From April, landlords who let out properties in Birkenhead, Hamilton Square and Seacombe will come under the scheme and face heavy sanctions for non-compliance. Tony McDonough reports
Residential landlords in Wirral are being warned they face the risk of hefty fines and other penalties as the council gets set to extend its selective licensing scheme.
From April, landlords who let out properties in Birkenhead, Hamilton Square and Seacombe will come under the scheme and anyone renting out a home without a licence could find themselves in hot water.
Although there are a number of lesser sanctions such as providing advice, guidance and support or issuing a simple caution, the boss of Merseyside law firm Kirwans believes councils are now routinely pursuing the most serious options, including taking landlords to court and revoking licences.
The firm’s managing partner, David Kirwan, was speaking after a family of landlords were fined more than £16,000 for failing to comply with the scheme. He said: “A trend is emerging of councils choosing to enforce the harshest options.”
He added that he has acted for clients investing in property to raise additional income or to provide a pension in retirement who he says have been “utterly devastated” to find themselves hauled before the courts, 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.
Mr Kirwan said: “It is heart-breaking to watch some landlords going through completely unnecessary criminal proceedings, simply for failing to apply for a licence.”
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.
Selective licensing schemes apply to a designated area for a period of five years and landlords have to apply for a licence for each home affected.
They are then awarded a licence to operate a property only after an assessment which must deem them to be ‘fit and proper’, as well as satisfy stipulations around the management and funding of the property and health and safety considerations.
“While we would all agree that unethical landlords must be weeded out to ensure protection for society’s most vulnerable tenants, councils must be careful that they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” added Mr Kirwan.
“Rogue landlords operate in an entirely different manner to the many decent men and women, some of whom are only just entering the rental sector, who are finding their way in the rental market and may be unaware that such schemes have even been introduced in their area.”