A controversial scheme to introduce new charges for some of Peterborough’s landlords has been put on hold, just a week after it was announced.
A new policy from Peterborough City Council will replace the Selective Licensing Scheme which had drawn allegations of racism.
The scheme was set to charge landlords to house tenants in Gladstone, Millfield, New England and Eastfield.
Its aim was to tackle rogue landlords, but detractors claimed it unfairly targeted Asian landlords - who are prevalent in the target area - and would mean additional costs would be passed on to tenants.
Landlords also queried why the scheme was only proposed for one part of the city and not made city wide.
The decision to defer the scheme was announced by Councillor Peter Hiller, the council’s cabinet member for growth, planning, housing and economic development this evening (Wednesday, September 16).
In his statement to councillors on the Strong and Supportive Communities Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Hiller said a change to government legislation in April meant that the council now required approval from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to introduce selective licensing into the target area.
This is because the Secretary of State needs to sign off on selective licensing if the target area contains more than 20 per cent of privately rented homes in the entire area controlled by the council, which in this case it did.
In addition, Cllr Hiller said a re-think was needed because new powers for local authorities, landlords and tenants are due to come into force next month, and a separate discussion document is to follow shortly on an extension of mandatory licensing for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
In his statement he said: “I have championed this work because I firmly believe, as do my senior officers and housing professionals, that this is the right and proper solution to help turn around the affected area and to deal with unscrupulous and criminal landlords.”
He added: “However, as this is such a key development I am obviously determined to introduce it with absolute certainty that the evidence is up to date and that the boundary identified is the most appropriate for the city.
“We do know of course that the evidence provided when we first went out to consultation is now some two years old.”
Cllr Hiller said he wants to “develop proposals for a new scheme which takes full advantage of the opportunities created the through new legislation.”
This could mean, according to Cllr Hiller, that the scheme is broadened.
New proposals will be consulted on but will be expected to need the Secretary of State’s approval as it will affect more than 20 per cent of properties in the council’s control.
Cllr Hiller signed off his statement by saying: “My government are providing more and more tools and powers for local councils to tackle the difficult issue of rogue and criminal landlords, and I remain completely committed to tackling this issue in Peterborough.”
Interestingly, the statement suggested that new government legislation will include measures to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants for persistent non-payment of rent.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Hiller said the decision to defer the scheme was made in the last week, but that new proposals can be introduced in the new year.
He stressed: “My ultimate aim is to ensure rogue landlords and criminal landlords are forced out of houses. We are not trying to penalise good landlords.
“We will be consulting widely both with existing landlords and potential landlords, the scrutiny committee and councillors.”
The council’s deferment was welcomed by landlord Tariq Amim Mahmood, owner of properties inside and outside the targeted area, who was present at the meeting for the surprise announcement.
He said: “I’m very pleased that the council is now aware that it’s a problem in other areas as well. We are in favour of the council stamping out rogue and criminal landlords and tenants.
“Good landlords have been here for many years and the majority are being punished by a few rotten apples.
“If the council works with landlords we can come up with something we are happy with.”
Abdul Choudhuri was a member of the sub-committee introduced by the council to look at alternatives to selective licensing when it was first proposed two years ago.
He said his proposal to educate landlords about what is required of them was ignored.
He added: “There are always rogue landlords but no action is being taken. I’m glad they have postponed this.”
Cllr Mohammed Nadeem, member for Central Ward, which was part of the target area, said he welcomed Cllr Hiller’s statement and would prefer more revenue to take enforcement action.
However, Beki Sellick, chair of the Park Streets Ahead Residents Association, which was also in the target area, called for the scheme to be introduced as soon as possible, saying: “This is a way of providing a mechanism to make sure that people are aware of the law and abide by it.”
She mitigated this by adding: “I understand the deferment in the light of the new legislation coming forward.”
Cllr Lisa Forbes, chair of the scrutiny committee, agreed with Cllr Hiller that deferring the scheme was the right thing to do.
It was proposed, and agreed, that a Task and Finish group will be set up to look at future proposals.