Oxford City Council has launched a public consultation on two licensing schemes aimed at improving conditions in the private rented sector.
Following agreement by cabinet last night, the council is now seeking views on its intention to:
- extend the current ‘additional’ licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) until 2026
- introduce a new ‘selective licensing’ scheme to cover all privately rented homes in Oxford.
Oxford’s private rented sector has grown from a fifth (20.8%) to half (49.3%) of homes in the city since 2001 – one of the highest proportions in England. In January the council set out far-reaching plans to protect tenants, drive up standards and crack down on rogue landlords and consultation on licensing is a necessary step in helping to deliver these.
Oxford’s private rented sector
The council commissioned Metastreet to undertake a review of housing conditions that used a range of data and modelling techniques to pinpoint housing tenure and predict property conditions. This found that a fifth (6,200) of the 30,500 homes in Oxford’s private rented sector have a serious housing hazard.
All wards in Oxford have more than 20% of housing in the private rented sector, with concentrations in the centre and south east of the city.
In the last five years the council has received 3,360 complaints from private renters about 2,990 properties – around 1 in 10 of all privately rented homes. During this time the council has served 2,451 housing and public health notices and carried out 4,058 investigations into anti-social behaviour related to private rented housing.
HMOs are homes rented out to three or more people who are not from the same family and who share facilities. All HMO landlords in Oxford must get a licence that ensures an HMO meets safety standards, they are a ‘fit and proper person’ and that they comply with council waste disposal and storage requirements.
In 2011 Oxford was the first council in England to introduce a citywide scheme that required every HMO to be licensed. The current scheme is due to expire in January 2021. Consultation is required as a condition of renewing the scheme for another five years.
Since the start of the current licensing scheme in January 2015, the council has processed 12,236 licences in relation to 3,850 HMOs. The council works with landlords and agents to improve compliance with the scheme yet less than half (49%) of HMOs are fully compliant.
The council has taken a stepped approach to enforcing non-compliance with HMO licensing and this can range from higher renewal fees for minor breaches to financial penalties for repeated or major breaches.
In the last five years there have been 2,460 investigations into unlicensed HMOs. These have resulted in 25 financial penalties being served for operating an unlicensed HMO and 22 penalties for non-compliance with the scheme or related legislation. The council also took over management of three unlicensed HMOs.
Selective licensing would allow the council to extend existing licensing powers to cover all privately rented homes in Oxford and ensure a level playing field for all private tenants and landlords.
Government rules allow councils to introduce selective licensing if 20% of homes in an area are privately rented. If the consultation is in favour of introducing selective licensing, the final scheme will need to be approved by the government.
If agreed, a self-financing scheme for selective licensing could be put in place for five years in late 2021 or early 2022.
Participating in the consultations
The 12-week consultation is being carried out independently by Opinion Research Services (ORS) on behalf of the council. ORS is aiming to seek the views of all stakeholders – including landlords, agents, industry associations, residents and resident’s groups, private tenants, third sector organisations, advice agencies, registered housing providers, councillors, businesses and neighbouring councils.
Members of the public can find more information and take part in the consultations at www.oxford.gov.uk/propertylicensing
“Every private tenant deserves a decent home. We want to bring in licensing across the whole private rented sector to deliver on our plans to protect tenants, drive up standards and crack down on rogue landlords. A fifth of privately rented homes in Oxford have a serious housing hazard, and tenants also face challenges around energy efficiency and fuel poverty. We’re aiming to change that.
“We also believe that licensing all privately rented homes will benefit landlords themselves. Tenants will have the confidence that they are good and responsible landlords as rogue operators are driven out of the market.
“These consultations are the next step in the process of driving up standards in our private rented sector. We want to capture and reflect the views of all stakeholders and I would urge everyone with an interest in Oxford’s private rented sector to take part.”
Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, cabinet member for planning and housing delivery