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Friday, May 29, 2020

Shocking pictures reveal housing horror stories behind selective licensing move

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An environmental health expert has described the horrific conditions he’s seen Nottingham renters live in, and has said his team will ‘ruthlessly hunt’ bad landlords as part of the selective licensing process.

Steve Matthews has worked around housing in Nottingham for 20 years and is now the principal environmental health officer at the city council.

He was speaking today about the introduction of a controversial scheme known as Selective Licensing.

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It means most private landlords in the city now have to buy a licence to rent their properties out.

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Those who don’t obtain a licence will be committing a criminal offence, and can be fined up to £30,000.

Speaking about standards of housing in the city, Mr Matthews said he had seen people living in houses that he ‘wouldn’t let an animal live in’.

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He said poor-quality housing had major detrimental effects on people’s mental and physical health.

Mr Matthews also claimed a number of the worst lanlords were also involved in criminal behaviour.

He said: “The rogue landlords we are dealing with now are criminals, they’re not just bad landlords. They are operating illegal taxis, they are knowledgeable about prostitution and the cannabis grows in their properties, they are dealing with illegal tobacco, illegal car clocking – the crime aspect is huge.”

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Mr Matthews works alongside a team of 76 people funded entirely by the selective licence fees.

He said he comes across a new property owned by a rogue landlord ‘about once a week’.

Often, many substandard properties are really owned by one individual, but on paper are owned by shell companies or members of a family.

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The large networks make it difficult for enforcement officers such as Mr Matthews to obtain a list of dodgy properties.

Currently, there have been 8,000 applications for licenses. A grace period has been created for landlords with more than 30 properties, or agencies with more than 120 houses.

Around 7,000 homes are covered by this grace period, meaning bosses hope that by the end of October more than 15,000 properties will be covered.

Anton Menzies is the head of safer housing, and says at the end of the grace period, his team will begin ‘hunting’ those landlords who are still continuing to operate without a licence.

He said: “95 percent of landlords are good people. The five percent that are letting us down are the ones we will be ruthlessly hunting for. So once the grace period is over, the ones who are ducking this will be the ones who feel the heat.

“For years and years, the good landlords have been saying to us ‘why don’t you go after the bad landlords’, well now they can be assured that we will be, because of the team that’s funded by the selective licence.

“It’s about creating a level playing field for the good landlords. The money from the licences pays for the people who will pro-actively hunt the bad landlords.”

David Hobbs is the selective licensing manager at the council. He said: “It’s a five year scheme, and we hope that by the end of it bad landlords will have left the market altogether, because they can’t stand the heat. Either that or they will get out before we get to them, because they will know it’s coming.”

Mr Menzies said he understood concerns from some ‘good’ landlords about having to pay for a licence.

He said: “People think the money is going into a secret bank account, but we’re going to be publishing exactly where the money is going, and what successes we have. We have made that promise that in terms of performance we are going to be transparent.”

Councillor Jane Urquhart is the city council’s housing chief, and represents the Sherwood ward for Labour.

She said: “People in Nottingham have a right to expect a decent and safe standard of private rented accommodation, which is well managed and maintained.

“Nottingham’s private rented tenants will now be clear on what is expected of their landlord in terms of property management and standards. Rogue landlords will be investigated and action taken.

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