Exactly 10 years ago, we sent a letter to the then leader of Portsmouth Council, copying the Cabinet Member responsible for Housing, outlining our doubts about the need to introduce Additional Licensing and why we did not think it would work.
Here we are, same council leader, same Housing Cabinet Member (in their defence there have been others in between), same concerns about the proposal to introduce Additional Licensing. Read what we said then and judge whether we were right....
I am sure that as this is a complex issue with implications for more than just housing you will want to read our full consultation response. However since it was produced we have had a chance to discuss the issue further. As someone not directly affected as my property is in Havant and not HMOs I like to think I can look at this issue without prejudice. Initially I thought that anything that would help Bruce eradicate the rogues would be worth the small pain on good landlords. Sadly after much research I no longer think that licensing will eradicate the rogues and the cost to Landlords is often considerably more than the license fee. In Scotland few of the rogues have been picked up and prosecuted. As they are attempting to license all landlords you would think it would be easier. Good, well informed landlords pay the price and the rogues hide. While we have a desperate shortage of accommodation the rogues will sadly continue to pray on the most vulnerable who fear eviction if they complain.
The issue of a licence does not require a full HHSRS inspection but it is likely. As I mentioned at our last meeting, I am concerned that the HHSRS System allows over eager officers to specify 'Hazards' where none exist and by removing the alleged 'Hazard' give the false impression they have improved safety. It makes it easy to miss real hazards completely. The 'System' generates statistics that misguide policy decisions and most importunely fail those living in really hazardous conditions. We know we have a lot of kitchens without heating but is reporting on these distracting the officers from real problems? In a small survey half the 'Hazards' detected were found to be exaggerated on appeal. (9/20 examined) The president of the Lands Tribunal (similar to the High Court) has been highly critical of the 'System'. The industry will never admit to a failing System where it serves them well. In hard times enforcement agencies will go for the easy targets. Licensing will make it very easy for the guys to spot easy targets and request improvements that will make a lot of property just a little better but at considerable cost. I respect the work they do but the stated ambition to remove all hazards from the city is not practical. If it was realistic we would have to convert to 110 volt electrics as used in the USA and ban cars as this would save far more lives than some of the improvements we are called to make but, as always, at a cost. (I am, as yet, not sure if the HHSRS in itself is the problem or as suggested by a safety expert today, it is a training issue. The latter presents us with a problem if we have to increase the number of inspections required.)
The Housing act and DCLG guidance specify that other low cost measures must be tried first. PCC have not tried Simpler options such as;
•Providing clear and consolidated information on standards and how to deal with problems to Landlords, tenants and neighbours. Many landlords are not even aware of the extra regulations appertaining to HMOs or even that they have an HMO.
•Using housing benefits data and support workers to ensure the most vulnerable are safe.
•Discussing complaints from tenants with known and accredited landlords first, rather than sending an officer and prioritizing and encouraging complaints from the tenants of known poor performers. (Tried in Southampton.)
•Following representations from landlords Bournemouth have abandoned their licensing plans and will be trying some of these low-cost measures first.
In the last year according to government data (VOA) Portsmouth rents for shared accommodation have gone up 5% twice as much as other accommodation. Is this landlords recovering the costs of increased HMO regulation. The figures show that those on LHA will be very lucky to find anything they can afford.
Licensing does not impact on the residents main concerns; Noise and Rubbish for which there are better solutions. It will not improve ASB (even licensed landlords struggle with this issue.)
We believe that, especially for HMOs, agents are the main problem, they find managing HMOs a challenge and most fail to meet this well.
Consumer groups, Landlord and agent associations and tenant representatives such as Shelter are lobbying housing minister to license agents. I do not believe that the new housing minister understands the gravity of the problem. He has stated that if tenants or landlords have issues with agents they should go to Trading Standards or the Office of Fair Trading. This is not effective. With better evidence we could convince him. It is only a matter of time. This would fix most of the local issues at little cost to PCC.
I have just heard that The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector is launching an inquiry into how to improve standards and how to regulate the private rented sector. Perhaps you should wait for it to report. (I will be presenting my evidence regarding the HHSRS.)
For these reasons I would urge you to reject the proposal to introduce Additional HMO licensing.
It it is accepted two of my concerns could be partially mitigated if Additional Licensing is adopted. Even 3 locum doctors wanting to share will need a licence. 3 bed properties could be left out of the scheme. This would not make the difficulty single working professionals already have finding shared accommodation any worse.
Lastly some help could be offered to landlords prepared to take single Housing Benefit claimants.
Regards Tony Athill
Portsmouth and District Private Landlords Association
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.