In November 2017, councillors in Brighton and Hove City Council agreed unanimously to back a new scheme designed to regulate and improve property conditions in the private rental sector across Brighton and Hove. The Selective Licensing Scheme proposed that landlords pay for a licence to lawfully rent out their property. Landlords operating in Brunswick and Adelaide, Central Hove, East Brighton, Hanover and Elm Grove, Hollingdean and Stanmer, Queens Park, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, Preston Park, Regency, South Portslade, St Peters and North Laine and Westbourne, would have to pass a ‘fit and proper’ test before being granted a licence.
City councillor Tracey Hill, who worked on the Selective Licensing Scheme, which is expected to affect about 27,000 properties, said: “It’s great that our application to introduce this scheme has been successful. This will allow us to raise standards in more privately rented homes in the city and help us make sure that tenants in the sector can live in safe, healthy and well-managed homes.”
The council doesn’t hold much information on private rented properties. Budget cuts over several years have hit many council services hard including the council’s private sector housing service, making it almost impossible for the council to be proactive about improving property conditions in private rented homes. Many private tenants do not contact the council to raise issues regarding property conditions as they feel vulnerable, and often Brighton and Hove City Council are not informed about unacceptable conditions until after the person has moved out, which makes it very difficult to act. The new scheme was designed to combat such issues.
If approved, landlords or their agents will need to apply to the council for a licence and adhere to the conditions, which include gas and fire safety, repairs, no overcrowding and a written tenancy agreement. A 3-year license will cost a landlord £460, while those accredited by the National Landlords Association (NLA) will be charged the reduced rate of £410.
The Selective Licencing Scheme was due to come into force on the 4th February 2019, but the scheme faced opposition as it included rules surrounding anti-social behaviour, meaning landlords had to ‘react’ to anti-social behaviour if it affected their property, and covered such a large geographic area.
A South-East landlord association called iHowz have been in dispute with Brighton and Hove City Council. Since iHowz has disputed the scheme, the Secretary of State for Housing has withdrawn support. This leaves Brighton and Hove City Council in the position to either abandon Selective Licensing altogether, appeal the reversal or to start the process again, possibly with a smaller geographical area not requiring the Secretary of State for Housing’s permission.
A statement released by iHowz said: –
‘We took this action because we felt the decision to license some 27,000 rental properties was unlawful, unnecessary and not justified by the evidence provided, and would almost certainly lead to rent increases for many private sector tenants in Brighton. Licensing was brought in 2006 to allow local Councils to control a small area of rental properties being poorly managed bringing that area into disrepute. We support licensing when used for that purpose. We cannot and have never supported the carte blanche licensing of large areas. We have previously offered to work with the Council to help improve rental conditions for private sector tenants in the City; improve property conditions in a cost-effective manner where required; and most importantly identify the possibility of criminal landlords, and we repeat that offer. Furthermore, we urge the Council to work with us to extend our existing programme of landlord training in the City to improve landlord knowledge so they can give the best and most efficient service to their tenants.’
The future of the Selective Licencing Scheme proposed by the council is uncertain. Brighton and Hove City Council is seeking clarification from the government regarding the removal of permission.
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