Hackney Council change landlord licensing policy for privately rented blocks of flats

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 - Hackney Council

On 16 October 2019, Hackney Council Cabinet met to approve changes to their selective licensing policy for privately rented blocks of flats.

When the selective licensing scheme was introduced in the council wards of Brownswood, Cazenove and Stoke Newington on 1 October 2018, the intention was to require a separate selective licensing application for each privately rented flat.

Following a challenge by a local landlord, the council have reviewed their policy on licensing blocks of flats where all the flats are privately rented. Whilst the review was underway, all selective licence approvals were placed on hold.

Whilst confirming their preference for individual flat licences, the council have accepted that a block of privately rented flats can be defined as a Part 3 House with one selective licence issued for the whole building. The council’s report acknowledges this is a complex area of law and they have sought to amend their policy rather than face a legal challenge.

Having considered the report, the Cabinet agreed that the council will accept one selective licence application for a block of flats, or in respect of a combination of flats within a block, where all of the flats covered by the application are:

  • in the same building;
  • all under the same ownership and management control; and
  • all let on tenancies or licences which are not exempt tenancies or licences.

At the same time, the council have amended their schedule of fees to reflect single block applications. The council are not proposing any reduction in the ‘per flat’ fee, although it is unclear whether this aspect of the decision might face further challenge.

This decision could have implications for local authorities across the country, if landlords ask for the same approach adopted in other selective licensing areas. London Property Licensing is aware of at least one similar challenge currently underway with a different local authority.

Selective licensing inspections underway

With the application of selective licensing to blocks of flats resolved, the council have given the green light to their newly-expanded enforcement team to start a crackdown on dangerous conditions and mistreatment of private renters within the selective licensing area.

Hackney Council property licensing scheme

The selective licensing scheme applies to an estimated 4,000 privately rented homes in Brownswood, Cazenove and Stoke Newington wards where landlords need to hold a licence that requires them to keep properties safe and treat tenants fairly. According to the council, one in five renters in these areas suffer from issues like cold homes, disrepair, or damp and mould.

The income from the licence fees is being used to fund a double-sized licensing team that will inspect properties, work with landlords to ensure they meet the right standards, and take tough measures against those who don’t comply – including penalty charges of up to £30,000 or prosecution which could lead to an unlimited fine, or bans from letting homes completely.

A similar crackdown on around 4,000 larger shared rental properties across the borough – called Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – began this summer, with court dates set in for the new year for the first three offenders accused of breaching licensing conditions and HMO management regulations.

Cllr Sem Moema, Mayoral Adviser for Private Renting and Housing Affordability, Hackney Council said:

For too long rogue landlords have been able to get away with exploiting a lack of regulation to profit from letting out homes in unacceptable condition.

Our property licensing measures are addressing this imbalance, giving protection to thousands of renters who, by paying exorbitant rents just for somewhere to live, are already on the frontline of Hackney’s housing crisis.

Landlords have long known that these changes are coming and – with plans to inspect every single property affected – those breaking the law can have no excuses when we issue tough penalties for not having the licence they need or bringing their properties up to scratch“.

The measures are part of the Council’s #BetterRenting campaign, which is creating a better deal for private renters in the borough and making the case for a fairer system for the rented sector nationally.

A free guide containing more detailed information about property licensing in the London Borough of Hackney is available here.

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