David Kirwan, from Kirwans law firm, has warned that heavy-handed councils are driving private landlords out of areas where selective licensing schemes are in place. He voiced his concerns after being contacted by landlords with properties affected by selective licensing laws who he says have been ‘utterly devastated’ to find themselves hauled before the courts, simply for failing to apply for a licence.
Local authorities such as Liverpool are inviting landlords who fail – for whatever reason – to register, to attend a voluntary interview under caution; the precursor to a criminal prosecution in the Magistrates Court. In worst case scenarios, landlords could be handed a criminal record, an order to repay 12 months’ rent, or be banned from renting out a property in the future.
Even if councils choose to avoid the courts, civil penalty fines of up to £30,000 can be imposed. There is now a real fear, according to Kirwan, that landlords providing good quality accommodation in areas affected by the schemes will sell-up and invest elsewhere, rather than risk falling foul of the rules.
He says: “I am currently representing decent, professional people who have ventured into the world of buy-to-lets only to find themselves facing a criminal record for failing to apply for a licence that, in other areas of the city, would not even be deemed necessary. We’re not talking about roguish, exploitative landlords here; rather people who simply saw property as an investment that would see them through retirement. It is heart-breaking to watch them going through completely unnecessary criminal proceedings, simply for failing to apply for a licence.”
Using selective licensing legislation, introduced by part three of the Housing Act 2004, in areas affected by poor-quality rental properties, irresponsible landlords and anti-social behaviour, local authorities are able to introduce penalties that go
well beyond the mandatory government landlord licensing rules.