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Proposed selective licensing for Luton

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Proposed selective licensing for Luton

We are considering introducing a selective licensing scheme (SLS) within the town.

​Although no decisions have been made currently, the purpose of this page is to provide you with the information you need to understand the law and context in relation to selective licencing.

A copy of our research document is available at the bottom of the page, along with the proposed conditions for the scheme. Full details and FAQs and in the tabs below.
 
We are now consulting with landlords, tenants and business owners, as they may be affected by the proposed scheme. Please read the contents of this page carefully and respond to the survey that fits your specific situation.
 
There are three to choose from and they will be open until Friday 29 September.
 

What is selective licensing?

The private rented sector is continually growing and is an essential and significant part of Luton's housing market. We believe that residents should be able to live in mixed, thriving sustainable communities where the homes are:

  • good quality
  • safe
  • warm
  • affordable

Selective licensing is part of a wider set of measures to enable landlords to provide good quality housing within their communities and to address issues of anti-social behaviour, crime, and low demand within the areas.

If selective licensing is introduced, it would mean that all private landlords with residential property in designated areas of the town would need to apply for a licence for each property.

In order to become a licence holder a landlord would have to meet certain standards.

What standards must be met to be awarded a licence?

In order to become a licence holder a landlord would have to meet certain standards.

The Housing Act 2004 - Improving conditions in privately rented property

Section 80 of the Housing Act 2004 gives powers to councils to designate areas, or the whole of the area within their district, as subject to selective licensing (requiring every privately rented residential property to be licensed) provided certain conditions are met:

  • the area is experiencing low housing demand (or is likely to become such an area) and the council is satisfied that making a designation will, when combined with other measures contribute to an improvement in the social or economic conditions in the area

    OR
  • the area is experiencing a significant and persistent problem caused by anti-social behaviour and that some or all private sector landlords in the area are not taking appropriate action to combat the problem that it would be appropriate for them to take; and the making of a designation, when combined with other measures taken by the council, or by the council in conjunction with others, will lead to a reduction in, or elimination of, the problem

    OR any of the following conditions:
  • that the area contains a high proportion of properties in the private rented sector, in relation to the total number of properties in the area
  • that the properties above are occupied either under assured tenancies or licences to occupy
     
    AND
  • that having carried out a review of housing conditions the council consider a significant number of properties should be inspected, with a view to enforcement; making a designation will contribute to an improvement in general housing conditions

    OR
  • the area is experiencing an influx of migration; a significant number of the properties are occupied by those migrants; making a designation will contribute to the improvement of social or economic conditions in the area and ensuring that the properties are properly managed and overcrowding is prevented

    OR
  • that the area is suffering from a high level of deprivation and that making a designation will contribute to a reduction in the level of deprivation

    OR
  • that the area suffers from a high level of crime; the criminal activity affects those living in the premises or other households or businesses in the area; making a designation will contribute to a reduction in the level of crime

Further conditions

We must also:

  • ensure that the exercise of the power is consistent with their overall housing strategy
  • seek to adopt a co-ordinated approach in connection with dealing with homelessness, empty properties and anti-social behaviour affecting the private rented sector as regards combining licensing with other action taken by them or others
  • consider whether there are any other courses of action available to them that might provide an effective method of achieving the objective or objectives that the designation would be intended to achieve
  • consider that making the designation will significantly assist them to achieve the objective or objectives (whether or not they take any other course of action as well)

Why are we considering introducing a SLS?

We acknowledge that many landlords provide decent well-managed and well maintained accommodation, which does not cause any problems for the local community.

There are, however, also properties that are poorly managed, suffer from overcrowding, or provide unsafe accommodation. These properties have a negative effect on their local area.

The problem of anti-social behaviour, poor quality rented housing and irresponsible and unscrupulous landlords can have a detrimental effect on the community. This combined with vandalism and other anti-social behaviour can cause people to move.

Rapid and continuous churn within the housing market creates unstable communities. As the area becomes less attractive, owner occupiers also move and properties are either left empty or bought by speculative landlords.

These landlords often have no interest in the community and often rent to tenants who are not properly vetted, leading to further anti-social behaviour, poor property management and decline.

What are the benefits?


It is envisaged that the introduction of a SLA will provide the following benefits for all:

  • higher standard of management from both landlords and agents
  • reduced overcrowding
  • improved housing conditions
  • improved image and perception of the area
  • greater ability of landlords to deal with rogue tenants
  • reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour
  • better waste management
  • more settled communities
  • mixed and vibrant community that people enjoy living in
  • improved health and wellbeing of tenants

What areas are being proposed for selective licensing?

We have carried out research and gathered evidence to enable us to decide which areas would be covered in the proposed scheme. This has been done using independently produced data.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) collects and analyses economic and demographic data across the country to assist local and central government decision making and policy creation.

ONS splits the whole of the UK into small areas called 'lower super output areas' (LSOAs), each with a population of approximately 1,500. These areas are independent of political boundaries (such as councillor wards or parliamentary constituencies) and can be used to assess differences across towns and other regions.

Luton has 29 LSOAs in the top 10% most deprived areas in the country, with just one in the top 10% least deprived areas.

Selective licensing can only be introduced in areas where the private rented sector (PRS) is greater than 19% of the total housing stock by number of dwellings. All the individual LSOAs in the proposed areas exceed that, and the total for the selected areas represents just under 20% of the town's total PRS.

A research document has been prepared and is available separately to this scheme document. It can be found at in the document section at the bottom of this page.

The area for such a scheme will be determined through a consultation process.

Our research identified five wards consistently scoring highly in relation to:

  • private renting
  • noise
  • anti-social behaviour
  • fly-tipping
  • private sector enforcement activity
  • crime

These wards are:

  • South
  • Biscot
  • Dallow
  • High Town
  • Farley

A map showing these areas can be found in the research document below

Who would require a licence?

If the proposed scheme is introduced and an area has been designated for licensing, it will be a requirement that all properties let by private landlords within that area must have a licence. A licence holder can be the owner or an appropriate person appointed by the owner, eg managing agent.

All landlords would need to make a valid application for each property they rent out. This would be through an online application process and we will provide tailored advice and help for landlords and agents where needed.

In order to obtain a licence the applicant will need to demonstrate that they are a ‘fit and proper’ person and that they have satisfactory management arrangements in place for the property.

This will involve providing identification and providing a declaration to confirm their status with regards to criminal offences.

Are there any exemptions from selective licensing?

A full list of statutory exemptions can be found in a copy of the Selective Licensing of Houses (Specified Exemptions) (England) Order 2006.If you are in any doubt you should seek independent legal advice.

An example of the statutory exemption includes:

  • those managed by housing associations or the local authority
  • buildings regulated by other legislation
  • holiday lets
  • tenancies under long leases

Who qualifies as a 'fit and proper person'?

We must take into account any evidence that the person applying for a licence has:

  • committed any offence involving fraud or other dishonesty, violence, drugs and certain sexual offences
  • practised unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sex, colour, race, ethnic or national origins or disability
  • contravened any provision of the law relating to housing or landlord and tenant law

Licence conditions

Under the licensing scheme, local authorities have discretion to set the precise conditions of the licence in relation to anti-social behaviour and general management of the property.

These can include conditions relating to the use and occupation of the house, and measures to deal with anti-social behaviour of the actual tenants or those visiting the property.

There are also certain mandatory conditions which must be included in a licence.  Licensees would be required to:

  • present a gas safety certificate annually to the us, if gas is supplied to the house
  • keep electrical and furniture (under the tenancy) in a safe condition
  • keep smoke alarms in proper working order
  • supply the occupier a written statement of terms of occupation and
  • demand references from persons wishing to occupy the house

A list of the draft conditions can be found below.

All landlords must be able to demonstrate satisfactory management is in place for each rented property. We aim to use the proposed SLS to ensure that all privately rented properties are well managed.

Many landlords do this already; however there are problems in some instances where landlords neglect their management responsibilities.

There are also a number of well-intentioned landlords that are not aware of their responsibilities and the relevant laws and there are also some absentee landlords who may not be aware of problems that are being caused by their tenants.

Where licence holders are not able to demonstrate satisfactory management practices they may be required to undertake training to give them the knowledge and skills that are necessary.
 
Private sector housing officers will work with applicants to support them throughout the application process and to assist them in meeting the criteria in order to be granted a licence.

Does selective licensing support and complement other council strategies and Initiatives?

The scheme would support our existing strategies and policies relating to:

  • housing
  • private sector enforcement
  • empty homes
  • anti-social behaviour
  • homelessness

For example, properties used for temporary accommodation would be required to be licensed.

We have already complemented the existing mandatory licensing scheme required by the Housing Act 2004 for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) which are three or more storeys and occupied by five or more people by implementing an additional licensing scheme.

This which requires all HMOs within the borough to be licensed and is being introduced in phases. More information on the our HMO licensing and standards can be found here.

A SLS would further complement the existing licensing schemes (for HMOs) and support our ambition to raise standards in the private rented sector by requiring every privately rented residential property, ie including single family dwellings) to be licensed.

In addition whilst we have powers under part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 to deal with disrepair in privately rented properties, these can be supplemented with selective licensing powers under part 3 of the act.

This would be part of the wider housing strategy to tackle housing conditions and raise standards through intervention and advocacy, so that it can prioritise enforcement action under part 1 of the act, whilst ensuring through licence conditions under part 3 that the properties are properly managed to prevent further deterioration.

It is also important that we are able to achieve long-term improvements in the quality of private rented sector accommodation within the proposed scheme areas.

Therefore we understand the need to ensure a balance is achieved between the rights and responsibilities of landlords and those rights and responsibilities of their tenants.

Thus, in addition to the proposed introduction of selective licensing, we will work together with partners that have already introduced some, or are exploring the following, additional measures.

Rogue Landlord Project

Through the introduction of the Rogue Landlord Project and working with our partners, we have been successful in securing funding for a RLP. Our partners in this include:

  • private sector housing enforcement
  • Luton and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service
  • Bedfordshire Police
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Home Office (relating to modern day slavery)

The project aims to tackle those landlords who choose to ignore the requirement to license their HMOs, and those landlords making money out of letting out poor accommodation, which is often pest infested, overcrowded and dangerous, to occupants whose only alternative is to live on the streets.

Public Space Protection Order

The proposed introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (in accordance with part 4, Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) within the town centre. This will focus enforcement and education activity on such things as street drinking, litter and waste management, and other aspects of anti-social behaviour.

Community Safety Partnership

Working with statutory partners and agencies to ensure a joint approach when dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour. It primarily focuses on reducing the levels of crime, anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol problems within the town.

Other focuses are around the issues of re-offending, domestic violence, hate crimes and the issue of on street sex trade.

The partnership consists of:

  • police
  • probation service
  • Luton and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service
  • Luton Clinical Commissioning Group

Through selective licensing we can offer advice and support to landlords to ensure that they take appropriate and effective action where they receive a complaint about their tenants.

It is important to recognise that the private rented sector provides housing to many of those excluded from other sectors of the market, and these can be the most vulnerable sections of society, with issues such as alcohol or drug misuse and a history of anti-social behaviour affecting their ability to sustain a tenancy.

Homeless prevention

A coordinated approach in connection with homelessness prevention is required, as prescribed under section 81 of the Housing Act 2004.

Selective licensing provides protection for tenants on assured shorthold tenancies in unlicensed properties, as a landlord is not allowed to serve a section 21 notice (notice to quit) under the Housing Act 1988.

We have a dedicated Housing Solutions team to tackle complaints of harassment and illegal evictions from tenants and landlords in the private rented sector.

Through our homelessness prevention work, housing needs and advice is available, in addition to a rent deposit scheme.

These activities can assist a household to remain in their current home, where appropriate or provide options to enable a planned and timely move and help sustain independent living. The rent deposit scheme aims to provide assistance to people who can't afford to pay cash deposits.

Luton’s housing strategy

It is essential that when making a selective licensing designation, councils must also ensure that the exercise of power is consistent with their overall housing strategy, in accordance with section 81 (2) of the Housing Act 2004.

Luton is one of the largest towns in South East England, with a population of 214,700 and 74,000 households (ONS 2015). Luton is approximately 30 miles north of London but faces many housing problems similar to those experienced by some London boroughs.

Luton is densely populated, facing high demand for housing particular affordable housing, but there is effectively no more land left for development; all housing development has to take place on land previously built on and there is a shortage of brownfield sites.

Equally similar to London, Luton experiences high levels of:

  • homelessness
  • poor housing in the private sector
  • high levels of deprivation

We recognise that tackling the housing problems within the town will contribute to the fundamental quality of life issues for our communities.

Poor housing and limited access to good quality housing is more than just about bricks and mortar; it has proven links to other social consequences such as:

  • poor educational attainment
  • poor health
  • social exclusion
  • derivation
  • other wellbeing issues

We have a number of key strategic housing priorities linking with a SLS:

Strategic priority 1: tackling homelessness

Homelessness in Luton is one of the most significant issues we face, with approximately 850 families in temporary housing mainly leased from the private sector.

Homeless prevention strategies have been developed to offer advice, guidance and practical support to families facing homelessness.

Timely interventions between tenants and private landlords and with mortgage companies have been extremely beneficial and have helped an increasing number of families avoid homelessness.

Advocacy and representation in court has also been a significant factor in reducing acceptances.

The introduction of a rent deposit scheme has provided potential homeless households with the ability to influence their own housing solution.

The main cause of homelessness remains loss of accommodation with friends or relatives, although there is an increase in evictions from the private sector.

Strategic priority 2: improving housing conditions

The condition of the private rented sector is a concern to us.  We estimate that 23% of the stock is now privately rented.

In 2015/16 the Private Sector Housing (PRS) team received in excess of 2,000 service requests from the public; many of which were relating to the condition of their living accommodation (not HMOs) and served 640 statutory notices.

The majority of these (379) were in the older, central parts of the town - Biscot, Dallow, High Town and South wards – and account for almost half of the private rented market in Luton) to resolve the issues.

From 2011 to date the PRS team has seen an increase in the number of service requests/complaints received from tenants living in privately rented accommodation which are not HMOs  in turn the number of statutory notices served to resolve the issues have increased year on year since 2011.

We have a good track record of enforcing standards in the PRS. We seek to resolve matters informally, but where the landlord does not cooperate, we will not hesitate to serve statutory notice and undertake works in default and/or prosecute to drive up standards in the private sector.

As well as protecting the occupants from serious injury, improving the quality of the rented accommodation in the town will help to reduce homelessness as well improving neighbourhoods with likely knock-on effects for crime such as:

  • burglaries
  • neighbourhood nuisance,
  • excessive noise
  • accumulations of rubbish in the area

Improving the urban environment has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and resident satisfaction.

Empty homes strategy

We have a robust empty homes strategy in place with a dedicated Empty Homes Officer taking action on all empty properties.

Bringing empty properties back into use helps meet the borough’s housing need by increasing the amount of decent housing available and will significantly reduce the opportunities for vandalism, fly tipping and anti-social behaviour.

Unsightly homes can have a depressive effect on neighbouring house prices and also reduce pride in the community, as well as having a direct impact on neighbouring homes through dampness and structural problems.

Bringing an empty home back into use encourages economic vitality and can increase spending in the local economy. Unsightly homes deter investment in an area and can lead to decline or area blight.

Removing the negative impact of empty properties helps to boost the well-being of communities.

Reduced demand on the following services, meaning that resources can be used more effectively elsewhere:

  • fire and rescue service
  • police
  • council services such as Empty Homes Service and Environmental Health

What other measures have we considered?

Alternative approaches to the proposed designation of selective licensing in the proposed area have been considered and are illustrated in the table below.

Each of these options represents a valuable tool for dealing with low demand and the improvement of social or economic conditions of the area, including persistent anti-social behaviour, poor management practices and so on.

However there is no single solution and each alternative solution will have its limitations. None of these alone, including selective licensing, can solve the problem and therefore a co-ordinated strategy is required which links a full range of agencies and services using various interventions appropriately.

Alternative options Weaknesses Strengths
Private sector leasing scheme Resource intensive

Requires voluntary engagement from landlords and agents

Reactive not proactive

Will only improve management standards of those landlords that choose to join the scheme 
Will help homelessness prevention cases as could be used to allocate those in need of housing
Training and support for landlords/agents  Requires voluntary engagement from landlords and agents Where landlords have joined the scheme standards will be improved

Creates confidence and communication between landlords, tenants and council
Targeted use of special interim management orders (SIMO) and empty dwelling management orders (EDMO)

Resource intensive

Does not present a long term solution to poor management of private rented properties (up to maximum of five years – then returned to original owner)

Does not tackle poor management techniques

Reactive

Intervention of last resort

Removes rogue landlord responsibilities and gives to responsible, nominated agent

Improves standards for tenants and local community
Landlord accreditation Requires voluntary engagement from landlords and agents

We have operated an accreditation scheme for a number of years but membership has plateaued and is now largely ineffectual 
Where landlords have joined the scheme standards will be improved

Creates confidence and communication between landlords, tenants and council

In general, there are a number of barriers or limitations to the use of the alternatives to selective licensing. To summarise:

  1. The use of SIMOs and EDMOs on all problematic properties would be neither appropriate nor feasible, given the number of propertiesl we must act in a proportionate manner and a heavy handed approach would undermine our efforts to work with landlords to improve standards.

    Selective licensing provides an opportunity to continue to forge partnerships with otherwise often anonymous private landlords and provide training and support, where the use of these orders does not.
  2. None of these options adequately tackle the private tenant’s behaviour. This could result in the same 'problem' tenant being left to float within an area without any real targeted tenancy enforcement and where required, supported tenancy referral.

    The proposed SLS conditions include a requirement for the landlord to seek references when allocating the property and to deal with any complaints of anti-social behaviour from their tenants (and/or their visitors/children).

    Furthermore, landlords can access advice and support from our Anti-Social Behaviour team.
  3. None of these tools provide a long-term solution to the training of inexperienced landlords whose business would benefit, either because they are not fit, or because of their poor management arrangements.
  4. Improvements attained in management standards will have a trickledown effect and will benefit tenants and communities across wider areas as landlords have properties in other areas than the proposed area and Luton as a whole.

It is clear that to succeed in driving up standards in the PRS by engaging with landlords who want to comply, a SLS must operate hand in hand with a strong enforcement regime targeting those few landlords who continue to exploit the vulnerable by letting sub-standard and dangerous accommodation.

As with the additional licensing scheme for HMOs, a SLS would be policed by our Rogue Landlord team.

What will the application process involve?

If the proposed scheme is introduced, an online application would need to be submitted for each property owned by the landlord and accompanied by:

  • copy of the current gas safety certificate (if applicable)
  • copy of the electrical safety certificate
  • copy of the tenancy agreement
  • copy of the Energy Performance Certificate
  • licence fee

What is the cost of a licence?

The licence fee has not been set; however it is envisaged that it will be similar to that of a HMO licence fee - please see fee structure for HMOs here.

Once a property has been licensed the licence will run for up to five years.

The following landlords will qualify for a discount, but will be required to submit their membership details as part of their application:

  • landlords who are accredited with us
  • landlords who are a member of a nationally accredited landlords association
  • landlords whose property is managed by an ARLA accredited agent

What happens if a landlord fails to apply for a licence?

It will be a criminal offence for a landlord to let a property in the proposed licensing areas without applying for a licence. There are a range of sanctions that could be applied.

These are:

  • prosecution in the magistrates court and an unlimited fine for failure to apply for a licence
  • if we cannot grant a licence or a licence is revoked, we have the power to make an Interim Management Order; this will transfer the management of the property to us
  • the landlord will be unable to use section 21 to regain possession of their property
  • for any period where an unlicensed property is rented, an application can be made to the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber - Residential Property) for a rent repayment order of up to 12 months

Right of appeal

If a landlord feels that we have made a decision that is unfair, in the first instance they should contact the Private Sector Housing team to try and resolve the problem.
 
If the landlord still feels we have acted unfairly they could appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber - Residential Property) (FTT). The FTT is an independent tribunal that can either confirm, amend or overturn our decision.

Monitoring the proposed scheme

If the scheme is adopted, we must from time to time review the operation of the scheme. We would intend to do this through a series of methods including but not limited to:

  • private sector stock condition survey
  • monitoring levels of ASB
  • regular reporting of prosecutions and enforcement action
  • number of accredited landlords and agents
  • number of houses brought up to the required housing standard
  • number of category one and two hazards removed from licensed properties
  • number of complaints received regarding poor properties and management
  • number of complaints regarding illegal eviction and harassment

Housing enforcement

PSH Officers will be responsible for the administration of the proposed SLS and would be available for help and advice. They would also be responsible for the inspection of the property and ensuring that management conditions are adhered to.

 

 Downloads

 
 

 Contact information

 
Selective licensing
Town Hall, Luton, LU1 2BQ
Tel: 01582547222
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