London Local Authorities and the Private Rented Sector

LettingFocus despairs of the approach adopted by one London Council in dealing with its private rented sector.

We have just been sent an invitation to tender from a London local authority.

In the invitation they identify that they need to do some work to improve their local private rented sector, which now forms a substantial 30% plus of all housing stock in this borough.

They go onto identify a series of very real problems that impact on local people in their borough – e.g. some sheds with beds, examples of poor management by some rogue “landlords” etc.

So far, so good.

But they then appear to come straight to the conclusion that the way to tackle the problems is potentially either with a licensing scheme and / or via setting up a “social” letting agency to be ran by the council and which would work to get private landlords letting to people on housing benefit.

However, they fail to ask whether a licensing scheme or a social letting agency is actually the best way to tackle the issues in the first place.

This is fundamentally wrong, in our opinion.

Monitoring and Enforcement

All the evidence I have seen, including from talking to practioners on the “front line” of housing and homelessness, is that the local authorities know very well who the rogue landlords are and they also know where the offending properties are.

The problems councils really face are these:

  1. lack of resources to go after the rogues,
  2. poorly joined up monitoring and enforcement by various arms of the councils and other agencies and
  3. sometimes insufficient fines levied once a successful prosecution is obtained.

Policy should be built around these facts first – and the tender should be about looking at a wider range of measures the council could implement right now – and for very little expenditure.

If it can be shown that a licensing scheme is the best way to achieve this, then fine. However, councils must be mindful that rogue operators are hardly likely to sign up and they should also be mindful of the Scottish registration scheme experience, reported elsewhere at this site: http://www.lettingfocus.com/blogs/index.php/tag/scottish-landlords-register/

 

Evidence

As to social letting agencies, yes this could potentially work, but we have yet to see sufficient evidence that any previous similar type of venture has proved cost effective.

It appears that past experiments in setting up social lettings agencies have achieved mixed results, at least in part, because they do not attract private landlords in any significant numbers to the schemes.

This is usually due to a failure to adequately address how to get landlords signed up., which is because most past social letting agency ventures tend to have no “online strategy” relying instead on accreditation schemes / council records which are far too small in numbers to generate volumes.

Back to Base

This council really needs to go back to first base and ask whether a landlords licensing scheme / social letting agency really is required or are there other potentially more efficient and effective alternatives.

Finally, we checked the council’s website. We found it had almost no information for tenants or landlords in the private rented sector.

Fixing this first would be a far better place to start than spending even an hour sending invitations for tenders to adjudge complex and overarching schemes which may very well not address the real issues that this council is facing.

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