Unlicensed Peterborough landlords prosecuted as council scheme praised for improving standards

A landlord licensing scheme is said to have improved the standards of rental accommodation in Peterborough, with more than a dozen people being taken through the courts for non-compliance.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 4:57 am
A property in Dogsthorpe Road which was found to be inadequate when inspected. Photo: Peterborough City Council

The council brought in Selective Licensing in 2016 to improve the standards of rental properties in certain areas of the city.

Landlords of privately rented properties in parts, or all of: Central, North, East, Park, Fletton, Bretton North, Stanground Central, Walton and Orton Longueville wards have to pay £600 to obtain a licence should they meet certain standards.

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This includes ensuring the property has a gas safety certificate, working smoke alarms and safe electrical appliances and furniture.

Moreover, landlords are required to meet a host of other criteria which includes monitoring overcrowding, resolving anti-social behaviour, legally removing tenants where there is evidence of criminal activity or anti-social behaviour and ensuring properties are in good condition and free of waste at the start of each tenancy.

To date, 6,500 licences have been issued, with 660 refused and 202 revoked.

According to the council, 227 properties which have been inspected over the past five years have had category one hazards (the most serious) identified within them, while a further 551 homes are still to be inspected which have been “identified as likely to have category one hazards at the first inspection”.

Speaking to members of the council’s Communities Scrutiny Committee on Monday, Jo Bezant, prevention and enforcement service manager for housing, told members: “We’ve had 14 or 15 (landlords) we’ve taken to court during the term of the scheme where the landlord has completely refused to licence the property.

“Most of them, once we catch up with them, they do get a licence and pay a higher fee for doing so.

“We probably have 180 who we are currently investigating where we suspect that they need a licence but we haven’t been able to get enough evidence to prove that at this moment in time.”

Cllr Amjad Iqbal (Central, Labour) asked how successful the scheme has been since its adoption in 2016.

Ms Bezant replied: “It’s gone really, really well. What we’ve found has happened is landlords that didn’t know what they were doing - they had one property or two properties - a lot of those have moved and given their properties to agents so the agents manage them.

“So we’ve seen a rise in professionalism of landlords through the management of the properties. And also a lot of landlords went on and did their own accreditation - so went off and became educated in what they should be doing and their legal responsibilities.

“So we’ve seen a fall in illegal evictions because landlords understand they can’t just ask somebody to leave - they’ve got to give proper notice.

“We’ve also seen a massive improvement in compliance with housing conditions. It seems to be that because they know we’re coming anyway they’ve got to get it done.”

Ms Bezant said initial inspections had highlighted flaws, with landlords then given time for remedial action to take place ahead of enforcement.

She added: “We even had some small repairs where (the landlords) were ringing us by the time we got back to the office and said ‘we’ve done them, do you want to come and check?’

“So a lot of landlords have got on board and we’ve had a lot better compliance.”

Committee chair Cllr Graham Casey (Conservative, Orton Longueville) asked if lessons had been learnt over the past five years?

Ms Bezant replied: “There were quite a few lessons we learnt around IT, about the data we gathered through it, what can be useful going forward with it - and we’ve started making those changes.

“We’ve listened closely to landlords and agents. One of the big bugbears they had is when they’re trying to licence multiple properties. Some people have like 100 properties and they’re sat there doing 100 applications.

“We’re continuing to take feedback and we will do throughout the next consultation and try to build in the changes to make it a gold-standard scheme next time.”

The main reason for non-compliance was from landlords who did not believe the council would take enforcement action, it was added.

Selective licensing runs out in Peterborough at the end of October and the council is currently drawing up a new application to be submitted to the Government for approval, taking into account the latest guidelines.

This could see new areas covered by the scheme.

The current wards were chosen as they met specific government criteria - for example, significant and persistent anti-social behaviour or poor property conditions - but there have been calls to extend to the scheme to other parts of the city.