Rogue landlords hit with £67,500 in fines in scheme praised by tenants
- Credit: Joel Adams
Tenants in Great Yarmouth have praised a housing inspection scheme which has seen one rogue landlord hit with a £15,000 fine and seven others each fined £7,500 for failing to keep their properties in adequate condition.
More than 4,850 issues including missing smoke alarms, severe damp, and missing window catches have been identified and rectified since the scheme launched amid some controversy in January 2019.
A further 36 property owners remain under investigation, and at least 24 have had their licences revoked, in an area of less than a square mile.
It comes as a report reveals the council’s own housing stock declined in quality last year, with 15pc of homes falling short of the Decent Homes Standard - up from 7pc the year before - and more than 200 homes late for their five-yearly electrical safety check.
Rod Green, who rents a house in the centre of the scheme’s designated area on the seafront, described his landlady as “excellent”.
“Even if you’ve got a good landlady things get missed and this way, it makes sure they’re done,” he said.
Housing inspections for £8.50 per month
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The five-year scheme, which goes by the name “selective licensing”, was introduced in January 2019 in the teeth of opposition from 94pc of landlords and lettings agencies surveyed.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council said it would make it harder for unethical landlords to prosper, create a level playing-field for ethical landlords, and improve quality of life for residents throughout the deprived Nelson Ward.
The scheme’s designated area encloses a roughly rectangular area of the ward, bounded to the east and west by the sea and the Yare, to the north by Regent Rd and to the south by Dickens Ave.
Parts of Middlegate, Nottingham Way and Tollhouse St are excluded because they contain only council-owned properties which are not subject to selective licensing.
Staff from council subcontractor The Home Safe Scheme (THSS) visit properties, take photos, and complete a lengthy assessment.
Carl Agar, chief executive of THSS, said: “GYBC are operating one of, if not the, most successful licensing scheme in the country, when compared with the results achieved in other Local Authority areas.
“Out of the circa 1350 property inspections carried out by THSS … over 4000 issues were identified with over 2000 of them classified as high priority issues such as missing smoke alarms.”
The scheme costs landlords £515 for five years, which equates to just over £8.50 per month, although landlords warned they would have no choice but to increase rents to cover the costs of the scheme.
A total of £67,500 in fines has now been levied despite legal questions earlier this year over the validity of the scheme, which caused the council temporarily to pause enforcement action.
A council spokesman explained: “A query over the designation process was raised in early 2022 but subsequent legal advice has confirmed that the scheme was properly implemented.
“Where landlords continue not to engage with us we are now carrying out enforcement.”
Tenants’ seal of approval
Rob Green, 56, who lives with his family in Nelson Road Central, has nothing but good things to say about his landlady but is nonetheless a fan of selective licensing.
“She’s gets the work done that needs to get done, she’s very fair with us. When we were in Lancaster Road [in a property owned by the same landlady] they did an inspection, they did pull her up on a couple of things - there was a handrail that needed fixing, and the extractor fan in the downstairs loo.
“She called her carpenter and her electrician and got all that sorted straight away.
“It shows the scheme is good because even if you’ve got a good landlady things get missed and this way, it makes sure they’re done.”
Christina De Almeida, 42, lives in nearby Oxborough Walk. She said: “They found nothing here but I know a couple of my neighbours, the landlord had to put things right.
“It’s a good scheme, good to keep you safe. You don’t know what could happen if people weren’t checking.”
Landlords remain sceptical
Paul Cunningham, chair of the Great Yarmouth branch of the Eastern Landlords Association, remains critical of the scheme.
He said the council promised it would level the playing field and improve the area, but after three-and-a-half years there had been no criminal prosecutions of rogue landlords and no reduction in drug crime or anti-social behaviour that he could notice in the ward.
“The sheer pettiness of it is frustrating - there has to be 300mm of counter space next to the oven when some properties don’t allow for that.
“And I’ve been pulled up over a weed in the gutter, which doesn’t make a tenant’s life that much different does it?
“Good landlords have no problem with environmental health or the council coming to inspect, what we object to is paying £500 for the privilege of them coming at any time to do inspections.”
However he did point out that the cost was actually being borne by tenants, adding: “Every landlord I know, their rents have gone up because of selective licensing.”
He criticised the “hypocrisy” of the borough council for increasing the burdens and threat of fines on landlords, while failing to keep their own housing stock to the same standard.
A spokesman for Great Yarmouth Borough Council said: “Since the selective licensing scheme for private rented houses was introduced in 2019, we have worked with hundreds of landlords to register and review properties to help ensure good quality housing for residents.
“Following the introduction of the scheme we initially focused on education rather than enforcement. Where appropriate, the council will also use its powers to apply for rent repayment orders, which will be an additional financial penalty where landlords choose not to work with us to provide good quality housing for residents.”
The state of Great Yarmouth council housing
Its latest annual audit, covering the year from July 2021 to June 2022, gives the council a failing grade in those areas after the number of homes meeting the Decent Homes Standard fell from 93% to 85% last year - meaning 865 of its 5,766 properties are below standard.
The council put this down to Covid, which made it difficult to access properties and reduced the capacity of contractors, and has promised to spend more this year especially on upgrading windows and fire doors.
The audit also found 179 outstanding actions arising from Fire Risk Assessments, with “almost all” rated low risk. Eight higher risk issues were scheduled for completion during July.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council is holding a landlords forum on 8 September at 6pm at the Town Hall, to answer questions and get feedback on the scheme’s operation.