Croydon Council’s Borough wide landlord licensing scheme will go ahead despite the Government changing the rules that come into force on 1 April. The legal advice to the Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday 26 March was that the decision taken by the Cabinet on 16 March was taken at the time the Council was still able to introduce a Borough wide scheme.
Scrutiny cannot overturn Cabinet decisions simply make recommendations. Therefore whatever it decided would not upset the legal position. The scheme will therefore go ahead as agreed by the Cabinet from 1 October.
While in general support of the aims of the scheme the Tories asked a number of critical questions about the details, and argued that it would be better to do a scheme covering parts of the Borough and pilot it. They did not press their difference of opinion to a vote on the basis of trying to avoid the Scrutiny process becoming party political. It was agreed to review the operation on the scheme next March and October 2016 giving landlords and others a chance to tell the Committee what their experience is with the scheme.
The meeting was well attended by landlords and several were able to speak to the Committee. While most had gone before the final discussion, one of them who stayed to the end had collected a lot of their emails to keep in touch with them. Afterwards a residents association activist told me that he is considering (in his capacity as an individual) organising a class action in the Courts against the scheme. This could take 2-3 years.
I was the only member of the public speaking at the Committee who supported the scheme though I drew attention to some problems with the detail.
In my submission to the consultation I had suggested an alternative fee structure which would have involved giving free registration to the licensing scheme to those landlords who join one of the Council’s and housing associations private sector leasing schemes; and a two tier fee scheme so that landlords who are members of recognised associations and who only use as lettings agents those registered under one of the three ombudsman schemes will pay a lower fee than the proposed £750. Those not so registered should pay a higher fee (with no discounts), the latter to be set at a figure higher than membership of a recognised landlord association and the highest of the ombudsman schemes. The proposed discounts should only be available to the first tier landlords. The Officers had not commented on this proposal in their report to Cabinet, and told Scrutiny they did not think it was workable but without giving detailed reasons.
My question was not answered as to whether the register would be published recording property address and name and address of landlord and lettings/management agent, so that tenants and prospective tenants and their advisors can check on registration status. Nor was my question answered about whether it was intended to submit a separate report on a strategy that encompasses all aspects of the private rented sector.
In a submission to Scrutiny members I had sent in advance I had also asked questions about the delay in implementation to 1 October and how the 1 April Government change in the rules would affect it. These were dealt with through the legal advice mentioned above.
In my opening remarks to the Committee I argued that as so many landlords wanted Council action against bad landlords, they should see that the cost of the scheme will provide funds to the Council to concentrate action against bad landlords. In other words it is in the interests of all landlords who claim to be ‘good’ that they should support the scheme. I ended my remarks saying
‘Bad landlordism is an extreme form of Anti Social Behaviour.’
Note: the legal advice given means that my analysis in an earlier posting ‘Tories sabotage Croydon Landlord Licensing Scheme’ was wrong.