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Rock and a Hard Place

Sunday March 1, 2020

A perfect storm is heading for landlords in Heaton in the shape of Selective Licensing which is set to cost a small fortune to implement and a somewhat larger one if non-compliance can be proven. I estimate it will collectively cost our landlords six to seven hundred thousand pounds to ensure they do not incur fines of up to £30,000.

The driver behind this new legislation is the idea that improving domestic rental property standards will curb antisocial behaviour. Personally, I have my doubts about that. Prolific burglar swears to eschew a life of crime. “My new smoke alarm has changed my life” said repeat offender Bill Sykes today. Really?

Much of the new legislation is simply common sense. A hard wired, networked fire alarm is safer since the tenant cannot simply remove the battery when the low battery bleeper sounds. Fire doors should close and latch by themselves. But there are some fairly obvious grey areas.

Let us say tenants repeatedly leave cycles in a fire exit passage. The landlord may prove they have repeatedly advised tenants of the risk. But if those cycles are there when the inspector arrives, the landlord is responsible, not the tenant. If the landlord removes the cycles and the tenant calls the police? Arguably the landlord will face a meeting at the police station where biscuits will not be provided. All in all, the landlord will find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Our solicitors are currently delving into legal pitfalls of this nature. One arcane law might be an accusation of trover. Trovering sounds like an activity that should only be embarked upon by consenting adults behind locked doors. But whatever it is, we need to be aware of it. In addition to the £30,000 civil penalty for non-compliance there are unlimited fines for criminal activity.

It is unclear as yet where the revenue generated from these fines will end up. But as the Council is actively recruiting a team of highly paid enforcement officers, I believe I could take an accurate guess?

Liverpool Council obviously thought they were onto a winner as they tried to renew a licensing scheme across the entire city. Because this was above the 20% of total properties threshold, the matter was referred to the Secretary of State who promptly threw it out since the entire metropolis of Liverpool is not socially deprived.

Newcastle City Council have been a tad cannier, registering 19% of properties in the city. This includes Heaton, an area with relatively low antisocial incidents compared to other areas. But spookily, an area with a great deal of private rented property. Social housing is exempt from this legislation so there is no money to be made in such areas.

Finally, the hundreds of thousands of pounds that must be spent on non-compliant properties? Landlords are running a business so this expenditure must be recouped. Once again, allegedly well-meaning legislation will hit those it is intended to protect, the tenant.

There are rocks in the road ahead for landlords and to quote an unknown sage, “Never let obstacles break your spirit. What’s a rock in a hard place when mountains are moving in?”

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