Landlord licensing commences in Greenwich borough

From today all landlords of Homes of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Greenwich borough must be licensed. This follows a long struggle for reform against endemic poor housing conditions across the borough.

The ability to regulate has long been there and Greenwich Council have been very slow in introducing measures compared to many other authorities. This is despite Home Office funded schemes showing very high levels of legal contraventions when private rentals have been inspected. A 2016 report found:

“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.”

This scheme is also far less extensive in coverage than it could be despite issues extending beyond HMOs.

Greenwich Council had the power to licence all private rentals until 2015. They were too slow to implement.

Authorities such as Newham Council did so, and have uncovered huge levels of tax avoidance. Up to half of all landlords were found to be not declaring rental income at a possible cost of £200 million a year. That’s in just one borough.

In a move that’s good for bad landlords and bad for tenants and neighbourhoods, the Conservatives tightened rules on regulating and licensing all private rental housing in 2015.

But councils could still regulate up to 20% of all private rented homes in their jurisdiction (or three wards) in addition to HMOs. Greenwich Council have not done so. Even Bexley Council are looking into this.

Whilst the move to regulate HMOs is welcome it was really needed five years ago. And even now it’s too limited in scope. It follows a succession of moves that appear to have been pursued grudgingly and slowly.

Article 4

The latest lethargic move is taking another year to enforce “article 4” rules which can be invoked requiring landlords to seek planning permission to convert family homes to Homes of Multiple Occupation.  Article 4 is another tool many councils utilised years ago to deal with a growing problem.

Proposals finally arrived before the cabinet in Greenwich recently where they had the option to introduce it immediately or wait a year. Some councillors claimed they had to wait a year. They didn’t but voted to do so anyway.

We will have to see if they are soft on landlords contravening rules as they are in numerous other areas. I can’t see a link here for tenants or residents to report possible breaches, for example. Even a placeholder would be something.

Greenwich Council havn’t covered themselves in glory with a lax attitude to various issues including littering, with a recent large fall in fines issued:

The above shows a drop from 2,036 issued in 2014/15 to just 66 in the first quarter this year. If that continues it’s a drop to 264 issued over the year. It was already on a steep decline by 2016/17.

It’s a similar story with low numbers of fly-tipping fines issued compared to other London councils.

And then the parking issue. Poor parking is seen widely across the borough yet poor enforcement is resulting in huge budget income gaps totalling £9 million over the past five years. A skeleton staff to enforce the issue, with fewer civil enforcement officers in 2017 than in 2010 does not help.

With such poor enforcement in various areas will many landlords get a free ride when providing sub-standard housing?

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

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