell.
Until June this year, Barwell was MP for Croydon Central. Barwell lost his seat at the June General Election to Labour’s Sarah Jones, who stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce landlord licensing nationally.
Barwell’s dismissals of landlord licensing before his election demise sounded very similar to the criticisms of the landlord licensing scheme when it was introduced in Croydon by the Labour-run council in 2014.
Then, Tory councillors – several of whom happen to be property-owning landlords – decried the landlord licences as a “Tenants’ Tax”. It was a line which Barwell used again this year, when he claimed that landlord licensing would “hit every tenant in the pocket with higher rents” and swamp the market with “municipal red tape that will force up costs and reduce supply”.
Today, landlord licensing – or a version of it – has become Conservative government policy.
Barwell has failed to air his views on this U-turn. It might be a bit awkward were he to do so, as his current job is as the chief of staff to Tory Prime Minister Theresa May.
Under the new policy, people who run homes of multiple occupancy (HMO) of five or more bedrooms in England will need a licence from their local council.
Alok Sharma, the Tory MP who has replaced Barwell as housing minister, says that the powers, unveiled after a long delay, will let councils “crack down on rogue landlords and kick them out of the business for good”.
Licensing is also backed by Shelter and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
The government will also revive pledges to fine dodgy landlords £30,000 and protect tenants from revenge evictions.
“Every tenant has a right to a safe, secure and decent home,” Sharma said. “But some are being exploited by unscrupulous landlords who profit from providing overcrowded, squalid and sometimes dangerous homes.
“Enough is enough and so I’m putting these rogue landlords on notice – shape up or ship out of the rental business.”
The reaction to this of the many property-owning landlords who sit on the Tory benches alongside and behind Sharma has been sullen silence.
In Croydon, the council is estimated to have collected around £6million in landlord licence fees since introducing its scheme in 2014.
In the almost four years since, the council has successfully prosecuted the grand total of one landlord under its scheme, such are the paragons of virtue that are Croydon’s private landlords.
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