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Housing and Development in London

Abbey Wood, Charlton, Eltham, Greenwich, Kidbrooke, Plumstead, Thamesmead, Woolwich

Landlord licensing to be introduced in Greenwich borough?

landlord

Could wide-ranging private landlord licensing finally be introduced in Greenwich borough? It comes as a large rise in problems, many related to private lettings, occur across the borough. A decision is due imminently, but have the council left it too long unlike other areas?

Many other local authorities have already established licensing schemes to keep tabs on the issue, using fees levied on landlords to administer the scheme and monitor living conditions and social problems arising, such as fly tipping and crime. Newham and Barking are two such councils. In Barking, for example, licences will be refused if landlords are not deemed to be ‘a fit and proper person’.

Greenwich borough has certainly seen a rapidly increasing problem related to the increase in provate lettings. One such issue is flytipping. A 2015 ITV news article shows the enormous spike – up to the 6th highest across the entire country:

“Over the past year, Greenwich Council recorded 14,096 instances of fly-tipping – a huge increase from the previous years. Between 2012 and 2013, the council dealt with 5,174 incidents”.

Anyone who walks around much of the borough can see the sheer amount of rubbish dumping right now. Very often in the same spots on an almost daily basis costing taxpayers a large amount at a time when funding is strained. With short term, insecure tenancies the norm in private lettings, tenants moving out every six months or a year often result in cupboards, mattresses and various other items dumped in the street.

And there’s other issues with landlords letting housing rot. Maintenance is rarely done on many homes – both internally and externally. What were lovingly cared for family homes have seen windows, gardens and walls neglected and left to rot. There’s more than a few homes where landlords have just smashed up the front walls to allow cars into gardens and left the rubble strewn about. Absolutely no care or pride in homes is in evidence.

Then there’s rubbish literally tossed out the front garden in public spaces with the appearance of houses and gardens taking a nosedive. What then happens is people with self-respect and pride in the neighbourhood witness this and want to get out. Civic pride and belonging is eroded. In no time a thriving community and attractive street and town can be an ugly mess with a highly transient population living in dangerous and ugly buy-to-let houses. A sense of community, and knowing your neighbours, becomes the exception.

Greenwich Council recently set up a task force to investigate private landlords across the borough. The amount of contraventions highlighted in a council report is worrying and shows the need for licensing:

“In summary, as at the 5 January 2016 the following had been achieved: 1,219 properties have been visited by Intelligence Officers with 460 found to be HMOs. This has resulted in nearly 1,000 enforcement investigations.

Over 1,770 hazards and breaches of legislation have been identified during the inspections.”

The group tasked with investigations seem to be doing a good job but are scratching the surface of problems. They’re reliant on seeking out external funding here and there on a short term basis. They have been awarded £175k from central government but this is only until April.

And why should taxpayers be entirely paying to investigate landlords letting houses rot, treating tenants poorly and playing a major role in the poor condition of public spaces? A licensing scheme would greatly aid in dealing with the problem. It would help root out many dodgy landlords in the first place, and those caught operating without a license fined heavily.

Selective Licensing

Like all authorities, Greenwich Council do operate mandatory licensing of large ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ (HMO). But this covers a fraction of private lettings, as the HMO must be:

  • at least 3 storeys high
  • have at least 5 tenants live there, forming more than 1 household
  • share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants

So the vast majority of private lettings aren’t covered. Over recent years many local authorities have thus expanded coverage to smaller HMO’s and all other homes privately rented. Covering all private lettings is known as selective licensing and a good tool in dealing with escalating problems.

Unfortunately Greenwich Council have been very slow to adopt measures open to them for dealing with spiraling problems within the borough. Then last year, the Government announced it would place restrictions on private landlord licensing. Croydon council managed to rush through approval and begun its scheme on 1st October 2015.

Finally, Greenwich Council are looking to take action. But is it too late? The borough seems to be paying for its lethargy. As part of the recent restrictions, licensing covering more than 20% of homes must be approved by central government. So much for localism.

And in a report for councillors, council officers seem lukewarm on the idea as it could be “onerous and time-consuming”. So? If it works then do it. The council took too long to implement it, unlike other areas, so who is to blame for having to work harder now?

In the report they would seek approval to cover 42% of private rented stock. This seems too low as it’s avoiding areas where landlord related issues are rife. Some parts of Abbey Wood and Charlton, for example, have seen houses and their environs descend into a desperate and dangerous state due to landlords moving in:

“Initial analysis of inspection data suggests that a Selective Licensing scheme could be justified on the grounds of ‘poor property conditions’ in certain parts of the borough, namely Glyndon, Woolwich Common and Thamesmead, Plumstead and Woolwich Riverside, Peninsula and Shooters Hill either fully or in part. Approximately 7,9451 privately rented non-HMO properties could be subject to licensing, approximately 42% of the estimated private rented stock.”

Other areas of the borough not mentioned do meet the requirements for approval from the Secretary of State for a wide-ranging licensing scheme:

“A designation may be made to combat problems in an area experiencing poor property conditions, an influx of migration, a high level of deprivation or high levels of crime.”

There is another type of licensing which would only expand coverage to smaller HMO’s, alongside large HMO’s, but not all privately let homes. The government are consulting on this. If the government do not adopt this the council will look to do so. Welcome though that is, it’s far from enough in Greenwich given many problems are in single occupied homes.

Assuming the government do approve, then covering all HMO’s but not all privately rented homes should happen imminently. If they don’t then the council are likely to still proceed which would take around a year to implement. HMO licensing would then expand beyond the restricted number of large HMOs currently covered – eg no longer restricted to buildings of three storeys or above.

New restrictions

Heading back to the new 20% restriction on covering all homes, the question arises of whether the council could immediately launch licensing of an area below this percentage whilst drawing up a wider ranging application alongside. It seems some other boroughs are doing that. Tower Hamlets are to do so in three wards. Harrow are launching a scheme in one ward to achieve a reduction in:

1. Accumulation of waste

2. Drug and alcohol related crime

3. Gang nuisance

4. Illegal conversions

5. Negativity due to badly managed and poorly maintained properties

6. Overcrowding

7. Sub-letting

8. Vandalism

9. Transient population, leading to a more stable community

Too little too late?

There’s a danger here of Greenwich getting the worst of all worlds. They’ve already waited far too long and placed the borough in a tough spot, to the detriment of many areas and tenants. Now they have a bit of a half-baked and limited proposal, and even then officers give the impression they see it as too much hard work.

Ideally they’d have a proposal to launch a small scheme immediately in the worst hit areas whilst applying for a wide ranging scheme, which comprises more areas than the 42% of areas proposed, as problems are endemic in areas away from those. The worst case scenario is they don’t even bother to pursue that, whilst not doing anything to cover even 20%, and the growing problems continue to proliferate.

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. BarbaraPlumstead

    Could the councils reluctance to do much be down to people in power and cllrs being landlords themselves I wonder? Putting their own pockets in front of tenants and the condition of some areas across the borough. I’ve been told quite a few are landlords, and many do not live where they represent so these issues aren’t of concern to them? It is badly needed. The increase of landlords has seen Plumstead go down the drain in places. I know some of the houses in terrible shape are let as I know some tenants and the regular to let boards outside. They really have been left to rack and ruin, and the dumping is getting intolerable.

  2. Xiao

    In reality this will unfortunately just drive up rents and case more homelessness. The council don’t seem to think any of this through before they rush to regulate. The reality now is that 3 unrelated professionals or key workers can no longer rent a house together because they would fall under HMO regulations. Think that through for a minute…………I am 25, single, working as a teacher and want to rent a 3 bedroomed house with 2 friends who are also key workers………..under this scheme I or my landlord would be breaking the law……..does that seem sensible?? It essentially means that all such professionals could do would be to rent a one bed flat (very expensive) or go into a HMO which would be regulated like student accommodation and would therefore be very expensive too.

    Royal Greenwich will soon see that they actually need to be working hand in hand with landlords and tenants to create enough affordable rented accommodation for the key workers and young professionals the borough so badly needs. Unfortunately by actually hammering responsible landlords and making their businesses untenable they will just create a mass shortage of rentable accommodation in the borough as more housing stock falls into individual ownership and the poor levels of housing stock falls even further.

    Surely where the council has failed is not in its non-regulation of privately rented accommodation but in its total ineptitude in creating affordable housing for people and specifically key workers in the borough. All the eye can see is flats, flats, flats. It would be interesting to know the number of such flats that the council has given up to local people whilst destroying the skyline and building with such density and so few amenities for local people. It seems that large scale developers are able to by pass many rules and regulations provided enough councillors palms are greased.

    I also note with interest that Greenwich Council will not be regulating their own housing in the way they will be regulating the private sector……..a case of do as I say not as I do………….as per usual.

    • In your example the tenants wouldn’t be liable for the charge if they are just that. Only the landlord is. Fears of higher rents are often peddled by landlords and agents to prevent regulation. It hasn’t happened where it has been implemented. Landlords have enough margin to cope, or they shouldn’t be landlords and then sell up to allow more first time buyers to buy and not be forced into renting.

      Greenwich Council have hardly rushed into this – they are one of the slowest in London to do anything. Maybe because a few councillors are landlords themselves, including Labour which is revealing.

      In your example it’s madness that a teacher and other skilled workers should be sharing a flatshare anyway – for most of the past 70 years they wouldn’t but the growth of landlords has helped push affordability beyond their reach. Back to regulation and those remaining well managed landlords should have nothing to fear from it. In terms of affordable housing yes many mistakes are made but much is forced upon them by central government. Central government also almost entirely bans public sector building by local authorities. Look at the upcoming white paper on housing – it looks like councils ability to refuse housing will be further reduced. In terms of public housing regulation – it’s a lot stronger than private right now and looking at the vast volume of problems in the private rented sector something needs to happen and fast.

      • Xiao

        What gives someone the right to say it is madness for young professionals to house share? It may well be that you are one of the privileged who currently owns a property and thinks that a teacher is currently earning £60,000 a year working in the borough of Greenwich. We aren’t!

        Is it so odd that I would like to share a 3 bedroomed house with 2 friends in order to save money? Lets look at an example………Where I rent, I pay around £600 per month and so do my friends (£1800 total). If I were to live on my own in a one bedroomed flat as you think i should (again, not sure what you find so “mad” about that in the current climate) on the same street that would rise to £980 per person. Now who is mad here?

        I am saving £380 per month and also saving approximately 20% on bills and by my calculations that is around £5,000 per year. Do you think I should be punished because there are rogue landlords out there who are overcrowding flats? Clearly you do.

        Your idaelistic argument is that housing should be cheaper…………..its a very noble idea but the reality is that housing isn’t cheap and you want to make it more expensive for all renters. Whether rents per se go up or not is really irrelevant…………….they will go up for me and fellow key workers as our options are greatly reduced as the council virtually forces us to rent the high end new build studio and one bed flats they have encouraged rather than house share. If you can’t see the reality behind this move then you are delluded.

        • Clearly the point was that it’s madness that skilled and important workers on decent wages cannot now afford to rent or buy their own home if they so choose but have to share even in decently paid jobs due to excessive rents and house prices, pushed up by landlords. That point was clear and not sure why you didn’t understand it.

          I suggest you look at how things were before the past two decades and how they are in many other developed countries including much of Europe. People on teachers wages could afford their own home as the rent and house price to wages ratio is far different. I hope you aren’t a history teacher given lack of knowledge and wider understanding. And also if you are a teacher then your spelling is a bit lacking.

      • Xiao

        One other thing………….you think by returning rented property to the market for first time buyers that it will improve matters?? Why do you think rents are so high?? DEMAND! If there is nowhere to rent, what happens then? Genuinely what happens??? You say Greenwich Council can’t build so what happens??

        Another argument you make is in relation to higher house prices and how buy to let has caused this……………..the biggest scandal of this housing shortage has been the Part Rent/Part Buy and the new Government Deposit schemes the government have created. These have given large developers Carte Blanche to virtually double the price of flats as they price them based on the maximum people can afford to get a mortgage on and then charge them rent on another imaginary 50% value they have made up!

        If people could afford to pay rent on top of a mortgage why were they denied a mortgage for the full amount on affordability grounds in the first place? I’ll tell you why……………..so that greedy large developers could get what is called “Double Bubble”. They get the full value of the flat and then they rinse the owner for ever more in rent increases and management fees knowing they will never be able to buy more than the 50% they own. If they had built these flats at £600,000 no one could have afforded them and the price would have come down……………but oh hang on, here come the government riding to the rescue of the developers and their empty flats with a scheme that allows them to make people overstretch in order to get on the ladder.

        People have been duped…………..massively duped and mark my words this will be the biggest scandal to hit society in the next 20-30 years when people finally realise the true value of the minuscule boxes they bought all encouraged by the government and others default on rents or mortgages and the developers take back full ownership of the flats and then rent them back to the people they just kicked out! Ahhhh the irony!!

        The government is solely interested in helping BIG business and by wiping out the smaller landlord we will all be stuck with renting from major corporations at exorbitant prices, mark my words, that is the model.

  3. Part buy part rent is a scam to prop up prices. I’ve wrote that it many times. It doesn’t detract from the additional point that the huge growth in a rentier class in the UK has done little for renters and potential buyers (as landlords have had tax breaks not given to owner occupiers) housing stock (as many homes are poorly maintained by landlords) and communities (as owner occupiers relegated behind landlords and then a revolving door of tenants without a stake in their home and community and other issues that brings such as flytipping every time a tenant changes).

    There’s a role for smaller landlords but there’s no reason they should fear regulation to ensure good standards and be professionalised. Sadly there’s so many poor ones now damaging communities that it will cost much to fix.

    Plus, your ad hominem attacks (deluded etc) plus wildly inaccurate and incorrect assumptions are tiresome so were removed, and bizarre points such as something not being on the national curriculum so how should it be known is not really worthy of comment.

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