The government’s rejection of our application to extend our landlord licensing scheme flies in the face of its tough talk on housing standards and will be resisted, writes Joe Anderson
The introduction of our landlord licensing scheme in 2015 is one of the policies that I am most proud of during my time leading Liverpool City Council.
It has enabled us to create a dedicated and committed team that have been making huge inroads in tackling significant issues with the private rented sector.
Over the past two decades, private landlords have taken advantage of low housing demand in the city by snapping up cheap properties, and as a result the number of rented homes has snowballed. The sector now accounts for more than 30% of properties across the city, and in some areas one in two homes are rented out.
Poorly managed accommodation has a high turnover of tenants, which is destabilising for the local community as residents do not get to know their neighbours, and leads to a spiral of decline.
Coupled with one of the highest vacancy rates in England, we have irrefutable proof of this happening in areas right across the city, ultimately driving down demand.
Landlord licensing has been a foot in the door, enabling us to build up what has proven to be a troubling picture of the sector.
Our officers have come across people whose landlords are happy to take their rent while allowing them to live in appalling conditions with unsafe electrics, gas supply and no fire doors to protect them in the event of a blaze.
Often tenants have been too scared to complain for fear of eviction, and the scheme has given us the power to take action on their behalf.
“This decision, made far away from Liverpool, will severely hamper our attempts to keep vulnerable tenants safe, and flies in the face of the government’s tough talk on housing standards, particularly around fire safety in rented properties”
Seven out of 10 inspected properties have been found to be in breach of their licence conditions. We’ve issued more than 2,500 legal and fixed penalty notices and prosecuted almost 250 landlords – meaning we have been responsible for 85% of the national rise in prosecutions between 2012 and 2018.
The scheme has been backed by housing lobby groups including Generation Rent because of its role in protecting tenants, while the emergency services support it because badly managed properties are often linked to anti-social behaviour and are a fire risk.
So, in the face of all of this hard evidence, it was a body blow when we were told last week that our application to continue the scheme for another five years had been turned down.
In a short letter which offered no explanation, housing secretary Robert Jenrick simply wrote that our application “did not demonstrate robust evidence to support the existence of low housing demand across the whole city”.
This decision, made far away from Liverpool, will severely hamper our attempts to keep vulnerable tenants safe, and flies in the face of the government’s tough talk on housing standards, particularly around fire safety in rented properties.
“If necessary we will take the issue to judicial review – because landlord licensing is not just about raising housing standards to help combat the issues of low demand, it is about protecting and saving lives”
The bottom line is that, from April, we will not have the same powers to gain access to properties to carry out inspections and enforcement, and our capacity to carry out proactive enforcement will be severely diminished.
We’re not taking this lying down: we have asked for detailed clarification on the reasons for the rejection of the application to renew the scheme, and the evidence that they relied on.
If necessary we will take the issue to judicial review – because landlord licensing is not just about raising housing standards to help combat the issues of low demand, it is about protecting and saving lives.
Joe Anderson, mayor, Liverpool City Council