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Agenda item

Private Sector Housing Regulation and Selective Licensing Update

Report of the Director of Housing Services.



The Committee received a report and presentation giving an update on the London/ Abbeydale/Chesterfield Road Selective Licensing scheme.




Present for this item were Janet Sharpe, Director of Housing and Neighbourhood Services and Catherine Hughes, Team Manager, Private Housing Standards.




Janet Sharpe reported the progress to date of the Scheme, outlining the number of inspections that had been carried out, the number of properties that were compliant with the licence conditions and the number of properties where a serious hazard had been found.




Catherine Hughes referred to the team structure of the Private Housing Standards Team (PHST), which, due to reductions in Government grants and austerity measures, had been reduced by around 60% over the past 10 years.  She stated that the priority of the PHST was to protect some of the most vulnerable people living in private sector properties, but around 40% of those properties were built pre 1919 and the condition of those properties had deteriorated.  The most recent stock condition survey shows that 10,801 of private rented properties have a Category 1 hazard.  She said that the Private Sector Housing Service was ranked as one of the best in the country in supporting tenants, working closely with landlords to improve standards and take enforcement action against those landlords who flout the law and put tenants at risk.  She referred to the numbers of Houses in Multiple Occupation in the city and how the Team carry out inspections, issue licences and then renew such licences every five years. She also made reference to the number of asylum seeker properties across the city.




Members made various comments and asked a number of questions, to which responses were given as follows:-




·                     With regard to student accommodation, there were some 60,000 students across the city and when new schemes in the city centre are completed, the majority of students, if affordability allows, prefer to move into the newest properties, leaving the older schemes struggling to fill up and being under-occupied. 




·                     Some of the earlier built student accommodation blocks were purpose built and not fit for family use.  The service has been looking at some of the under-occupied blocks to see if they can be altered to make them fit for use.




·                     With regard to cladding in tower blocks, the Government was doing a lot of work to remove the risk of fires following the disaster at the Grenfell Tower block.  The powers governing fire safety was shared between the Housing Service and the Fire Service. The Government has introduced a funding programme to make it easier for building owners to access resources to remove combustible cladding to their properties.  This work had been carried out to the Housing Service owned properties, but some private landlords were proactive in accessing the funding available and carrying out the works, others were slow to react, but it was hoped that all properties in Sheffield would be made safe during the next 12 months.




·                     The Housing Service works in partnership with the majority of letting agencies in the city, providing help and advice to improve housing standards.  A lot depends on the arrangements that landlords have with their lettings agent, some agencies were given full responsibility, but it can be challenging to get landlords to co-operate. Where an unscrupulous landlord is exposed as providing sub-standard and dangerous accommodation, the City Council will take enforcement action against them.  The City Council are aware and monitor those landlords/agencies who do not act correctly and responsibly. The Service also provides guidance for landlords and managers who hold licences for houses in multiple occupation or who are licensed under the Selective Licensing Scheme.




·                     Due to national policy changes, a student housing strategy was being developed. This strategy will explore the potential impact of these changes on the existing and future student accommodation provision in Sheffield.  The city has a mixed accommodation offer for students, with an increasing amount of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and whilst demand for PBSA was continuing to grow, existing stock was still not at full occupancy and there was a risk that the provision of more PBSA will lead to oversupply and older blocks falling empty.  It was hoped that this and housing plans for the city as a whole would be known by the end of the summer.




·                     There has been a lot of work carried out by the Director of Housing and Neighbourhood Services, along with the respective Cabinet Members, regarding the Strategic Housing Market Assessment which was now complete, but they are looking to see if there was a need to update some of the housing plans for the city so that they will be in a position to put forward a report to Cabinet on this by the end of the summer.




·                     One of the challenges is around how to improve private rented houses across the city.  The Housing Service was working with landlords in order for them to improve the basic standards of their properties, particularly to many of the older properties’ thermal comfort.  Part of the city’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy was the need to ensure that those in poor health had access to decent housing, a warm and comfortable place to live and the aim was to see how properties could be improved and make sure that landlords were tackling Category 1 hazards to make sure that housing stock was up to an acceptable standard.




·                     As can be seen from the results of the survey which has been carried out, some families don’t want the disruption of moving out of their properties whilst repairs were being carried out or even being rehoused.  The perception of some tenants was that “I’ve put up with it, so I’ll carry on with it”, so homes fall further into disrepair.




·                     Part of the city’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy acknowledges the current shortage of affordable housing and that a number of owner-occupied and private rented properties across the city are classed as having an excess cold hazard due to a mix of financial hardship and poor property conditions, and work was ongoing to address this.




·                     The introduction of Selective Licensing into an area can bring widespread benefits to the local community, by ensuring that all privately rented property within the designated area was safe and well managed, but the Scheme was costly to manage so there was a need to determine which area would benefit more from the Selective Licensing. The aim was for the Licensing and Enforcement Team to visit every property in the designated area to ascertain the condition of the property, assess it and make sure it was fit for purpose and only when that was completed, move on to the next area. The aim was to look at where the most serious cases were and deal with them before moving on to the next difficult area.  Consultation with all affected people, such as tenants, residents, landlords, managing agents, businesses, Police, Fire Service, local councillors etc., needed to be held to determine whether the Scheme would be beneficial to the area.  There was a need to deal with one area at a time rather than city-wide.




·                     Landlords need to make sure that tenants dispose of their waste properly.  The Housing Service works with the Environmental Health Service to serve notices on those who do not maintain their properties, although it was felt that if a fixed penalty notice has been served or fines issued, the landlord would pass the cost on to tenants.




RESOLVED: That this Committee:-




(a)       thanks Janet Sharpe and Catherine Hughes for their contribution to the meeting;




(b)       notes the contents of the report and presentation now submitted together with the comments now made and the responses to the questions raised; and




(c)        endorses the decision taken by the Cabinet at its meeting held 20th June, 2018 to designate an area of London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road for the Selective Licensing of privately rented properties, and requests that:-




(i)         an annual report, giving feedback on the Selective Licensing Scheme, to see more detail on a regular basis, be brought to this Committee;




(ii)        the Scheme be extended to other areas of the City; and




(iii)       the Cabinet Member for Transport and Development continue to work with the Director of Housing and Neighbourhood Services relating to Page Hall.


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