Is landlord licensing on the rocks?

Moves towards mandatory landlord licensing were dealt a further blow last week following news that two regional schemes are in jeopardy.

Waltham Forest Council voted to put the brakes on its scheme pending further investigation into its implications. The council had faced strong pressure from landlord and letting agent groups, who had insisted that the £500 per-property fee suggested for the scheme was excessive.

Meanwhile councillors in Milton Keynes have voted to scrap their scheme altogether, following similar pressure. Milton Keynes council has also decided to cut the rate at which it charges for HMO licenses.

Regional licensing

Elsewhere in the country, though, councils are pushing ahead with licensing schemes. Liverpool has just moved into a three-month consultation period on its scheme, which councillor Ann O’Byrne described as “a really important issue for our city.

“We want to ensure that Liverpool has a high standard of private rented properties which tenants can be confident in,” she said, “and we believe a licensing scheme would play a major role in helping us achieve this.”

Councils have been in landlords’ firing lines over the last month, following a Telegraph investigation into fees charged by local authorities. According to landlords who contributed to the Telegraph report, the private rented sector is being “persecuted” by councils who insist on charging excessive fees.

But that view is not shared by everyone. Housing charity Shelter has long maintained that tenants must be given better protection against rogue landlords, and that new measures should be enacted to offer longer, more secure tenancies.

New legislation?

That view seems to be shared by Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert, who last week introduced new legislation that would cap agency fees and offer extended tenancy periods.

Dr Huppert’s legislation stops short of calling for compulsory landlord licensing, but in Parliament he asked MPs to back him in “encouraging” local authorities to introduce their own schemes.

Last summer a committee of MPs conducted a wide-ranging review of the private rented sector. Like Dr Huppert they did not call for nationwide compulsory licensing, but they did encourage the government to give councils the powers to require landlords to register on an authority-by-authority basis.

The committee’s findings mirror many of the proposals made in Dr Huppert’s legislation, but went further in calling for an increase in the supply of affordable housing, particularly in London. The committee also encouraged the government to introduce new rules to make it more difficult for landlords to dodge tax.

What do you think? Is landlord licensing fair? Should the sector be regulated further? Let us know in the comments.

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