Initiative to improve standards of private rental properties backed by Grahame Morris

Sep 22, 2020 | Leisure & Lifestyle

An initiative which aims to improve communities in County Durham by raising housing standards and management in the private renting sector has received backing by senior council members and two MPs.

Durham County Council’s proposals to introduce a selective licensing scheme in areas of the county has been discussed and approved at Cabinet yesterday, Wednesday 16 September.

The scheme will set a good quality and fair standard for private rental properties in these areas and will help create long term, sustainable neighbourhoods by ensuring that any privately rented property is in good condition and well-managed, thereby protecting the interests of landlords, tenants, and communities.

The proposed scheme will cover approximately 30,000 houses which is 42 per cent of the county’s private rented sector.

Selective licencing is one of the key priorities of the adopted County Durham Housing Strategy 2019 to 2024, which aims to maintain and improve standards across the county’s housing stock and put people and communities first.

This includes ensuring the right homes are built in the right areas to meet the needs of residents, improving quality of housing through schemes such as selective licensing, and continuing to invest in existing stock through projects such as improving the energy efficiency of properties.

The scheme will make a significant contribution to a wider strategy of regenerating the county’s towns and villages by improving both housing conditions and access to quality housing.

The introduction of the selective licensing scheme will also resolve a growing concern over a significant increase in private sector properties. While most properties are well-run and are kept at a high quality, the sector’s increase has also attracted landlords who do not meet the minimum standards in either the condition of the property or management of their tenants.

This has resulted in many communities and residents across the county being affected by increased levels of anti-social behaviour, criminality, fly-tipping and tenants living in sub-standard, unhealthy properties.

Cllr Kevin Shaw, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “Selective licensing is a key objective of the County Durham Housing Strategy and will provide a regulatory framework for proactive monitoring of the private rented sector, allowing us to better support the good landlords. Working closely alongside our partners from police and fire and rescue, who are also stakeholders, will help us identify those who are bad landlords and where we may need to intervene at the earliest opportunity.

“This scheme will provide us with yet another tool to use in our continued work on improving our county’s housing and places. Good quality housing is vital in ensuring the health and wellbeing of our residents and improving social cohesion in our neighbourhoods is important for everyone.

“A recent government review identified that selective licencing is a good mechanism for resolving many of the problems associated with poor landlord or poor tenancy management, bringing confidence and stability back to areas that have been affected and making them once again places where people want to live.

“We have worked on this for some considerable time and have carried out meaningful consultation which has helped shape our submission, which we have now formally approved at cabinet.”

As well as yesterday’s approval from cabinet, the scheme has received backing from Easington MP Grahame Morris who, in a letter to the council, said: “I have been concerned for some time about the influx of absentee private landlords in East Durham, which has led to a general decline in housing standards in the private rented sector. The decline in housing standards, a lack of tenant vetting, and a fall in demand have created hotspots of anti-social behaviour and crime, unsettling once established communities.

“I am vocal in my support for Durham County Council to use its existing powers robustly, taking targeted action on anti-social behaviour, environmental issues, and sub-standard housing conditions.

“Selective licensing will facilitate a healthy and well-regulated private rented sector, improving the management and quality of housing. This will benefit the whole community, including landlords and tenants, if our towns and villages are safer and healthier places to live.”

The scheme also received support from Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, who added: “Many of my constituents have suffered from anti-social behaviour, crime and nuisance from tenants who far too often have been able to quickly move into a similar property, sometimes even in the same street. This licensing scheme will ensure that irresponsible private landlords in communities across County Durham take responsibility for their properties and for their tenants, whilst supporting good landlords.”

The scheme will mean landlords must apply for a licence and ensure their properties meet the standards set out by the scheme. The licence will last for five years and the council will set a charge that the landlord must pay for each rental property they own. A licence fee of £500 is proposed but discounts will be available which could reduce the fee to £350.

Subject to authorisation from the secretary of state, the scheme is expected to be introduced in April 2021.