After the October PDPLA meeting, I attended the Full Council meeting of Portsmouth City Council and subsequently the Housing Cabinet meeting on 21 October to oppose proposals put forward by Cllr Cal Corkery to introduce selective licensing for all rented properties in the city.
Both are formal meetings, requiring an email request to speak, an invitation and those making deputations are given strict time limits. The first meeting was the more formal of the two and after deputations those making deputations are asked to leave the meeting but can retire to the public gallery. There is no option for dialogue and indeed the actual debate takes place later in the day. So much later I returned to my office, walked the dog, travelled to a different county had had a pub dinner before watching debate live at 9.00pm, having made my deputation at 2.15! (Whereas other committee members sat through the whole 9 hours on the webcast!)
A member of the labour party made a deputation in which she recalled a bad experience of moving into a property only to decide not to continue with the tenancy due to faults in the property, which she also thought was poorly presented.
Her deputation and mine, as well as the ensuing debates, can be watched on livestream and I think her deputation is worth watching if only to take note of what had actually happened and her reaction.
I spoke against licensing but instead proposed mediation or some form of alternative dispute resolution, suggesting that this option would have been better for her and for both landlords and tenants in general, allowing an agreed solution to be found (or tenancy ended) before things drag on, with both complaining tenants and landlords facing arrears, having a clear binding solution.
Those members present at the October meeting will recall that I was a little cynical about the prospects for getting a result at a deputation. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the reception that I received.
As an interesting aside, of the 42 councillors in Portsmouth half of those present (including the mayor and deputy) had to absent themselves from the meeting as they were advised by the City Solicitor that they had a potential pecuniary interest, either as a tenant who may benefit from the scheme (I am not sure that they would) or as a landlord, who may be adversely impacted. This is also somewhat perplexing as the mover of the motion earnestly informed the Council that good landlords had nothing to fear for licensing. I will leave members to draw their own conclusions on this point.
In the event just 21 Councillors remained for the debate, the motion to look into introducing licensing was amended to include a wider review of how to make the private rental sector better and safer. A number of options were considered, of which licensing was one and councillors voted to move forward with this broader approach.
This was subsequently debated at the Housing Cabinet meeting on 21st October(and again can be watched on livestream). Both Martin and I attended this committee, but to address different issues. I got to play good cop and push for mediation (which was not one of the options but Cllr Saunders did agree should be considered) I submitted my speakers notes with a range of papers for inclusion in any subsequent review.
So, to the outcome. The decision agreed was for a review of the options and more detailed work. As yet we are not sure what format this will take, but it is fair to say that notwithstanding a passionate appeal from Cllr Corkery, which he sees as a fix for bad landlords, most other councillors at the full Council meeting and the two present at the member meeting, as well as the officers present, did not greet the prospect of selective licensing with anything approaching enthusiasm. Whether this will be enough to kill it, or what will take its place, we have yet to see.
Your committee will do everything in our powers to push for a solution that suits both landlords and tenants alike. To me, for the moment Mediation or some form of alternative dispute resolution (I favour the British Colombia model, at least in respect of its timescales) seems like the best option, particularly if it can be approved by and integrated with the courts to give binding agreed outcomes
Things are at an early stage and perhaps what mediation or alternative dispute resolution might look like should be a subject for a future article.
We will keep you informed of developments
Alwin Oliver Vice Chairman
Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.