Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Gateshead Council (DHB 05)

  1.  Gateshead Council has campaigned vigorously for the introduction of licensing in the private rented sector to help tackle the problems of irresponsible landlords and unruly tenants. Licensing is seen as an effective tool in addressing problems associated with poorly managed, sub standard accommodation. Since the launch of the campaign in December 1999 there have been over 140 written pledges of support from Local Authorities, Members of Parliament and Professional and Voluntary Organisations.

  2.  In our experience, irresponsible landlords investing in areas of low demand have a significant impact. They often fail to maintain their property, which serves to increase the physical deterioration of an area and the general feeling of decay. There is little vetting of tenants and subsequent anti-social and criminal behaviour of tenants goes uncontrolled, causing distress for original residents and increasing the social tension in the neighbourhood. An area rapidly becomes stigmatised which further drives out original residents, often to the benefit of speculative landlords who continue to buy up vacated stock.

  3.  It is our contention that the introduction of an effective licensing scheme for private landlords will address a number of the problems outlined and will help prevent neighbourhood decline in the manner that we have experienced in some parts of Gateshead.

  4.  We believe that such a scheme will remove the possibility of landlords exploiting areas of decline for purely financial gain to the detriment of the community. By having an enforceable minimum standard the physical and social deterioration of areas that is directly attributable to irresponsible landlords can be prevented.

  5.  Our experience is associated principally with areas of low demand. However, through the campaign we have been running, it is clear from other local authorities that the problems of anti-social and criminal tenant activity and physical neglect are prevalent in areas characterized by high demand. There may not be the associated problems of blight and abandonment but the anguish suffered by tenants and residents is similar.

  6.  Whilst broadly welcoming the powers in the draft Bill, Gateshead Council has a number of specific comments with regard to the selective licensing proposals:

    —  It is important that Councils can respond rapidly to changing conditions in their areas. Our experience has shown that areas can deteriorate rapidly, often within a few months. The requirement to seek confirmation from the Secretary of State, followed by a three-month lead-in period, will unnecessarily delay the implementation of any schemes. It is our opinion that local authorities should be able to implement licensing without Secretary of State confirmation.

    —  The exclusion of physical standards from the mandatory licensing requirement is disappointing. The impact of physical neglect and disrepair on both the tenants themselves and the community at large is significant. In addition, the future housing condition regime will not fully address the complex and protracted nature of enforcement in the sector. The introduction of minimum physical standards under a licensing scheme would be a proportionate and productive measure.

    —  The emphasis in the Bill is on areas in low demand or likely to become low demand. Consideration should be given at this time to the introduction of criteria for areas in high demand.

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