THE powers-that-be in Blackpool are on a mission to root out rogue landlords and hit them hard.
Given the condition of some slum properties rented out as ‘homes’ it is hard not to argue something needs to be done.
But not everyone is jumping for joy about the council’s tough stance – especially the landlords themselves.
They claim Selective Licensing – a compulsory new scheme which costs landlords around £1,000 per property owned – is nothing more than a bid to raise cash.
Since the policy began earlier this year, nine properties, described as “dangerous and filthy”, have been closed down on anti-social behaviour grounds.
Council chiefs say rogue landlords are finally being brought to book for allowing undesirable people from throughout the country flooding into the resort to rent cheap accommodation with no questions asked.
But some law-abiding landlords believe they are being made to pay for the errors of others.
John Clarke, owner of Metcalfe’s Estate Agents, which managed 400 units in Blackpool, says Selective Licensing isn’t necessary.
“It is a very emotive subject among landlords because there is just no need for Selective Licensing – the council already had the power to do what it wanted,” he said.
“In my opinion the only reason it was brought in was to generate new funds which would keep council officials in jobs.
“The council is correct in that there are rogue landlords in Blackpool and they need to be targeted. But unfortunately this scheme won’t work with the majority of them.”
Mr Clarke says the only difference between Selective Licensing and the old laws (such as the 2004 Housing Act) is the council now has the ability to hold landlords responsible for the behaviour of the tenant.
“But how?” he added, “I’ve got children and I’m responsible for the behaviour of my child. But how can I be responsible for someone totally unrelated to me?
“The bottom line is they are using this as a device to threaten landlords into a position where they feel they don’t want to invest further in Blackpool.
“That’s just what the council want because they believe the majority of the anti-social behaviour problems are coming from the private rented sector.”
The council insist this final point, on the root of much of the town’s anti-social behaviour, is a fact.
It says the majority of people causing problems in the resort – the type highlighted by Channel 4’s 999: What’s Your Emergency? – are renting property in the town.
The local authority wants to clamp down on that bad behaviour and believe the landlords should take responsibility for who they rent their property to.
But Paul Bamber, chairman of the Landlords Forum questioned: “If someone wants to rent a room from me I can do a credit card check, an employment check, find out what their income is from a wage, or what benefits they claim – but nowhere can a landlord find out if a tenant has been convicted of anti-social behaviour or any other offence.
“All of that kind of thing is data-protected so it’s all right saying landlords let rooms to undesirable people but how do we know unless the council and police give us access to the information we need?
“No landlord in his right mind would actively want to let a room to a person that would be difficult, or has anti-social behaviour problems, or is alcohol dependent, because it would make their job of collecting rent so much more difficult.”
John McGlynn has spent the last three decades renting out property in Blackpool.
He has two gripes with Selective Licensing – the £1,000 fee and the fact landlords do not get anything out of the scheme.
He said: “The big problem is the good landlords who do everything right still have to pay a fee and they get no benefit from it at all. The landlord who doesn’t need any inspection and whose premises are spotless still has to pay.”
Mr McGlynn also points out rogue tenants and not rogue landlords are often the problem. He showed The Gazette a house in Cambridge Road where his tenant has just done a runner leaving the property in a mess.
“I will spend £150 clearing out the rubbish, £1,500 redecorating the interior, £1,400 to have it re-carpeted, £4,000 for a new kitchen and £1,000 in the bathroom,” he said.
“That goes with the territory, but no one helps us when it happens.”
Mr McGlynn added: “I’m not defending my entire profession. There are a lot of landlords that do owe a lot of money to banks and building societies and as a result feel the need to fill their premises all the time – and sometimes they are a bit tempted to let to anybody who comes along. But the majority of us are doing exactly the right thing and yet we still get hit with this huge licence fee.
“The council don’t want the town to be full of bedsits, but the problem is the majority of the people in Blackpool are on a low wage.
“Even a one-bedroom studio flat is going to cost £75 a week.
“The council has to accept we need bedsits – they have to be of a proper standard, but we don’t need Selective Licensing to achieve that.”
Scheme not for profit insists council leader
BLACKPOOL Council refute the landlords’ allegation Selective Licensing is a money-raiser to help save jobs.
Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, says the fees collected from landlords for a licence (which costs an average of £1,000 for each property owned) go straight back into the scheme.
And he also says landlords against the licence who do not want to improve their properties and are thinking of leaving town are free to do so.
Coun Blackburn said: “I think Selective Licensing is one of the best things ever to have happened, and look forward with enthusiasm to extending it much further in the coming months and years.
“Once again I will repeat that this is not a profit making service. The fees we collect stay within the service and allow us to continue to carry out this vital work.
“Certain private landlords daily voice their frustration at our policies, in every forum they can find, and will no doubt continue to do so.
“However, I am very clear I will not allow us to be sidetracked by this, as we are carrying out excellent policies for excellent reason.
“We are using new powers to robustly tackle nuisance neighbours and bad landlords. Selective Licensing legislation deals specifically with the management of properties and anti social behaviour. These powers were not available to us under the Housing Act.
“The Gazette’s excellent coverage of the problems faced by homeless people in the town has heightened people’s awareness of housing issues. The appalling conditions which we are uncovering on a daily basis in the private rented sector simply reinforce my view that the scourge of bad landlords needs to be tackled head-on. Councillors hear every day from tenants and owner occupiers about houses in their streets which are owned by absentee landlords, and rented out to a succession of nuisance tenants, who drag the whole area down. We are seeking to stop this once and forever.
“I will not allow a very small but vocal group of people with vested interests to delay or otherwise frustrate our plans.
“Good landlords have nothing to fear. Anyone who wants to sell up and get out of town, rather than meeting the high standards we demand is free to do so.”
Click here to read previous stories from The Gazette’s special investigation: