Landlords in Newham who fail to meet health and safety standards and provide details of previous criminal convictions may face fines of up to £20,000.
Councillors approved mandatory licencing last year, and the scheme came into force on 1 January this year.
Newham was one of the six London boroughs which hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics and saw much development in the run up to this event. However, reports have highlighted the poor conditions faced by many residential tenants in the borough. Newham London Borough Council said last July that of the 35,000 private properties in Newham, half do not meet minimum standards. Many are Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
Issues highlighted have included exposed wires on main electrical boards, lack of heating, infestations of rats and cockroaches, leaking pipes and unsanitary conditions. Police have been conducting dawn raids on unlicensed HMOs in Newham for two years, and the practice will now extend to all unlicensed properties.
The full cost for a five-year license will be £500. A discounted rate of £150 applied on license applications made before 31 December; this has now been extended to the end of January.
Newham blames 'rogue' landlords for poor conditions and anticipates that they will 'lead the country' when it comes to dealing with landlords who fail to meet minimum standards of cleanliness and safety in their rental properties.
Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, said:
“Good landlords have nothing to fear from this scheme. For the bad ones, this a clear message they must clean up their act – or pay the price."
– Sir Robin Wales from Newham London Borough Council
On 1 March Parliament will undertake the second reading of the proposed Landlord Accreditation Bill, which will require local authorities to operate landlord accreditation schemes. Though ministers oppose UK-wide licensing, some hope that the provision of schemes will increase the number of accredited landlords who adhere to good practice and minimum standards.
Not all parties are in favour of compulsory licensing, with one criticism highlighting the possibility that separate councils following Newham in establishing unilateral schemes (unlike in Scotland, wherein licensing is mandatory country-wide) will lead to a distorted market and unnecessary bureaucracy.
It has also been suggested that there is already sufficient legislation in place to protect tenants, and that further burdens are being placed on those landlords who do follow the law – while rogue landlords will continue to flout their obligations and legal requirements.
How the scheme is implemented and Newham landlords are policed will doubtless determine its success, and the UK private rental sector are sure to be watching Newham closely in the coming months.