City is doing great work to root out rogue landlords

Oxford Mail: Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds

THE first house I rented was in Oxford and I still remember the harsh reality of being ripped off by the landlord, who knew it was all too easy to use some bogus excuse not to give five students their full deposit back.

The city is home to tens of thousands of students and young professionals, with two universities and close transport links to London.

Unfortunately, high demand for housing acts as a powerful incentive for some landlords to rent out substandard housing.

On a recent visit to Oxford, I saw the impressive work that the city council is doing to drive up standards in the private rented sector.

The local authority is successfully rooting out the rogue landlords who ignore their responsibilities and give the city’s many good landlords a bad name.

The council has introduced a system of licensing which regulates private landlords who rent out houses occupied by people who don’t form a family unit, so-called HMOs.

These landlords must obtain a licence from the council and their properties must meet certain standards, which include decent living space and facilities appropriate to the number of tenants.

Before they introduced the scheme, the council estimated that 70 per cent of HMOs would need work, but in fact a shocking 97 per cent of properties needed additional work to meet standards and some lacked basic safety measures like fire alarms.

I saw some of these conditions for myself.

I visited two properties in different parts of the city. The first had two bathrooms and a third separate lavatory, and had good kitchen facilities.

The council had no hesitation in awarding it a licence. The other property, however, was appalling. The kitchen was a health hazard and the house as a whole wasn’t fit for purpose. Rightly, the landlord was refused a licence.

Under the scheme, Oxford City Council has prosecuted landlords who do not protect the basic rights of tenants and fail to take on their responsibilities.

These landlords are committing a criminal offence and face a fine of up to £20,000.

The problem of substandard housing is not confined to HMOs, nor to Oxford.

According to the English Housing Survey, over a third of properties rented out by private landlords do not meet basic standards, a considerably higher proportion than any other housing tenure.

The largest study of private renters to date, by the housing charity Shelter, found that one in nine tenants says their health has been affected by their landlord failing to carry out repairs or deal with poor conditions in their home.

Complaints about landlords to local authorities are rising. This is against a backdrop of rents that have increased above inflation year on year and are central to the cost of living crisis.

Oxford City Council is blazing a trail that other local authorities across England are drawing inspiration from.

Its innovative licensing scheme is driving up standards for tens of thousands of tenants and ensuring that their rights are protected.

However, local authorities need more powers to deal with problems across the private rented sector.

There are now nine million people renting from landlords across England.

Many are being denied basic standards. We need serious action to prevent the exploitation of tenants and root out poor living conditions.

That’s why a Labour Government will introduce a national register of landlords and give local authorities greater powers and flexibility to introduce licensing schemes.

Good landlords have nothing to fear, but at present there are too many bad landlords who prey on vulnerable tenants.

Comments (6)

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10:21am Thu 5 Dec 13

alu355 says...

The one downside of this is that the landlord will pass the cost onto the tenants via higher rents.
The one downside of this is that the landlord will pass the cost onto the tenants via higher rents. alu355

10:29am Thu 5 Dec 13

mytaxes says...

Here endeth an election broadcast on behalf of the Labour party.
Here endeth an election broadcast on behalf of the Labour party. mytaxes

10:40am Thu 5 Dec 13

hotpotsu says...

alu355 wrote:
The one downside of this is that the landlord will pass the cost onto the tenants via higher rents.
Nonsense. Rents are set by the laws of supply and demand. Force landlords to clean up their properties, and the supply of decent homes goes up, thereby driving rents downwards.
[quote][p][bold]alu355[/bold] wrote: The one downside of this is that the landlord will pass the cost onto the tenants via higher rents.[/p][/quote]Nonsense. Rents are set by the laws of supply and demand. Force landlords to clean up their properties, and the supply of decent homes goes up, thereby driving rents downwards. hotpotsu

11:22am Thu 5 Dec 13

Andrew:Oxford says...

There are little things that should be done to make improvements.

First of all, there should be a "brass plaque" outside, by the main entrance detailing the property as an HMO, detailing both the legal owner of the property, the contact agent and a 01/02/03 telephone number and council licence number.

There should be an online council website where the licence number can be cross-checked for address and validity.

Licenses should be withdrawn for HMOs that do not meet "D" band for energy efficiency by 2020.
There are little things that should be done to make improvements. First of all, there should be a "brass plaque" outside, by the main entrance detailing the property as an HMO, detailing both the legal owner of the property, the contact agent and a 01/02/03 telephone number and council licence number. There should be an online council website where the licence number can be cross-checked for address and validity. Licenses should be withdrawn for HMOs that do not meet "D" band for energy efficiency by 2020. Andrew:Oxford

12:13pm Thu 5 Dec 13

King Joke says...

^ What Andrew said. I doubt it would get through the Coalition's bonfire of regulations though.
^ What Andrew said. I doubt it would get through the Coalition's bonfire of regulations though. King Joke

1:56pm Thu 5 Dec 13

bleeurgh says...

People seem to think that a House in Multiple Occupation necessarily means a huge student house, or a rambling collection of bedsits. This isn’t true. I live in an “HMO” which is a three-bedroom flat which I share with two close friends from university. I don’t think that as tenants we’d particularly want our nice cosy home to be marked out with a brass plaque or anything like that.

The reality of the situation is that councils already have a lot of powers to improve the private rented sector, but many just don’t use them effectively (probably due to lack of resourcing). Instead, when there’s problems they just want to throw more regulation at the sector, which will mean that good landlords will incur costs jumping through yet more hoops, while bad landlords will just ignore the new regulation (and get away with it, as the enforcement is poor).
People seem to think that a House in Multiple Occupation necessarily means a huge student house, or a rambling collection of bedsits. This isn’t true. I live in an “HMO” which is a three-bedroom flat which I share with two close friends from university. I don’t think that as tenants we’d particularly want our nice cosy home to be marked out with a brass plaque or anything like that. The reality of the situation is that councils already have a lot of powers to improve the private rented sector, but many just don’t use them effectively (probably due to lack of resourcing). Instead, when there’s problems they just want to throw more regulation at the sector, which will mean that good landlords will incur costs jumping through yet more hoops, while bad landlords will just ignore the new regulation (and get away with it, as the enforcement is poor). bleeurgh

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