Kingston County Council plans to expand its landlord licensing scheme from large buildings to smaller scale landlords.
The move means that most landlords will have to apply for a license – instead of only those leasing houses over three stories high or occupied by five or more tenants must apply for a housing licence.
Frances Moseley, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Berrylands Ward, said the additional licensing scheme aims to achieve a balance between meeting Kingston’s housing demand and keeping acceptable standards of maintenance.
“Anyone who has threatened tenants, unreasonably withheld deposits, failed to meet safety standards or carry out essential repairs can be refused a licence” she said.
Without this licence landlords cannot lease a property around Kingston.
Under this new policy however, the criteria for housing licences will be lowered to include smaller residencies often occupied by students, groups of friends or low income households.
The extension, part of the Council’s 2011-15 Housing Scheme, aims to protect tenants of HMO’s from oppressive landlords and maintain acceptable standards of maintenance.
The council claims that badly maintained HMO’s lead to health and safety risks and contribute to anti-social behaviour.
“The major health and safety risks for tenants are around gas safety and fire safety, but overcrowding and insanitary shared facilities also contribute to poor health” said Councillor Moseley.
However, the scheme has attracted some criticism, not least among landlords having to plough through added bureaucracy. Many landlords view the licensing scheme as a fresh way of squeezing funds from Kingston’s grass roots private sector, while student leaders are anxious that the cost, if passed on, will make housing in the area unaffordable.
Each new application for council licensing will cost landlords £200 per unit and a further £160 to renew.
Failure to comply with regulations can carry a penalty of up to £20,000.
However, Mrs Moseley said “Licensing will add some costs for a landlord, but it is very trivial over a five-year period, so is unlikely to change the number of HMOs dramatically.”