Landlords could soon be paying for a licence to show they are providing adequate accommodation, according to Birmingham City Council - as the local authority won government approval for a new scheme.
The Selective Licensing Scheme will cover 25 wards out of a total of 69 in the city, equating to up to 50,000 properties. Up to 130 staff will target wards under the scheme where the private rented sector is above 20% of properties and there are high levels of deprivation and/or crime.
The scheme, lasting five years, will start next June. It will be the largest of its type in the UK, according to the council. Landlords will have to pay £700 for a licence and face criminal sanctions if they breach conditions or fail to get a licence.
The council approved the plans in March this year at a full council meeting but was delayed due to the size of the local authority. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities granted permission for the licence under the Housing Act 2004. Birmingham City Council – Europe’s largest local authority – said it carried out “extensive consultation” before deciding to introduce its scheme. Over 800 responses were received from landlords, including a flyer drop for 125,000 properties in the 25 wards.
It comes as the second city has emerged as the epicentre of problems with the supported exempt accommodation sector. Birmingham has more than 8,000 ‘exempt’ houses and hostels, which provide accommodation for people deemed hard to house. They include recent prisoners, drug and alcohol addicts, those struggling with mental ill health, young care leavers, refugees and abuse survivors.
In March this year, a parliamentary select committee inquiry looked into Birmingham’s exempt accommodation, with more than 100 organisations and individuals provided evidence to the cross party committee.
What has the city council said about the scheme?
Councillor Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said: “We want to ensure that private properties in our poorest wards are providing fit and proper accommodation and that landlords are adhering to their legal responsibilities.
“While many already do, the introduction of licence conditions that cover a range issues including waste bins, references and tackling anti-social behaviour will ensure the council is in a position to engage and regulate this sector appropriately.
“The Selective Licensing Scheme will allow the council to work with all landlords to drive up standards across all private rented sector properties and join up with other services, such as the police, to tackle issues such as the high levels of crime that have blighted these wards for too long. Improving standards in the longer term will lead to safer and more stable communities, enabling more tenants to fulfil their potential especially children.”
Marcus Bernasconi, a Labour councillor for North Edgbaston, which has been a particular concentration on exempt accommodation, said: “I’m delighted that the council is cracking down on the unregulated private sector.
“The sale of alcohol that requires a licence, and there are conditions attached to that licence. The same should be for landlords, to ensure that the service you’re providing is in the correct way, and that you are meeting your responsibilities to the community. My message to landlords is that good landlords have absolutely nothing to fear from a licensing regime, because they will already be meeting the requirements expected of them as responsible landlords.
“It’s about calling time on those who are exploiting that tenants for a quick buck that are ruining all communities. It’s about driving up standards.”
An ACORN Supported Housing spokesperson said: “We are pleased the landlord licensing plan has been approved by central government. Councillor Sharon Thompson has worked hard to bring it about.
“The private rental sector has been operating with inadequate regulation for far too long. These conditions have created soaring profits for landlords, and a Wild West for renters, with unsafe and unsanitary conditions the norm.
“We welcome the licensing, but wish this to be extended to all wards of the city. We are also campaigning to crack down on discrimination by landlords of tenants on benefits, numbers of which we expect to rise with the cost of living crisis.”
Which wards are included in the scheme?
The wards are:
- Acocks Green
- Alum Rock
- Balsall Heath
- Bordesley Green
- Bordesley and Highgate
- Bournbrook and Selly Park
- Gravelly Hill
- North Edgbaston
- Small Heath
- Soho and Jewellery Quarter
- South Yardley
- Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath
- Stockland Green
- Tyseley and Hay Mills
- Ward End
- Yardley West and Stechford
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