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Decision details

Designating an Area of London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road for Selective Licensing of Private Rented Properties

Decision Maker: Cabinet

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: Yes

Is subject to call in?: Yes

Purpose:

We are seeking approval to designate an area which requires private landlords to apply for a licence for every private rented property in the area.  They would be required to pay a licence fee and abide by the standards and conditions in the licence.

Decision:

9.1

The Executive Director, Place submitted a report seeking approval to designate an area of London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road for the Selective Licensing of privately rented properties.

 

 

9.2

RESOLVED: That Cabinet:-  

 

 

 

(a)

approves the revised designation of the area referred to in the report and defined on the map set out in Appendix 1, and the schedule of properties set out at section 1.11 of this report as being subject to Selective Licensing, to come into force on 1st November 2018 and unless revoked beforehand, to remain in force for a period of five years from that date;

 

 

 

 

(b)

approves the Selective Licensing Scheme detailed in the report, including the Scheme Licensing Fees set out in Appendix 6 and the Proposed Licence Conditions set out in Appendix 5;

 

 

 

 

(c)

delegates authority to the Director of Housing and Neighbourhood Services to amend the Scheme Licensing Fees and the Proposed Licence Conditions as necessary for the successful administration of the scheme throughout the five year licensing period; and

 

 

 

 

(d)

requests that the Safer and Stronger Communities Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee monitor the impact of the scheme over the next 6/12 months and an initial scoping meeting be held at its next meeting to establish how this will be undertaken.

 

 

 

9.3

Reasons for Decision

 

 

9.3.1

The Council has a statutory duty to address hazards in private rented properties. This is carried out on a day to day basis, usually with individual properties and landlords. Where Councils identify more widespread issues in an area, the law allows them to introduce discretionary licensing schemes.

 

 

9.3.2

Selective licensing is being proposed because the problems uncovered in this area are too widespread and significant to be dealt with on an individual property/landlord basis.

 

 

9.3.3

We acknowledge that the majority of landlords in Sheffield are good. They provide a wide range of rented accommodation that is well managed and safe. There are, however, a small number of irresponsible landlords who continue to let properties in a poor state of repair, neglect their management responsibilities, demonstrating little regard to their tenants’ safety and well-being. Neglected and poorly managed housing not only impacts on the health and well-being of tenants but also has a detrimental impact on the local area.

 

 

9.3.4

Now we are aware of the extent of the problems in this area it is appropriate that we recommend a way of improving the properties and health and safety of the occupants. It is impossible to do that with our existing resources, and Selective Licensing is provided as a legal tool to address wide-scale problems of this nature.

 

 

9.3.5

Because of the work done with landlords over the past few years, we are concerned about the lack of responsibility and accountability shown. It has been difficult to pin down the correct ownership and management details. Landlords have been allowing people to live in conditions that are obviously poor and/or dangerous without any efforts to improve those situations. We have consciously provided multiple opportunities to address this on a voluntary basis, but landlords have demonstrated a clear reluctance to co-operate without legal enforcement.

 

 

9.3.6

By licensing this area, it automatically increases landlords’ accountability, makes sure the landlords’ business activities are satisfactory, and that we will have a record of details of the landlord, agent and any other interested party in the property. It will ensure there is transparency about the condition of their properties as well as their management arrangements.

 

 

9.3.7

We are recommending licensing because it allows us to set clear standards and conditions that landlords must adhere to, and for us to take legal action if they don’t.

 

 

9.3.8

Added to this, we have found a clear lack of management ability and competency. The unacceptable living conditions are at best a nuisance, are harmful and at worst they are potentially fatal. When we see the volume of issues in one area like this – it would be neglectful to walk away without proposing a comprehensive scheme of regulation and enforcement.

 

 

9.3.9

A major advantage of licensing is that landlords and agents will be checked in terms of their Fit and Proper status, which is significant because landlords with criminal convictions or a history with us could fail this test and be prevented from managing in the area. This will raise the standard of landlords operating in the area and ensure the less scrupulous ones are driven out. Furthermore – the

Government has now introduced Banning Orders which means those landlords could ultimately be banned from operating anywhere in the country.

 

 

9.3.10

One of the most worrying aspects of our experience with tenants is that many appeared to be afraid to speak to us about their landlords. Some didn’t know who their landlord was or how to contact them. They didn’t have legal tenancy agreements or rent receipts. The level of referrals for our tenancy relations officers was relatively high, suggesting that landlords were not adhering to their legal responsibilities in terms of managing tenancies properly, or enabling tenants to live without fear of harassment.

 

 

9.3.11

Supporting evidence for this is the behaviour landlords have shown in public events. Seeing violence and aggression in a public setting like this was shocking. Naturally, it made us wonder how they react to their tenants in the privacy of their property, if they are acting like this in public. Added to this is the vulnerability of occupants, whether it is a language or culture barrier, poverty or mental or physical disability. Seeing landlords act in this way made us fearful for the safety of tenants. This situation must not be tolerated and as a Council we have a duty of care to protect these people.

 

 

9.3.12

Having considered the criteria set down by the Government, the wealth of information gathered throughout the inspection programme and consultation period, we consider that selective licensing is the most effective way of addressing the poor housing and tenancy management of properties along the proposed area of London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road.

 

 

9.4

Alternatives Considered and Rejected

 

 

9.4.1

Prior to making a designation to introduce selective licensing the Council are required to consider other courses of action alongside selective licensing to determine whether there are alternatives that would be as effective in achieving the same objectives.

 

 

9.4.2

As an alternative to introducing a selective licensing scheme the following approaches have been considered. Discussion about these options took place as part of our consultation during drop in and evening consultation events.

 

 

9.4.3

Continue with reactive enforcement

 

We could continue with the current regulatory approach and respond to complaints received on an individual basis. This approach would have extremely limited impact on addressing poor property conditions as it would be sporadic based on 17 complaints rather than a planned programme of inspecting each property. This option relies on tenants reporting issues and does not address poor standards in a strategic way.

 

 

9.4.4

On analysis of the complaints received from tenants, a fifth became unresponsive or were unwilling for officers to pursue their complaint. We are aware that in some cases this is due to tenants being in fear of harassment and retaliatory eviction. We also know that many tenants living in properties where serious conditions were found were unaware they could report issues to the Council.

 

 

9.4.5

Continuing as we are is likely to leave a significant proportion of privately rented tenants living in substandard conditions which are harmful to their safety, health and wellbeing.

 

 

9.4.6

Our current reactive approach does not focus on developing effective partnerships with landlords, the voluntary sector and other services. The investment in ‘on the ground support’ as a result of selective licensing will help us take a more proactive approach and increase engagement with people living and working in the area.

 

 

9.4.7

Targeted proactive enforcement

 

Over the last two years resources have been focussed on targeting problematic properties in the area. Due to the complexity and severity of issues found, dealing with poor property standards on a case by case basis has been slow and more resource intensive than expected. Many landlords have been reluctant to act on any advice from officers and have only carried out works at the point of legal intervention. Whilst enforcement powers under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 are effective in dealing with hazards within an individual property it does not address poor standards of management in all properties. Neither does it assess the Fit and Proper status of landlords and agents, and as such does not offer a wider strategic approach to improving standards in an area where there are significant problems.

 

 

9.4.8

In Sheffield targeted enforcement is not sustainable, and cannot have enough of an effect on the number of poor properties. Additional tools are required to bring about change.

 

 

9.4.9

Voluntary Compliance

 

This requires voluntary engagement from landlords to improve property standards and management practices across the sector. We offered this as an alternative in Page Hall in 2015 at the request of landlords. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that there were only a handful of landlords that signed up to this.

 

 

9.4.10

For a number of years, our officers have found that despite providing full schedules of work to make the properties safe, landlords did not carry this out until the point of legal intervention. This shows that we cannot rely on voluntary compliance.

 

 

9.4.11

It is recognised nationally that voluntary schemes have limitations when trying to tackle non-compliant landlords and tend to attract only those landlords who are already motivated and provide a good service.

 

 

9.4.12

With limited sanctions, voluntary registration would fail to tackle the worst accommodation standards and would not tackle landlords who deliberately avoid their responsibilities.

 

 

9.4.13

We do not support voluntary registration as it relies on landlord self- declarations. These are known to be proven as inaccurate and could therefore damage the reputation of the Council certifying them. Take up is variable and with no enforcement powers or compulsion for landlords to join, we feel it is necessary to impose legal requirements on landlords due to the significance of the problems.

 

 

9.5

Any Interest Declared or Dispensation Granted

 

 

 

None

 

 

9.6

Reason for Exemption if Public/Press Excluded During Consideration

 

 

 

None

 

 

9.7

Respective Director Responsible for Implementation

 

 

 

Laraine Manley, Executive Director, Place

 

 

9.8

Relevant Scrutiny and Policy Development Committee If Decision Called In

 

 

 

Safer and Stronger Communities

 

 

 

Report author: Michelle Houston

Publication date: 25/06/2018

Date of decision: 20/06/2018

Decided at meeting: 20/06/2018 - Cabinet

Effective from: 30/06/2018

Accompanying Documents: