Communities and Local Government CommitteeFurther supplementary written evidence submitted by the London Borough of Newham

Thank you for your letter regarding correspondence you have received and the opportunity to appear before the Committee as part of your enquiry into the private rented sector. I have addressed each of your points in turn below and I hope this information proves useful to Committee members.

Conservatories, the Four Year Rule and Housing Health and Safety Rating System

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 there are time limits set out under section 171B (2)—which states:

“Where there has been a breach of planning control consisting in the change of use of any building to use as a single dwelling house, no enforcement action make taken after the end of the period of four years beginning with the date of the breach.”

The use becomes lawful after four years whether or not the room sizes meet London Plan Space Standards, there is adequate light or that the building is fully accessible. However as I said at the Committee hearing, I do not view the four year rule as problem for legitimate conservatory structures where the neighbours have no concerns. But in Newham if you are using an extension or outbuilding to house people and make money out of it, we would argue that the four year rule should not apply and the construction should remain in contravention of planning law.

In terms of the recent changes to the GPDO which took effect from 30 May 2013—this will create further problems in the private rented sector in Newham. The additional prospect of 6 metre long extensions does little but create further options for conversions of dwellings to flats or more cramped HMOs. The policy is ill thought out due to the possible consequences in less affluent urban areas. In Newham the changes will lead to more poorly built extensions, but now much larger.

In Newham, permitted development rules do not often relate to conservatories but to the change of use of a building or the conversion of a house into flats or another residential dwelling. Under current arrangements the time limit for conversion of any building to a residential dwelling is four years without any consideration of the state of the structure. The time limit should be removed where landlords are profiteering from illegal structures.

Newham has a huge and growing private rented sector that needs to work for all of our residents. The private rented housing market as it stands is not working well for tenants, particularly for young people and increasingly for families with children who are more likely to be priced out of home ownership, ineligible for social housing and reliant on private renting. Partly this is an issue of housing supply across sectors, but it is also a consequence of the complex and generally weak regulatory framework which particularly fails those in the weakest position in the PRS. We have seen terrible standards of management in some areas, so we need to take action. The tools we’ve had so far have been fully utilised but do not comprehensively deal with the major problems of the sector.

Health and safety/housing management interventions only cover a small part of the wider anti-social behaviour and poor property management we witness in the PRS which includes planning contraventions, noise and nuisance, illegal evictions and harassment, criminal activity and environmental crime.

In terms of improving and maintaining housing conditions, it is an unsatisfactory tool for local authorities. It is overly complex, poor understood, time consuming, costly and rarely satisfied tenants or landlords.

It would be better if local authorities were able to use a version of the existing provisions for ensuring the maintenance and repair of dwellings—such as the straightforward obligations and responsibilities for repair and maintenance contained in S11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 and s4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972. These can only be used in civil proceedings at present and are rarely applied in the PRS now except in the case of statutory tenancies.

The HHSRS does allow us to take enforcement action where a category 1 or 2 hazard is present in the structure for example excess cold, damp and mould where a “Beds in sheds” unit is poorly insulated. The HHSRS enforcement action usually requires the landlord to carry out improvement works to the structure to reduce/remove the deficiencies causing the hazard(s) such as installing insulation, heating or damp proof course etc.

Where the long term sustainability issue arises is that these structures are illegal in planning law and do not have planning permission for residential use so although HHSRS brings about improvements to the habitability of the structures, they are still illegal and HHSRS does not change this fact.

In some extreme circumstances where there is a Category 1 (severe) hazard and reasonable works cannot be carried out to improve the structure, then we do have the option under HHSRS to either prohibit the structures use for living and sleeping accommodation or in extreme cases we can demolish the structure. This type of action can only be used in certain cases and these are rare as a number of these illegal structures are constructed to a standard that means severe Category 1 hazards do not exist. However they are still illegal structures with out residential use planning permission.

Landlord Accreditation Scheme

A voluntary accreditation scheme has been in operation for over 10 years in Newham. As I presented to the Committee, it did not prevent the appalling standards we come across in the sector as less than 10% of landlords signed up, despite the offer of training and other financial incentives. Through implementing the mandatory licensing scheme which came into effect at the beginning of the year, we now know there to be at least 15,000 landlords in the borough whereas before we though there to be 5,000—therefore far less than 10% of landlords were accredited.

The Newham accreditation scheme trained over 600 landlords and there is extensive information of the scheme on our website. It is also advertised at Newham housing events and through our widely distributed council magazine, the Newham Mag. As part of the scheme, Newham also held quarterly forum meetings with landlords to which over 800 landlords attended. The model used for the accreditation scheme is used London wide

( and there is a multi-borough training website.

The scheme was far from being a “well kept secret” and was targeted and publicised strategically at landlords of all types with a cross-section of tenants.

If you require any further information, then please do not hesitate to contact me.

June 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013