While I was driving home from the Hampshire/Dorset borders last Tuesday a short Cabinet
meeting was getting under way in Bexley. The subject: the Council’s new property licensing scheme originally nicknamed
Rent it Right.
I was not the only absentee. Cabinet Members Sawyer, Massey and Craske had all sent their apologies.
Several Councillors are landlords in the borough but Leader Teresa O’Neill was the only Cabinet Member to declare such an interest although her property is not in an area covered by the new scheme.
Presumably she was referring to one of these properties declared on a recent planning application, it was only a dropped kerb, nothing to get excited about. Unlike Councillor Maxine Fothergill who has three times submitted plans while declaring she was not a Councillor, thereby dodging scrutiny by committee, the Leader had done the right thing.
Strange that only two of the addresses are declared on her Register of Members’ Interests.
Bexley Council became interested in licensing after encountering problems with HMOs and consulted and advertised its plans in the News Shopper “on Article 4 etc. but along the way the government has decided that part of what we were proposing became mandatory anyway but we still believe there is a need to do this”.
Deputy Director Paul Moore said he would provide the Cabinet with some detail. “Housing remains a key pressure in this borough. This is another of those sizeable tools like the Growth Strategy and BexleyCo which we can use as a Council. It is a serious process of licensing and enforcement and an entirely legitimate tool to address some of those pressures moving forward.” Really profound stuff which shed a great deal of light on things we never knew before. Fortunately Mr. Moore’s sidekick David Bryce-Smith was much more expansive.
He said that “there has been a big increase in private renting across the whole borough which has given rise in some areas to high levels of anti-social behaviour”.
The consultation had led to him looking at 13 smaller areas where he “found much higher levels of private renting, much higher than the national average of 20% and much higher levels of ASB than the borough average”.
The 13 areas are within Thamesmead North, Abbey Wood, Lower Belvedere, Erith and Manor Road. “Around 2,900 private rented properties.”
“We will not pursue the HMO licensing proposals because they have been overtaken by the government mandatory proposals. 58% of respondents to the consultation [overall] were in favour but landlords were against. 79%.”
Cabinet Member Brad Smith said that housing problems were such that there will be an 86% rise in the budget from 2017/18 to 2020/21. “The licensing fee has been set at a reasonable level equivalent to £5.35 a month.”
Cabinet Member Linda Bailey asked if areas could be added if the need arose. She was told that “it would have to be a new scheme for that area. The present scheme will run for five years”. The licensing scheme will cover everything originally proposed for HMOs.
Labour Leader Daniel Francis (Belvedere) welcomed the scheme, he was shocked by the extent of changes he had seen in his ward. Roads which were almost entirely privately owned and occupied were now 80% owned by landlords. He alluded to a landlord and would-be Barnehurst Councillor who he described as “not very nice and don’t treat tenants or homes with respect. We certainly support the measures in the papers tonight”.
Mr. Bryce-Smith assured Councillor Francis that although the selective licensing is for the defined areas “the licensing for other HMOs, the HMOs have been seen across the borough including Sidcup, will automatically apply the higher standards”. I think that must mean that ASB problems caused by HMOs will be tackled. Perhaps Mr. Bryce Smith should have said ASB and not HMO the second time. Whatever the case everyone was happy with the statement.
The licensing proposals were approved.
From the Murky Depths has also reported on this subject.
Note: Next door to me in an area covered by the new rules is a privately rented house. The landlord lives in Lagos and has shown up here maybe three times in the past twelve years. He takes ages - up to two years - to fix maintenance problems. It is more than likely he knows nothing of what is in store for him.