To receive an update from the Director of Resources and Housing on the Council’s interventions in the private rented sector which aim to improve the quality of such accommodation in the city.
The report of the Director of Resources and Housing submitted a report, which provided members with an update on the Council’s interventions to address housing conditions and the quality of accommodation in the private rented sector.
The following were in attendance for this item:
o Councillor Coupar, Executive Member for Communities
o Neil Evans, Director of Resources and Housing
o Mark Ireland, Head of Private Rented Sector
o Gerard Tinsdale, Chief Officer Housing
o Gavin Dick, National Residential Landlords Association
The Head of the Private Rented Sector introduced the report, and provided the Scrutiny Board with an overview of the following:
· The increase in market growth in the PRS and the quality of housing - the inner city areas having the poorest quality;
· The Council’s vision to improve private homes by supporting landlords and owner/occupiers to provide good quality homes;
· The Council’s vision will be achieved by working with landlords via the Leeds Rental Standard and targeting landlords who fail to meet their legal obligations. Further measures would include implementing selective licensing in Beeston and Harehills and considerations around other areas, proactively targeting long term empty homes and supporting homelessness prevention;
· The Leeds Rental Standards scheme;
· The Reactive Service including the number of inspections, notices served and people benefitting from improvements to their home;
· HMO activity and the need to address space standards - a Supplementary Planning Document is currently being consulted on;
· Rogue Landlord Unit and the ongoing partnership work to target criminal landlords and sharing intelligence to improve outcomes;
· Leeds Neighbourhood Approach (LNA) and the Exit Plan for Holbeck;
· Selective Licensing figures in terms of licenses applied for, fees paid, unlicensed properties and cases;
· Homelessness prevention in terms of support mechanisms and new cases;
· Empty homes including net reduction statistics since March 2012 and COVID-19 implications.
Members’ discussed a number of matters including:
· Whether sufficient legislation has been made available for private rented sector interventions, including measures around enforcement. Members heard that one of the main issues included difficulties around identifying which properties are private, rented and unoccupied. It was noted that the service continue to lobby the Government to license the private rented sector as a whole. Currently legislation means that there is a need for a business case to be developed for discretionary licencing and it is unlikely that this could be successfully achieved for a city wide scheme;
· Clarity on whether Selective Licensing would be broadened. Members were informed that options moving forward would be dependent on criteria laid down by the Government. It was noted that no further areas have yet been identified, and next steps for the service would continue processing and issuing licences as part of the Beeston and Harehills scheme and to commence property visits as soon as the pandemic allows the service to do so safely;
· It had been acknowledged that the PRS required improvements on access to the service, and Members were informed that investment had been secured to provide a better service for customers;
· Clarity was sought on the mechanisms in place for empty HMOs. Members were informed there is a target of 6 months, before measures are taken with the landlord to encourage bringing the property back into use. Additionally, the Council can use its Compulsory Purchase powers as a last resort;
· Whilst acknowledging the decrease in empty homes, clarity was sought on how the Council can incentivize landlords in bringing their properties back in use. It was noted that partnerships such as the Empty Homes Doctor are able to act independently of the Council to focus on returning long term empty properties back into use and there are options the Council can offer in terms of equity release and personal loans. Additionally, Leeds Housing Options can link accredited landlords with people;
· It was requested that ward specific data in relation to empty homes be circulated to Board Members. The Head of the PRS informed Members there are limitations in terms of the data regarding private rented properties being put in the public domain via Council mechanisms. However, data can be published in terms of how many empty homes there are per ward and listing those belonging to companies / Local Authorities and Housing Associations.
The National Residential Landlords Associate was of the opinion that the Council’s targeted approach had been doing well in terms of tackling homelessness and issues in the housing sector, and broadly outlined his concerns with city wide schemes. Challenges were set out post covid, particularly in relation to perception that the student market is moving away from the city centre, and financial pressures. Additionally, the proposed change to minimum efficiency standards by 2025, would pose significant challenges in all parts of the UK and in particular, pre-1919 building stock. It was noted that there was further work that can be done to support home owners and the PRS.
The Executive Member for Communities highlighted the importance of partnerships to ensure good quality housing across the city, and informed Members of the Board that the matter on Selective Licensing will continue to be lobbied to the Government.
The Chair thanked those in attendance.
a) To note the contents of the report;
b) That information be made available to Board Members in relation to empty homes on a ward basis;
c) Requested that the successor Scrutiny Board schedule a space on the work programme in the 2021/22 municipal year, and be minded that the following matters be considered:
i. Broadening Selective Licensing;
ii. The role of the Private Rented Sector in meeting housing needs;
iii. Resourcing available to landlords in terms of financial mechanisms;
iv. To monitor and identify issues in relation to empty properties;
v. Post COVID considerations in terms of homelessness;
vi. To receive an update on the Strategic Housing Board;
vii. To seek clarity on the location of private rented properties, and identification of landlords;
viii. The effectiveness of the available legislation;
ix. That a joint letter from the Scrutiny Boards be sent to ministers outlining concerns as stated above.