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UK Landlords Could Face Licensing

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

Over the last decade, the UK has seen a significant rise in the number of private renters.

As an example that can be replicated across much of the country especially the South West, new figures from Wiltshire show that between 2001 and 2011, there were an extra 8,500 privately rented households in Swindon.

As a proportion of total residential properties in Swindon, this increase represents a doubling, from 8 per cent to 16 per cent – a rise that has prompted the council to consider options to improve the market for both tenants and landlords.

Keys Housed In House

There are several reasons which can be given for the increase across the country. Soaring property prices, difficulties in securing borrowing and stagnant wages have led to the number of people owning their own property falling to their lowest levels for a quarter of a century and the number of people renting almost doubling.

More than a third of England's 14.3million homeowners are now aged 65 and over as young people have been frozen off the property ladder. Just 1.4million homeowners are aged between 25 and 34, the age group most likely to be raising families, while 96,000 are aged between 16 and 24.

The overall number of homes lived in by owner-occupiers has fallen from 71 per cent in 2003 to 65.2 per cent last year, the lowest level since 1987. In contrast, the number of people living in privately rented accommodation has risen from 2.2million in 2002/03 to nearly 3.9million last year.

The number of people renting from private landlords now outstrips those in council and housing association homes for the first time. Half of those renting privately are under the age of 34, with private rentals outstripping social housing for the first time.

Like so many towns and cities across the UK, tenants in Swindon often complain at the varying degrees of quality with landlords, while home owners talk of the high costs of repairing properties damaged by short-term tenants. Among the options being considered by Swindon council include setting up a comprehensive licensing system for landlords. Other possibilities include setting up an optional standards charter or a scheme for tenants to provide feedback on landlords.

Private rented property licensing is an important step forward as a significant part of this sector is poorly managed. There is a definite need to drive up standards and improve the quality of private rented homes to give tenants greater security and more sustainable rent increases.

A system of licensing does nothing more than add credence to an issue which has been in the minds of those who makes the laws in this country for many years.

For centuries we have had a system of landlords and tenancy ownership dating back to feudal times, with popularity of tenancies ‘waxing and waning’ over the centuries depending on the economic situation.

Parliament certainly had this in mind when it passed the Defective Premises Act in 1972, which followed from the lack of sufficient housing which many cities faced after the Second World War and which in turn, resulted in ‘slum landlords’ in some cities, placing an obligation on landlords to maintain their property or risk being sued.

As the rental market increases we face the same threat of rental premises falling into a state of dilapidation and already over stretched local authorities being asked to intervene.

A self funding policy of licensing, set up across all local authorities would go some way towards reducing this threat.

Tristan Hallam is a Principal Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in central London.

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