iHowz (formerly the Southern Landlords Association) have been in dispute with Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) regarding their proposed Selective Licensing scheme.
As part of the process, BHCC had to apply to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (SoS) to obtain his confirmation for the scheme.
The SoS gave confirmation to BHCC on September 10th 2018, but iHowz objected and wrote to both BHCC and the SoS stating their reasons why this confirmation was unlawful.
After appropriate thought and consideration on October 31st 2018 the SoS has notified iHowz that he has now withdrawn his confirmation and has agreed to reconsider the matter. This will also require BHCC to re-consider their position.
A representative of 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.’
Additionally, iHowz have urged the SoS to consider the future of mass licensing schemes
BHCC applied to the SoS on two perceived problems in the designated area, both of which BHCC stated were within the potential to be managed by the landlord:-
1. anti-social behaviour (ASB);
2. poor property conditions.
iHowz wrote to the SoS countering these claims and the SoS responded that BHCC could continue, but only on the basis of poor property conditions, because there was insufficient evidence to justify ASB problems.
Naturally iHowz disagreed with this and continued to fight this case. They decided to challenge the SoS's decision and asked the SoS for the justification for this decision, repeating their objections. The SoS gave this appropriate consideration and decided to withdraw the original decision.
This leaves BHCC in the position to either abandon Selective Licensing altogether; appeal the reversal; or to start the process again, possibly with a smaller area not requiring SoS permission.
From the perspective of the PDPLA, too often we hear about licensing schemes being brought in based on debateable evidence and failing to actually improve the issues they were brought in to resolve – indeed, in spite of all of the successes of Portsmouth’s recently ended Additional Licensing scheme, one of the main justifications for that scheme was to reduce the number of complaints about HMO’s yet they rose significantly during the period the scheme was operating.