A London council has pressed ahead with the launch of a borough-wide additional licensing scheme despite the lockdown and uncertainty created by the Coronavirus outbreak.
The London Property Licensing service reports that Waltham Forest borough council has started the scheme, which applies to some 6,000 HMOs.
It was thought that many authorities launching licensing schemes or extensions to existing schemes would hold fire until the pandemic was under control; the government, the trade group safeagent and London Property Licensing itself, have called on councils too defer new schemes as appropriate.
However, Waltham Forest - which originally approved its new licensing system last July - has pressed ahead anyway.
Its new additional scheme extends HMO licensing to all house and flat shares occupied by three or more people who are not all related. So-called section 257 HMOs - certain buildings converted into self-contained flats - have been excluded from the scheme.
The council has introduced a new online application system with the standard licence application fee of £1,000 per property, payable in two instalments; there are also early-bird discounts.
London Property Licensing reports that landlords and agents who have not yet applied will find themselves in breach of the licensing scheme unless they can prove a defence of reasonable excuse.
It says: “Even if the council decide not to pursue enforcement action, the financial risk associated with Rent Repayment Orders remains. Tenants living in HMOs can apply to the First-tier Tribunal to reclaim rent they have paid between 1 April 2020 and the date the application is submitted, up to a maximum of 12 months.”
You can see the London Property Licensing report here.
And another council has done the same thing - Coventry intends to bring in a licensing scheme from May 4.
The National Residential Landlords Association has written to the Council asking it to defer.
The NRLA’s policy director Chris Norris says: “The guidelines are there to protect tenants and landlords from unnecessary contact. Where a licensing scheme is introduced, landlords have to go into their properties to check that they meet the licensing obligation and maybe need to carry out non-essential works. This exposes them and the tenants to an enhanced risk of contagion.
“Several local authorities have done the right thing and paused the introduction of new licensing schemes in response to the crisis including Luton and Newcastle and we are asking Coventry to do the same. It would be thoroughly irresponsible of the Council to ignore the guidelines and go ahead with their plans.”