Some Sympathy for Landlord Licensing in Southwark
David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com has some sympathy for councils over landlord licensing. He calls on central government to make penalties for criminal landlords far harsher and let the councils keep the cash raised. He also questions whether licensing of landlords is being abused and used as a tool to deal with criminals offending on a wider basis.
Some Sympathy for Landlord Licensing in Southwark
I attended a landlords’ forum meeting at Southwark Town Hall last week, which covered among other things, the council’s plans for landlord licensing.
Part of the event was to showcase the ahem, “consultation” (and I use the term loosely) for whole borough landlord licensing as they already have in Newham.
Regular readers of my blogs will know I am against this idea, and why I oppose it, but I do have a grain of sympathy for the councils. I do feel their genuine frustration with the way the current system works.
The fact is that most “rogue landlords” are not just landlords who are a bit clueless and remiss at running a property lettings business. Most are serious criminals.
Criminal Landlords or Rogue Landlords?
These criminals are not the kind of people that it is easy to find. So, whilst the councils will know full well where their properties are, they cannot just go and look up the name of the owner at the Land Registry and then find them easily.
Often the council will go to the land registry and find that the “owner” is just a front company, which has long since folded. The owners will also often use aliases and /hide behind loose family relationships in a deliberate attempt to be hard to find. (Will the real Slim Shady please stand up!).
Tracking the owner down is very expensive and time consuming business.
Then the preparation work for a court case against one of these criminals is a monstrously complex affair.
Finally, when all that is done, the criminal walks away with a ludicrously light fine.
So, in some desperation, many councils have come up with this sledgehammer of a licensing system, because it sort of countermands some of the other failures in the system – and in particular the ludicrously light sentences being dribbled out by the courts.
As we know, licensing does this by imposing a new regime in which if anyone does not have a license they get slapped with a fine of £20,000.
Of course, the council still has the problem of tracking down the offenders, but at least once they do that, it’s simple – and no mucking about with complex legal preparation work. £20,000 fine on a plate.
But this is surely a case of using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack the nut of the failures of the existing system.
“The existing system does not work, “Long Live The New System”.
Penalties for Rogue Landlords
The more sensible solution would be to make the sentences and fines for offences under the existing system far heavier. Make the existing system work better!
We suggest a minimum fine level of at least £20,000 for offences such as wilfully not arranging annual gas safety inspections and other serious offences against housing safety. This should be backed up by imprisonment for the worst offenders.
Also, let the councils keep all the cash raised from fines to give them an incentive. (At the moment most of it goes back to the Treasury).
If the councils could keep the money raised, this could help pay for their work tracking down offenders, the cost of bringing a legal case and for the costs of co-ordinating work with the police/immigration dept/ utility companies (who will also have an interest in these criminals).
If such an enlightened system were in place there would be no need for these cumbersome resource-heavy sledgehammer licensing approaches in which all honest landlords (and hence their tenants) have to pay in terms of higher rents.
But that would need central government to change the law, review how the Housing Act 2004 could be made to work better and alter sentencing guidelines.
And that would need some common sense – something too often in short supply from leading politicians at present.
And so the likes of Southwark, Croydon, Enfield and many other boroughs, to some extent understandably frustrated, bring in the hated licensing schemes in which we all suffer.
Effectively, they are saying that they need the licensing cash from all the compliant landlords (passed onto their tenants, of course) to pay for the cost of going after the few rogues. Utter madness.
Another good idea is tor require collection of landlords or letting agents name along with the council tax forms.
Abuse of Landlords Licensing?
Of course, licensing is supposed to be a tool to deal with areas of low housing demand / antisocial behaviour, and NOT to be used as a tool to bring criminals to book for a variety of offences, only one of which may be housing offences.
In that much, licensing as a tool, seems to us to occasionally be misused by some councils and we wonder about the merits of a legal challenge bought under that basis.
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