Digs submitted evidence and views to the consultation, based on our experiences as a group of private renters supporting one another and what we’ve seen happening in Newham.
In Newham it’s now against the law for any private landlord to be without a licence and they could be fined up to £20,000 if they were found to be renting out properties without a licence. We believe Hackney Council should follow suit.
It’s not that we think the licensing scheme in Newham is perfect. In fact we have some serious doubts about how licensing is actually translating into better protections for renters. Part of the issue seems is that once landlords are licensed, there doesn’t seem to be enforceable minimum standards on the quality of properties or how landlords treat their tenants. And like most London councils, Newham Council don’t have the resources to properly enforce laws against landlords. They’re relying on high profile prosecutions to encourage landlords to comply. And there have been doubts cast over the motivations behind Newham Council embracing licensing, which could have less to do with a desire to support exploited renters and more to do with plans to target illegal immigrants.
But we think given the level of incompetence and shady practices that most London private renters will be all too familiar with, landlord licensing with minimum standards that are enforecable is something worth fighting for. Here’s why:
Licensing would reduce the burden on Hackney council. The only real power the council has over problem landlords is to bring criminal prosecutions which requires vast resources; it can take a year to collect enough evidence to bring just one landlord to court. Trials rarely result in a conviction and when they do, punishments are too light to act as a genuine deterrent – one south London landlord recently found guilty of physically assaulting a tenant was fined just £400 and was allowed to continue operating as a landlord. Compulsory licensing would take the process away from criminal courts and into civil courts where landlords could have their licenses revoked and be hit by fines up to £20,000 which could work as a genuine deterrent.
Licensing would raise the awareness of both tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. Many of our members report surprisingly high levels of ignorance on both sides: landlords are still unaware, for example, of their duty to protect deposits while tenants are unaware of their right to stay in their home throughout the eviction process. Many landlords are negligent purely from ignorance; currently, councils have to spend time and resources informing landlords that like any other business, there are laws that apply to them.
Licensing would give the council a much clearer picture of what is happening in Hackney. For the most part Hackney’s private rental market operates under the radar of local government. The council don’t know how much rent people are paying, what types of tenancies they have or even how many landlords are operating. These are questions that the council will be able to answer properly for the first time. When Newham introduced mandatory licensing it expected far fewer than the 30,000 applications that have since been made ten months in to the scheme. How can the council make effective housing policies if they know so little about what’s happening in Hackney ballooning rental sector?
Licensing will reduce ‘churn’ in Hackney. Many of our members have been forced to move house every six months for several years. Often, this is the only way to deal with a problem landlord who refuses to carry out repairs or increases the rent well above inflation each year. All of our members want to be responsible residents, to be friends with their neighbours and to build ties in the community. The current renting system doesn’t allow this.
One of the arguments you hear time and again against landlord licensing is it would force landlord to “go underground”. What does this actually mean in a rental market where what little regulation there is goes unenforced and any tenants standing up for their rights can simply be evicted? There is no “ground” for landlords to go under!
So now is our chance to let Hackney council know what we think about landlord licensing. The consultation ends of the 2nd December – get your views in quick!
If you live in a house of multiple occupation (HMO) – an entire house or flat which is let to 3 or more tenants who form 2 or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet – then your property should already be registered. Click here to find out more about HMO licensing in Hackney. If you want to find out whether your home is registered or if you think it isn’t call Hackney Council Private Sector Housing on 020 8356 4866.