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HOW TO HANDLE SELECTIVE LICENSING

RLA checklist shows what to watch out for

The Residential Landlords Association has drawn up a 20-point ‘action plan’ for private sector landlords who are facing a selective licensing proposal by their local council.

Selective licensing is usually proposed in a low demand area or one that has a record of anti-social behaviour. But the issues are complex and responding to them in the most effectively way can be critical.

The best solution is the one where landlords and councillors work together to tackle what is essentially a local social issue. But the playing field is often far from level. That’s where the RLA checklist becomes invaluable.

Increasingly the reality is that selective licensing is seen as a revenue earner for local authorities so that it can help pay the environmental health staff.

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  1. Ask the council what action they will take to pre-warn people of the need for licensing.
  2. Ask to see the statistics on which a selective licensing proposal is based … and challenge them.
  3. Propose accreditation as part of the solution. Linking to an accreditation scheme - such as the RLAAS - could be more effective all round.
  4. If the council is arguing anti-social behaviour as a factor this has to be shown to originate from private rented sector properties - not social landlords – and that it’s a result of poor management by PRS landlords.
  5. Carefully examine whether crime and anti-social behaviour really does emanate from PRS properties. Could there be other causes – particularly people coming in from other areas?
  6. Tenants and unsatisfactory people from one area may be displaced to others and there are concerns about how this could affect mortgage lenders attitudes.
  7. Check that selective licensing is not being pursued in isolation. Other plans should have been attempted – such as face lifts, environmental improvements or working with other agencies including the police and anti social behaviour teams.
  8. When councils say they have already done a lot of work in the area concerned, a big question is - what else could selective licensing achieve that other existing powers have failed to deliver?
  9. Look carefully at what standards of housing, amenities and space are imposed. These will need investigation.
  10. Check that a monitoring system and proper planned outcomes are in place because councils need to consider other ways of achieving their objectives. Selective licensing was successfully countered in Hull, for instance, where specially trained landlords self-inspected and assessed properties to agreed standards under supervision from Environmental Health Officers. Resulting work programmes, for individual properties, were done in conjunction with area improvement programmes.
  11. Watch out for the bureaucracy that can be inherent in licensing schemes. A huge amount of effort is put into processing paperwork, issuing licensing applications and chasing people up.
  12. Ask - will it actually work? What will it achieve? Particularly - what can it achieve that cannot be done in other, less bureaucratic ways?
  13. Is it really about property conditions? If so, there are already other powers available to councils – such as Housing Health and Safety Rating powers.
  14. Is the council simply using selective licensing as a way of forcing landlords into the open? This is often the real reason because it gives them statutory control to identify who owns, or has responsibility for, individual properties.
  15. A selective licensing scheme is limited to five years – so challenge the council over what they hope to achieve, and how, within this timescale. What resources are they devoting to the area and, importantly, what impact will these have on anti social behaviour?
  16. Does the scheme have a job creation or preservation element for council employees that may otherwise be curtailed by cuts?
  17. Watch the licence conditions – detailed wording is necessary to ensure that proposed conditions are lawful and reasonable.
  18. Look at licence fee levels in relation to average rents in the area. How many weeks rent does the fee represent? Is it sucking money from an area that could, instead, be invested in upgrading properties?
  19. Beware of penalties – such as for late applications – which are of dubious legality. Fixing a higher fee, and then discounting when things are done on time, is often better practice.
  20. If the council professes ‘zero tolerance’ on the issue of prosecutions, bear in mind that such a policy is strictly unlawful.

Updated November 2012