Owners of 2,400 rented homes in Wisbech could be told to apply for compulsory licences partly in a bid to stamp out rogue landlords

16:31 12 January 2016

Mattresses in the attic ofa squat in Norwich Road, Wisbech, uncovered as part of Operation Pheasant

Mattresses in the attic ofa squat in Norwich Road, Wisbech, uncovered as part of Operation Pheasant

Archant

Owners of 2,400 rented homes in Wisbech could be forced into applying for a compulsory licence – partly in a bid to tackle rogue landlords.

Occupants of the house in Colvile Road, Wisbech, are using a two-pronged plug in a three-pronged socket.Occupants of the house in Colvile Road, Wisbech, are using a two-pronged plug in a three-pronged socket.

Fenland District Council believes the new measures could help tackle widespread problems in privately rented housing and the crime and antisocial behaviour closely linked to them.

The new rules will apply to seven wards in the town and, if Cabinet agrees, a 10-week consultation period will begin later this month.

The seven wards that make up the proposed designated area are Clarkson, Kirkgate, Medworth, Octavia Hill, Peckover, Staithe and Waterlees Village.

It would be a criminal offence for a landlord to operate there without a licence. Convicted landlords could be fined up to £20,000.

A boiler in the hallway of the house in Colvile Road, Wisbech, in a poor condition.A boiler in the hallway of the house in Colvile Road, Wisbech, in a poor condition.

A council spokesman said: “The main aims are to improve housing conditions, drive out rogue landlords and put a stop to overcrowding and the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers.”

If implemented, the scheme would require all private sector landlords in the designated area to show that they are “fit and proper” persons to hold a licence. It would seek to ensure that they comply with normal standards.

To get one they would have to show they can manage their properties properly, including having all the necessary safety measures in place and taking appropriate action against nuisance tenants.

Licences would last for five years and would cost landlords £575 for a single household let and £750 for a house in multiple occupation (HMO). The scheme has to be set up on the basis of “full cost recovery”, with the licence fees funding its operation. It is not allowed to make a profit.

Human excrement in the corner of a room in the squat in Norwich Road, Wisbech.Human excrement in the corner of a room in the squat in Norwich Road, Wisbech.

The spokesman said: “Selective licensing is seen as the necessary next step in combating the issues that have been identified by the multi-agency Operation Pheasant task force over the past three years.”

The proposal has the strong support of Cambridgeshire police, who say there is a “compelling case” for its introduction.

Under the Housing Act 2004 local authorities have the power to implement a selective licensing scheme in specific circumstances.

The report going to Cabinet says the private rented sector in Wisbech meets the criteria laid down in national guidance as being necessary for such a scheme. These include poor property conditions, a significant level of antisocial behaviour and crime, and high levels of deprivation.

Key evidence from Operation Pheasant

The evidence gathered through Operation Pheasant has been a key element in bringing forward this proposal for consideration. It was influential in shaping the new guidance on selective licensing issued by the Department of Communities and Local Government in April 2015.

Operation Pheasant is a multi-agency task force led by Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Fenland District Council. Since its launch in 2012 it has provided evidence of extensive criminal activity coordinated between rogue gangmasters and rogue landlords providing temporary homes for workers.

In December 2013 Fenland District Council was awarded £179,000 from the Government’s Rogue Landlord programme. The submission said that a sustainable solution could be achieved through the implementation of a selective licensing scheme.

Between January 2014 and April 2015 the Rogue Landlord programme conducted inspections on 487 houses in multiple occupation. They revealed hundreds of cases of safety risks and overcrowding and 195 cases of illegal eviction and harassment of tenants. Six premises were closed down.

The work of Operation Pheasant has provided clear evidence that links problems in private rented housing with crime and antisocial behaviour, the report says.

In an accompanying letter sent to all Cabinet members, Chief Inspector Mike Hills, Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s area commander for Fenland, said selective licensing would help tackle the wide range of issues that had been identified.

“The additional discretionary powers of selective licensing available to the Council under the Housing Act could provide us with an important preventative tool which will aid us in our efforts,” he said.

“The implementation of the selective licensing scheme will present us with an opportunity to visit in excess of 2,400 properties within Wisbech. Doing so in partnership will allow us to gather and increase intelligence opportunities, leading to a more effective response.

“The evidence submitted provides a compelling case for implementing a selective licensing scheme for the town of Wisbech.”

Better management of the private rented sector would not only provide better quality, safer housing conditions, the report says; it would also help combat problems of rough sleeping by people made homeless through illegal evictions and street drinking by those forced to “hot bed”, sleeping in a property on a shift basis.

That would also benefit good landlords by making the town more attractive, thus protecting and enhancing the investment value of their properties. People living in neighbouring properties would also gain.

Councillor Will Sutton, FDC’s Cabinet member responsible for housing, said: “All tenants deserve to live in safe, well managed and properly maintained properties. “Selective licensing would help protect them, but it would also benefit the whole town. This is a major issue, so this proposed consultation is very important: we want to hear the views of as many people as possible – landlords, tenants and the wider community.”

Councillor David Oliver, the Cabinet member responsible for community safety, said: “All the evidence shows that improved standards in the private rented sector would have a knock-on effect in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour. Everyone stands to gain from this scheme.”

If the Cabinet gives the go-ahead for the consultation, it would start on February 29 and run until May 8. The Cabinet would then decide whether or not to proceed with the scheme. Any decision to implement it would have to be approved by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

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