Additional and Selective Licensing in the Private Rented Sector
This report provides an overview of progress since the implementation of borough-wide Additional Licensing and Selective Licensing in the three wards of Harlesden, Wembley Central and Willesden Green in January 2015. In addition, it identifies areas where further work is required to achieve the objectives identified at the start of the project and proposals for the future operation of the scheme.
Jon Lloyd-Owen (Operational Director, Housing and Employment) introduced the report which provided an overview of progress since implementation of borough-wide Additional Licensing and Selective Licensing in the wards of Harlesden, Wembley Central and Willesden Green in January 2015. He stated that in the London context Brent’s Licensing Scheme was one of the more successful schemes introduced but that getting across a clear message on the requirements of Additional Licensing had been a challenge. Work was currently being done on how Selective Licensing might be extended to other parts of the borough. However, if this was to be pursued, a wider scheme would require the approval of the Secretary of State. Councillor Farah (Lead Member for Housing) added that another area of the scheme that needed further work undertaken was how the Council dealt with the tenants affected.
Anthony Jemmott (Private Sector Housing Licensing Manager) was present at the meeting to answer questions from members. He explained that upon identifying an unlicensed property a warning letter was sent and if a subsequent application was not submitted the landlord would be prosecuted. However, the best outcome was to get the property licensed because then action could be taken to improve conditions within the property to bring it up to an acceptable standard. A copy of the license was displayed within the property so that tenants could know what standards were expected and make a complaint if these were not being met.
Questions were asked concerning the tenants affected by raids on unlicensed properties and the likelihood of catching the landlord responsible. Anthony Jemmot explained that the Council worked with the police when mounting raids and that there was an improving relationship developing that supported those people affected. He admitted that none of the 90 raids on unlicensed properties involved a resident landlord but that it was necessary to visit the property either early in the morning or later at night when it could be expected that all of the tenants would be at home so that evidence could be gathered of the conditions they were living in. In a few cases the media had been used as a means of further publicising the scheme and as a warning to landlords who owned unlicensed properties. It was the view of committee members that there were significant diversity implications despite the report stating that there were none immediately arising from the report. Phil Porter (Strategic Director, Community Wellbeing) acknowledged that there was more work needed on providing support to the tenants affected but stressed that the explicit message arising from the publicity was on dealing with exploitation by rogue landlords. It was requested that all councillors be supplied with a briefing on the project so that they could pass the messages on to those they came into contact with.
It was still too early to fully assess the impact of licensing and the priority was to get as many properties licensed as possible. It made it easier for the Council to deal with the many complaints received each year about housing if the landlord could be contacted. In response to further questioning, Anthony Jemmott explained that if a landlord was prosecuted and jailed their license was revoked and it was hoped a better landlord would take it on. It was also explained that the licensing scheme was self-financing. The committee was informed that prosecutions of landlords were undertaken upon taking advice from the Council’s legal services.
Councillor Farah stated that he would like to see Selective Licensing introduced borough-wide. Further discussion on this was needed before any proposals were put to the Cabinet. He undertook to include consideration of all the Committee’s recommendations in any future report.
The Chair thanked Councillor Farah and the officers for attending the committee and answering the questions put to them.
(i) that the submitted report be noted;
(ii) that the following views of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee be incorporated in a future report to Cabinet on Additional and Selective Licensing:
(a) that there be a policy/protocol in place for raids, televised raids and prosecutions to ensure there is a balanced approach to such matters throughout Brent; additionally, civil penalties, as introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, be incorporated into this policy/protocol;
(b) that the Council continues with a zero tolerance approach with landlords (and/or managing agents and/or lead tenants) where raids have revealed the properties to be overcrowded;
(c) that there be mechanism in place to collect data in relation to types of landlords (ie. multi-property/single-property landlord), ethnicity of landlords and a link made between licensing and homelessness to access the impact of the licensing and to better target resources;
(d) that there be a communication/information pack for tenants in plain English, and accessible to those who have English as an additional language, as to their obligations;
(e) that clear licensing information be included in the Council Tax Bills (as opposed to the information set out in the accompanying booklets) and in replies to Local Land Searches;
(f) that there be a strategy in place for collaborative working with estate agents/letting agents to ensure they are fully aware of their obligations under Brent's licensing schemes and that they promote the same to their landlord and tenant clients;
(g) that there be a policy/protocol in place to formulate a database of rogue landlords and estate agents/letting agents;
(h) that there be a Borough-wide implementation of selective licensing to provide an absolute assurance of Brent's commitment to raising standards and that the Officers seek the necessary permission from the Secretary of State.