Another Labour council wants to introduce a city-wide landlord licensing scheme - a proposal that would require government approval to implement.
Last week controversy raged around the decision of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government not to permit Labour-controlled Liverpool council the right to continue its city-wide scheme for another five years.
Now Oxford council, also run by Labour, is calling for a licensing regime across all of its 20,000 privately rented properties; and it wants to use AI to identify properties it believes to be privately let but not registered as such.
It wants to:
- expand the current licensing scheme for HMO landlords so that it covers all 20,000 private rented homes in Oxford with a £600 licence for five years - if all private properties had to pay the licence, the total would be £12m;
- developing what it calls “a new intelligence-led enforcement model using an algorithm to identify properties in the private rented sector that are unlicensed”;
- be given powers to fine rogue landlords whose properties do not meet the legal minimum energy efficiency standard;
- employ a new lawyer to “take on” rogue landlords who attempt to dodge fines for failing to meet the minimum safety and energy efficiency standards.
The council was given £71,000 from the MHCLG earlier this month to test the new algorithm and fund the new lawyer, while it received the new energy efficiency powers last month.
Part of the cash will be used to hire two new officers to test the algorithm; they will knock on 1,000 properties in Oxford over a three-month period to find out whether or not the algorithm has correctly predicted that they are privately rented homes – and then, if needed, tweak the algorithm to improve its accuracy.
The council says it will also work up detailed proposals for extending the landlords licensing scheme over the coming months, with the aim carrying out a public consultation in the summer.
But it will need government approval and if that is granted, the new regime should start late this year or early next.
Every year Oxford council claims to carry out about 700 inspections of HMO properties in Oxford; between 2011 and 2016, it undertook 82 prosecutions and issued 47 formal cautions against rogue landlords and agents of HMOs.
In 2017 the government gave local authorities the ability to issue financial penalties to rogue landlords and agents, and since then Oxford council has issued 57 fines for offences relating to HMOs, including renting unlicensed, cramped and unsafe properties.
The council claims there is “an emerging trend … of rogue landlords, or their agents, deliberately dodging the city council’s HMO licence and continuing to rent out dangerous or sub-standard properties to vulnerable tenants” - although the council does not reveal how it knows that to be the case.