At the start of December, the government approved a new landlord licensing scheme for Liverpool which the council says covers around 80 per cent of private rented properties in the city.
The scheme is based on improving standards in the rental sector, targeting 16 wards in the city where at least one in five homes is owned by a private landlord. Around 45,000 of the 55,000 properties in the original citywide scheme, which ran from 2015-2020, are covered.
What Powers Will Liverpool Council Have?
It will give the council additional powers to drive up standards and keep vulnerable tenants safe, including tackling fire and electrical safety hazards, excess cold and damp.
The wards included are: Central, Riverside, Greenbank, Kensington, Picton, Tuebrook & Stoneycroft, County, Anfield, St Michael’s, Princes Park, Kirkdale, Old Swan, Warbreck, Wavertree, Fazakerley and Everton.
In announcing it, Cllr Sarah Doyle, cabinet member for Development and Economy, said: “Too many vulnerable people in our city are in poor housing conditions, paying rent to a landlord who doesn’t carry out essential maintenance to keep them warm and safe. The Landlord Licensing Scheme will give us regulation of private rented houses so that we can take action when concerns are raised.”
An evaluation of the previous scheme showed that more than 34,000 inspections of licensed properties had been completed, which identified that 65% of properties were not fully compliant on the first visit; identification of 4,350 cases of the most serious category 1 and 2 hazards, including disrepair and excess cold, affecting the health and wellbeing of residents; more than 2,500 legal notices had been issued with 169 formal cautions and 197 written warnings and more than 300 successful landlord offence prosecutions and issuing of 87 civil penalties.
The cabinet member for Neighbourhoods, Cllr Abdul Qadir also said: “We are determined to take the strongest action against those landlords who refuse to manage and keep their properties safe.”
City Residential understands the concerns raised. In some parts of the city, standards can be found to be extremely poor and at a time when available stock is very low tenants can feel squeezed between living in poor accommodation and the lack of an alternative, fearing that complaining might see them being evicted and without a roof over their heads. Protection for vulnerable tenants is needed more than ever.
Whilst we are supportive of landlord licensing in general, we have always felt that it should be targeted at those areas and the types of property and landlords where there is a high prevalence of poor property conditions and standards.
We’re not sure that this new scheme will address that properly, however. It’s a selective scheme but with a much too broad a brush. There are three types of landlord licensing in England and Wales – mandatory for HMOs with five or more people in them; additional licensing which also applies to people letting out HMOs, brought in by individual councils if they’re concerned HMOs aren’t being properly managed or believe that the mandatory licensing doesn’t go far enough; and selective licensing with councils requiring some or all landlords in their area to obtain a licence to let property.
This new approach by Liverpool city Council seems to fall between two stools. In our view it shouldn’t have included the city centre, because the majority of properties in this area have been constructed in the last 20 years and are apartments, which in the main have fewer issues than some older terraced properties in the suburbs. From our knowledge and the data collected by the council during the first five years of landlord licensing, there appears to be a much higher proportion of poor standards, non-compliant properties and unprofessional landlords in these more deprived locations or where there is a higher student population.
We feel the approach should be more targeted, pursuing these landlords and properties with track records of poor provision and compliance, hitting them harder and ensuring that they have signed up to the scheme. A more focused scheme would allow a more aggressive clampdown on those landlords and agents who are not complying. Yet if the city centre area and other areas of higher compliance are removed how will the council pay for all the other inspections enforcement and data collection?
This scheme, like the other 50 plus around the country, promises that any license fees paid must only be used to cover the cost of the staff employed to implement and run it. It could potentially raise the not insignificant sum of £15-20m, so we are keen to see that this money is spent wisely and focused on the areas where it will result in the biggest impacts.
As it is, many ‘good’ landlords and agents strongly believe that their licence fees end up paying for the enforcement of the “bad” landlord and agents, which we tend to agree with. The original scheme offered a discount for landlords whose agent was a member of an approved governing body such as ARLA and we hope and expect this to be offered in this new version.
Details of this are to follow shortly, we are told, but it’s important that the council engages with our community quickly and in advance of the scheme being implemented to ensure that its aim to improve standards across PRS is actually achieved in the most effective way.
Ultimately of course, this is all about the people who live in the private rented sector. This scheme is about their protection, safety and comfort.
If it enables the council to “improve the life chances of our citizens”, allows “people to thrive” and “give(s) tenants the peace of mind that [the council] have the resources and powers to help them,” as Louise Harford, head of Private Sector Housing at the council, wrote in a recent Liverpool Express blog, then it has to be welcomed and we fully support that, but it also has to be managed properly.