Up to 15 minutes are allowed for public participation. Participants are restricted to 3 minutes each.
The Chairman explained there were four registered speakers for the Public Participation, with three addressing the Committee in person and one having submitted a statement to be read on his behalf. The Chairman invited the first speaker, Mark Blackbourn, to address the Committee. He made the following statement and question.
“Question regarding claims that a high percentage of PRS houses in the SW ward are predicted to have a CAT 1 hazard - A serious or immediate risk to a person's health and safety that is related to housing. Most professional landlords would welcome effective, consistent, inclusive and fair regulation throughout the PRS sector which holds to account not only landlords, but local authorities and the tenants themselves to improve the quality of the housing stock and the communities we live in.
The SW ward has been the subject of a 5 year licensing scheme, paid for by landlords and it has generally not been seen, by landlords, tenants and some local Councillors, as the success that is being hailed by WLDC. There is much concern that inspections for compliance of HHSRS, for example, over that 5 year term were often inconsistent and incorrect. However, it is generally recognised that the standard of homes provided by PRS in SW ward is higher having been subject to yearly inspections and any hazards identified being dealt with, within a mandatory time period.
Many Landlords however, are concerned that some CAT1 hazards, which may have been counted in the justification report to re-new the scheme in the SW ward may in fact be ‘hazards’ that are measured against modern day standards and cannot be resolved in a 100 year old plus house. An example of this would be that several houses were identified as having a CAT1 hazard which was actually the measurement of the stair tread depth and width on the original stairs which cannot be changed. To mitigate any risk of falling, every property was or has been fitted with an appropriate hand rail but this would still remain a CAT1 hazard. It has been conceded by enforcement officers that this can’t be changed but can be managed. I am not aware of any accidents or injuries having being caused by the stair installations.
Justification to renew the Selective Licensing scheme in the SW ward relies heavily on data published in the report by Metastreet. It is acknowledged that 98% of the PRS landlords in the area complied with the scheme and some 2196 HHSRS compliance checks were carried out of 809 properties, yet it is predicted that 792 CAT1 hazards still exist in these previously licensed properties.
Could we please see a full breakdown of what these CAT1 hazards are ‘likely’ to be and why is it such a high number, an average of one CAT1 hazard per licensed property, after a ‘successful’ scheme implemented over the last 5 years?”
The Chairman thanked Mr Blackbourn and invited the second speaker, Emma Bailey, to address the Committee. Ms Bailey made the following statement and question.
“The towns neighbourhood plan talks about encouraging investors, which landlords are a large part of within this area, whether that be 1 property or 20 properties. No where in the 11 objectives does it say how you propose to improve the SWW and deal with the issues it has, other than using SL.
The issues in this area are many and when the council already have legislation that deals with rogue landlords it appears as a council you are discouraging landlord investors within the area by having this scheme. The Selective Licensing scheme was not intended to be used as a tool to identify bad properties and landlords. An alternative would be that rent benefit would only be paid to landlords that have completed some checks on a register, so any rogue landlord would not get their money unless they brought their properties up to standard.
In your plan there is not a specific “project” for this area when it has been identified as such a problem area, the only way you are looking at dealing with anything is through SL. The plan also states that 17% of houses are in poor condition, it does not however, state what proportion of that is private rented.
The previous scheme has not addressed the issues of ASB of tenants and it has not helped landlords in taking action on AS offenders, 5 years on if the same issues still apply the scheme is not effective. It is not the role of the landlord to control ASB or crime or littering as examples, as these are completely out of their control. The UK crime statistics do not reflect the issues with ASB that WLDC claim to have, the data gathering does not appear to be transparent.
Many landlords have been told by their tenants they have been advised by WLDC to claim squatters’ rights when they have been issued with an eviction notice forcing the landlord to put them through court at an extra cost, all the while not receiving rent or trying to deal with those tenants causing ASB. There is a consensus between landlords that they are going to sell up due to lack of support from the council, if this was coordinated and proceed on mass this would cause a large increase in social housing supply or incompetent landlords. We are yet to see evidence of any research that was obtained on the effects and consequences of this scheme when rents are raised.
The ongoing costs to a landlord are not appreciated. Many have spent a considerable amount of money improving properties and still have not had a return on their investment particularly with the increase in mortgages, erosion of tax relief on mortgages, insurances, legislative requirements and ongoing maintenance costs.
Housing associations are exempt from the scheme which is very topical at the moment in the media and will be contributing to the figures and data. It is however, interesting that representatives from housing associations are sitting on focus groups already established for the SWW but there is not a representative from the private sector!
The consultation has not been fully informative for all people that are affected in these areas. Key players in the community have not been made aware of the scheme so how are the average person meant to know about and understand what the scheme is for. Homeowners should be aware that they are supposed to inform their mortgage lenders, this can have an impact on lending and in turn effect house prices.
The WLDC survey was leading, so the results would look favourable, I challenged Andy Gray on this and his response was “point taken”.
Communication between residents in SWW and authorities is poor through fear of retribution or lack of interest and action from authorities. Furthermore the level of inspections border on harassment on a tenant.
Landlords are still in the dark about where our money was spent improving SWW and what it was spent on that council tax does not cover.
WLDC officers appear not to have not listened to landlords over the last 5 years in relation to making improvements to the scheme
My question is when a scheme has run for 5 years and has not been successful in dealing with many of the reasons it was put in place for, why would you run it again, is it the case that WLDC are seeking to marginalise and reduce PRS in order for housing associations, companies and charities to take over such as Leap, P3, ACIS and East Midlands Homes Cooperative when these are all exempt from Selective Licensing?"
The Chairman thanked Ms Bailey and invited the next speaker, Joanne Chapman, to address the Committee. She made the following statement and question.
“I have been a Landlord in Gainsborough for 28 years, investing in empty homes, refurbishing to a high standard and bringing them into the Private Rental Sector. I have been in the construction industry for 42 years, bar a 14 year career with Lincolnshire Police. On the whole I have maintained a very good relationship with my tenants and my rents are more than 25% below market average.
I would like to relate 2 of many personal experiences which demonstrate why this scheme is not fit for purpose. I received a letter asking to inspect one of my properties as the house next door was experiencing damp and the problem was thought to be originating in my house. I knew there was no damp in my house as I had done the damp proof course myself. After 2 inspections and 2 lists of remedial works I completed, predictably the problem was not solved. A third inspection, this time a damp specialist attended. My house was given a clean bill of health, no damp at all.
No doubt this totally unnecessary work will be a tick in the box for a house that has been improved, maybe 2 ticks as I was given 2 lists of remedial works to do. My tenant was disturbed 5 times, 3 times for inspections and twice for unnecessary work to be carried out.
The second instance was a very terse email giving me a strict time limit to ensure a 3 piece suite was removed from my tenants front yard. It turned out that she had paid the Council 2 weeks previously to collect it and was still waiting.
I would not mind so much if the scheme I was funding was efficient and effective, this is neither, and in my experience implemented shambolically at times. On average I get a call or message every 3 weeks asking if I have any properties to rent in Gainsborough. Now I tell them I am selling all my Gainsborough properties. Last year I sold 5 to a corporate Landlord who immediately increased rents by an average of 33%.
Another Landlord is in the process of buying 50 houses in Gainsborough with the intention of re-housing people from Glasgow and London. Those who remember Park Springs in the 70’s will know how well that is likely to turn out. I still look for property investment opportunities but now I look outside the West Lindsey area. Two other Landlords I know are evicting their tenants and selling up. I will be selling one more this year which falls in the extended area.
Selective Licensing is honourable in its intent but I fear that it will have the opposite affect with many more small landlords selling and exiting the market or reinvesting out of the area thus reducing private rental housing stock.
I would like to ask what research has been done on the effects and consequences for tenants in relation to increased rents and loss of housing stock as a result of the Licensing scheme.”
The Chairman thanked Ms Chapman and requested the Democratic Services Officer read aloud the final statement and question from the fourth registered speaker, Mr David Masters. The following was read aloud.
"The previous WLDC Selective Licence Scheme ran for 5 years. A sum of in excess of £300,000 was collected from Private Sector Landlords to fund the scheme. The accounts / usage of the money has not been made easily publicly available to the service receivers, i.e. the landlords, to justify the expense.
Anti-social behaviour (ASB) was one of the key areas that the previous scheme was, and now proposed scheme is supposed to tackle. ASB was and is supposed to be a partnership approach between landlords and other “Stakeholders” within the scheme. Landlords have received little and more often no help in addressing ASB of their and neighbouring tenants. Good landlords will always ensure that ASB clauses feature within tenancy agreements and will speak with their relevant tenant offenders. ASB is traditionally reduced through regular gainful employment of individuals, which could not be within the general remit of any landlord.
Evidence has also not been produced as to from where ASB manifested, i.e. was it from within Private Rental Sector (PRS) habitations, privately owned properties, shopping and public areas? How do we reasonably know it is manifested from within tenanted properties of Selectively Licensed Landlords? According to national crime statistics it also appears that ASB has fallen and is not a problem within the South West Ward of WLDC, the previous and proposed target area for Selective Licencing.
Therefore, bearing in mind the afore mentioned information my question is - How can a new scheme be legally and ethically justified when a previous scheme failed to provide financial and physical evidence tackling ASB issues, when in fact it may not actually be a Selective Licence issue and perhaps more of a Police enforcement issue for which residents pay Council Tax for anyway?”
The Chairman thanked all speakers for their attendance and participation and explained that, following the decision at Full Council on 7 March 2022, the consultation and any subsequent action in relation to Selective Licensing had been halted and as such, there would need to be further consideration given to any future plans. He stated that any comments submitted through the course of the consultation would be answered in due course and that this Committee would receive a further report on the matter at the next meeting. The Chairman added that written responses to the received questions would be shared with participants and Members after the meeting.
A point of information was raised by Councillor T. Young, stating that the participants had submitted their questions in sufficient time and it had been expected that an answer would be provided on the night. The Chairman reiterated his earlier comments.
Vice Chairman J. McNeill raised a point of order in that, the earlier point of information was not made according to the Rules of Procedure and as such should not be minuted. Having sought advice from the Democratic Services and Elections Team Manager, the ruling on a point of order was a decision for the Chairman. The Chairman therefore declared that the comments as made would be included in the minutes
NOTE: Councillor T. Young left the meeting at 6.50pm