In a landmark decision announced earlier today (21 December), the government have refused permission for Redbridge Council to implement borough wide selective licensing.
On 9 June 2015, Redbridge Council’s Cabinet approved plans for additional and selective licensing covering all private rented homes in the borough (read here).
In order to bring in selective licensing, the council had argued that there were significant and persistent problems with anti-social behaviour associated with private rented homes and that some landlords were failing to address the issue.
If approved, borough wide selective licensing would have led to the licensing of all 24,000 private rented home, including houses and flats occupied by a single family, couple or even a single person.
But following a change in the law in April 2015, Redbridge Council found themselves unable to implement the selective licensing scheme without getting government approval (read here). The council submitted a business case to the government setting out why they thought the scheme should be approved.
Having originally expected the Secretary of State to make a decision within 8 weeks, it was not until earlier today (21 December) Redbridge Council announced that the government had refused them permission for borough wide selective licensing.
According to the council, the government agreed there was a case for selective licensing in parts of the borough but did not think that the link between anti social behaviour and private rented homes had been demonstrated throughout the borough. The whole scheme was therefore rejected.
A landmark decision
This is a landmark decision that will be viewed with interest and will impact on local authorities up and down the country.
With Redbridge believed to be the first local authority to seek government approval, other councils may be reluctant to follow in their footsteps and seek consent for larger schemes. Instead, selective licensing may in future be used as a more targeted measure covering small areas, as the government intended.
Commenting on the decision, Councillor Athwal, Leader of the Redbridge Council said:
“We are extremely disappointed, that despite evidence provided, our application has been turned down to allow us to implement a Borough wide scheme for private property licensing.
“We strongly believe that a Borough wide scheme is vital to hold landlords to account for the actions of their tenants including noise, rubbish and vandalism and other anti-social behaviour related to some private rented properties.
“Without a Borough wide scheme it will be impossible for us to readily identify who is responsible for a property and deal proactively with poor standards of rented accommodation. Sadly, we will now have to go back to the drawing board and consider our options.”
Additional licensing looks set to proceed
Despite the government’s rejection of the selective licensing scheme, Redbridge Council have today announced they will proceed with plans for a borough wide additional licensing covering an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
This second scheme, which was also approved by Redbridge Council’s Cabinet in June 2015, would extend licensing to all HMOs occupied by three or more people. Unlike selective licensing, a borough wide additional licensing scheme does not need government approval and the scheme could be in place by summer 2016.
With the government unconvinced by the evidence base for borough wide selective licensing, a legal challenge against borough wide additional licensing could still materialise when Redbridge Council formally designate the new scheme.
The timing of the announcement on additional licensing is also somewhat surprising, given the government’s recent consultation on proposals to expand mandatory HMO licensing. The consultation closed last week and a final decision on expected early in the New Year (read here).
Commenting on the decision, Richard Tacagni, Managing Director at London Property Licensing said:
“In rejecting Redbridge Council’s application for borough wide selective licensing, the government have sent out a strong message that they want to see councils adopt a more targeted approach to property licensing.
“Looking forwards, I think we will see plans to license all private rented accommodation replaced by proposals for much smaller ‘selective’ licensing schemes. When used as part of a package of measures to rejuvenate problem areas, selective licensing can be a very useful tool.”
Landlords and letting agents seeking further information about property licensing in Redbridge can visit: www.londonpropertylicensing.co.uk/redbridge.