Greenwich Council have launched a consultation on licensing and registering some private landlords in the borough. Progress has been pretty slow on this issue, and I’d previously covered this subject back in March. There has been a rapid rise in private dwellings in the borough over the past decade and 30,000 households now rent privately, which is 29% of all homes in the borough.

Of that number, 20% (6,500) are Homes of Multiple Occupation, which is what Greenwich Council are consulting on. Whilst welcome, the endemic problems that now exist means this doesn’t go far enough.

This would only cover 20% of private lettings. What is needed is licensing all landlords within the borough. This is known as selective licensing. This ability was introduced in 2006, and around 25% of London boroughs adopted this before rules were tightened by central government in 2015 which restricted a council’s ability to introduce a scheme. Unfortunately Greenwich Council were too slow to do so despite clearly escalating problems that private lettings have been bringing.

The number of issues from private rentals was highlighted in a council report and shows the need for licensing:

“In summary, as at the 5 January 2016 the following had been achieved: 1,219 properties have been visited by Intelligence Officers with 460 found to be HMOs. This has resulted in nearly 1,000 enforcement investigations.

Over 1,770 hazards and breaches of legislation have been identified during the inspections.”

In order to adopt selective licensing an application must now be made to the Secretary of State for Housing Gavin Barwell (who is also Minister for London and defended Chris Grayling blocking devolution of rail services to TfL). He is a known critic.

So it’s a tall order. But they can still take action without the Minister’s approval if selective licensing is limited to certain areas up to 20% of the borough. HMO licensing can still occur alongside covering 100% of those.

This is what Bexley Council are proposing, who started consultation back in September. More details are here. They are looking at licensing all landlords in Erith and Thamesmead.

Many other councils have also gone down that route in light of restrictions since 2015. One example is Tower Hamlets. From 1 October 2016, all privately rented property in the areas of Whitechapel, Weavers, Spitalfields and Bangla town needed to be licensed. Another council is Ealing, who introduce their scheme on January 1st.

Yet Greenwich Council appear to not be looking into it according to this consultation. If even Tory Bexley ends up with a more extensive scheme to license landlords, to protect residents and combat anti-social behaviour, it’ll be embarrassing for Labour Greenwich and questions will be asked about the reticence to act.

Fast growth in the population mean this isn’t going away. Greenwich borough has seen over 20k more residents in the last 5 years, and London over 500k. These are likely to be conservative estimates too given the ONS’s record in this area:

rbg-population-growth

Buy to let problems

Increasing problems from mass buy-to-let are much in evidence. The consultation for Greenwich’s limited plans shows it. It’s easy to spot those houses with “to let” boards up every year that are basically being left to rot by landlords. Rubbish is dumped as the revolving door of tenants on short term lets continues. This is a big contributor to fly tipping issues which are now endemic.

A revolving door of tenants also means community cohesion and local bonds are lessened. Many people don’t know their neighbours. Tenants have little stake in the area if only there for a short time and they will not spend large sums on maintaining homes and gardens if moving on shortly.

Little upkeep is done on many of these landlord owned buildings or gardens. If landlords do not care for the exterior then it’s often a good insight into what the interiors are like. And this all conspires to ensure areas and towns slip into decline as the housing stock is neglected. People who give a damn see this and look to move away with a landlord then likely to buy that property (until recently they had tax breaks denied to owner occupiers) and the spiral continues.

Income from licensing

Licensing landlords not only brings in money to investigate issues that poor landlords cause but will likely force out dodgy landlords in the first place. Being on a register and open to scrutiny, and the large fines to be levied if they hide, will put some of the more unscrupulous out of action. And income from the scheme can increase investigations on those that cling on.

However as Greenwich are sadly only looking at the mildest extension of licensing, which is not enough to monitor all landlords in the borough, then will the widespread problems of beds-in-sheds, fly-tipping, crumbling and unsafe homes and fracturing communities be alleviated to a sufficient degree?

I doubt it. They need to look, as soon as possible, at licensing all privately let homes in the worst hit areas. It can be done without central government approval. They missed out for 10 years on a borough wide scheme when other councils begun doing so.

They are now many months behind others in adopting other schemes, and the one they are consulting on now is more limited than most despite the borough having some of the worst problems in London.

Oh, and the scare stories from landlords threatening to up rents? If they could do that wouldn’t they already have done so? It’s very unlikely the market could bear it. What it will do is help to monitor good landlords, expel the bad, and level the playing field away from landlords towards owner occupiers who are often forced to rent as they’ve been denied chances to own.

You can comment on Greenwich Council’s proposal here and Bexley’s here.

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