Proposals for rented homes set to be approved by leaders - despite support from just 3% of landlords

Rental agreement
Landlords have complained about a selective licensing scheme -Credit:Getty/iStockphoto

A new plan to charge people to let out homes is set to be approved - despite just 3% of consulted landlords agreeing with it.

Council leaders are to consider the new "selective licensing" policy in a cabinet meeting on Thursday (May 16) evening, with recommendations to approve the five-year proposals. However there has been opposition to the scheme from landlords.

The proposals are meant to improve rented property conditions and management in central Stockton, where half of all households rent from a private landlord, as well as North Thornaby and Newtown. All private landlords in those areas would have to buy a licence from the council to rent out homes, with conditions including making properties safe and dealing with anti-social behaviour.

The council says it would give them powers to take action against landlords who fail to manage their properties and put tenants in unsafe homes. Unlicensed landlords could face unlimited fines or civic penalties up to £30,000, and fines up to £5,000 for licence breaches.

Landlords would pay £653 per home under the proposals - £178 to apply for a licence, £100 more for late applications, then a £95 annual fee. Discounts would apply to landlords with more than one property and those accredited to local or national landlord schemes.

The council says it sent out 5,600 leaflets, contacted 260 landlords and sent 426 letters to landlords and letting agents promoting a questionnaire. They received 99 responses from landlords or letting agents, 82 of whom disagreed with the scheme, three agreed, with 76.5% disagreeing with the proposed fee. Out of 116 responses from residents, 62% agreed with the proposal and 28% disagreed.

People agreeing with the proposals said they hoped it would "get rid of some bad landlords", make them more accountable, raise standards, encourage pride in the area and reduce crime. One said it was long overdue but warned it should not be a "toothless exercise", while another said: "It won't solve all the problems, but will help."

A respondent said: "I strongly agree as a home owner in Newtown my house price has plummeted due to all the anti-social behaviour, drug dealing. Private landlords not vetting their tenants and letting their properties go into states of disrepair."

The voluntary association PLuSS (Private Landlords Supporting Stockton) said it respected the good intentions but argued the scheme would be a wasteful distraction: "We do not believe the scheme will bring about significant improvements, while the costs will discourage investment by landlords."

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said landlords could not resolve tenants' mental health issues or manage behaviour, found overcrowding issues complicated to manage, and asserted the council had enforcement powers against poor standards. Safeagent, a scheme for lettings and management agents, said: "The highest priority should be tackling rogue landlords and agents, not policing the compliant."

They questioned the "assumed link" with anti-social behaviour, saying: "The causes of ASB are many and varied. It is not, in our view, reasonable to expect agents and landlords to play a disproportionately large part in tackling them."

'We are not babysitters'

Landlords said the scheme was an unnecessary, counterproductive waste of time and money, already covered by legislation. They said it would be a burden, a "con" and a "money-making venture" which would penalise good landlords and lead to higher rents and people selling up, making the problems worse.

One landlord said: "We are not babysitters and cannot control how tenants conduct their lives." Another wrote: "To put it bluntly, you and the government are fools! Please go ahead with your stupid plan!! I'll just sell my properties and leave it to you to find my tenants accommodation!!"

The council responded saying it did not expect landlords to be responsible for tenants' behaviour, just to include tenancy agreement clauses on anti-social behaviour, take action to tackle it and manage tenancies. It said it had to take steps to address "large-scale" issues, could not and did not seek to make a profit, existing powers did not require landlords to declare themselves to the council, and other authorities had not experienced higher rents.

The council has detailed amendments it made to the proposals after the consultation, including changes to discounts and wording of conditions. If approved, it will not come into effect for at least three months.

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