Southend Council has recently launched a public consultation of residents’ views on the introduction of a compulsory Landlord Licensing scheme across Southend.
The scheme seeks to ensure that all properties let in the private rented sector are of a good standard, well maintained, and well managed, and the Council claim that “… it is a tool to deliver sustainable improvements to private rented accommodation, increasing the quality of existing stock in the private rented sector in terms of both physical conditions and management standards.”
Such schemes are permitted by existing legislation within the Housing Act 2004. In its now-open consultation, Southend Borough Council said;
“We are currently considering the introduction of a Selective Licensing scheme within parts of the borough with known anti-social behaviour (ASB), poor property conditions, high crime levels and deprivation.
It is proposed to designate the identified areas in the wards of Milton, Kursaal, Victoria and Chalkwell for selective licensing.”
The closing date for the public consultation is 11 January 2021.
The Green View:
The Green Party has been advocating for a compulsory Landlord Licensing Scheme in Southend for many years, and this is welcome news from Southend Council.
We believe that such a scheme is a useful tool in tackling the problems of rogue landlords and seeking to remedy uninhabitable and substandard private rented accommodation that is becoming rife across Southend.
Such a scheme allows the Council to ensure that private rented homes meet acceptable safety standards, such as ensuring that homes have a valid Gas Safety certificate, that electrical appliances are safe and in working order, and that every home has a working smoke alarm.
We strongly believe that such a scheme, if properly implemented and administered, could improve the lives and living conditions for many residents across the borough, and this is a welcome step forward.
However, we question why this scheme is not being rolled out across the whole borough, and why only certain areas in town will benefit from having this scheme implemented?
The Council concerningly cites deprivation indices, crime statistics, and Antisocial Behaviour (ASB) hotspots as the sole metrics for the targeted approach that is being proposed. Areas falling within the boundaries of the proposed licensing scheme do not follow traditional Ward boundaries and specifically highlight ‘problem’ areas across the town.
The only problem with that methodology being …
Areas within Leigh, Southchurch, St Luke’s, Prittlewell, and St Laurence have areas of similarly-qualifying antisocial behaviour problems that would be excluded from this scheme;
Belfairs, West Leigh, Leigh, St Laurence, Prittlewell, Westborough, St Luke’s, and Thorpe all have areas that (according to the council’s own supplementary data) have housing that falls into the lowest category of property conditions, but that would also be excluded from this scheme;
and Blenheim, St. Laurence, Westborough, St. Luke’s, Southchurch, Shoeburyness, and West Shoebury all have areas of deprivation equal to those areas within the scheme that too would be excluded.
So surely if the scheme was being driven solely by the metrics, then those areas identified by the council in its own research as meeting the criteria of need for such a scheme, would also be included?
The question then is, why are these areas being excluded from this scheme, and why is the council’s focus solely on the town centre wards of Chalkwell, Milton, Kursaal, and Victoria?
Could it perhaps be down to a loophole in the regulations that mean that proposed selective licensing schemes which cover less than 20% of the authority’s area, (or, affect fewer than 20% of privately rented homes) do not require approval from the Secretary of State?
Whatever the reason behind excluding the other 13 wards across town is, it will result in a disparity in housing protections for residents; with some being protected against rogue landlords and given assurances of basic housing standards, and others not, purely based on postcode.
We are concerned that a big opportunity to roll out a genuinely beneficial borough-wide Landlord Licensing scheme is being missed. If such a scheme offers the many benefits the council believes it does, why is it only being afforded to select residents?
As the scheme is being run on a cost-neutral basis, with the town’s Landlords picking up the cost for the administration for the scheme instead of the Council coffers, beyond asking the Secretary of State for approval, what is stopping the Council from rolling out this scheme to every private-renting resident across town?
We would argue that there is as much of a need for landlord licensing in Shoeburyness and St. Luke’s as there is in Chalkwell, and by extension, surely it is unfair for rented residents of areas like Belfairs or Thorpe to not be offered the same basic protections of housing safety based on calculations made on ward-by-ward ASB and Crime Statistics.
What we Believe
Our priority lies in delivering guarantees of basic living standards for all residents, and we don’t believe that where you live should result in a difference in what protections you’re afforded as a private rented tenant.
Everybody should have access to a safe, warm, and efficient place to call home. By limiting this proposed scheme to just four out of seventeen wards, a majority of Southend’s private-rented tenants will not benefit from this.
We call on Southend Borough Council to reevaluate the scope of this scheme and be bolder in its ambition. We call for such a Landlord Licensing Scheme to benefit every tenanted resident across town, regardless of area.
We encourage Green Party members and supporters to participate in the Council’s consultation and to push for parity in living standards across town.
We proudly advocate for a whole-borough compulsory Landlord Licensing scheme in Our Local Manifesto, and this is also echoed in the Green Party’s national policy:
HO523: To tackle rogue and slum landlords, the Green Party would simplify and toughen up the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), ensure local authorities dedicate adequate resources to proactively enforce it, and introduce a national landlord licensing scheme, with the enforcement of licenses operated by local authorities and punitive penalties for landlords who fail to gain a license or meet the HHSRS requirements. We would also tackle landlords converting homes into unsuitable dwellings and then obtaining a Lawful Development Certificate by giving local authorities 10 years to take enforcement action, rather than 4 years as at present.