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Greens response to ACORN regarding the private rental sector (PRS)

Brighton and Hove Green Party branded green background with title in white reading Greens response to ACORN regarding private rental sector and green logo on white tab in upper right hand corner

GREEN RESPONSE TO ACORN REGARDING THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR (PRS)

We recognise and share the frustration of private sector renters with the progress on our jointly agreed renters programme/ commitments for renters, that we have agreed with the Labour Group of Councillors. These goals cover some of the demands made by the community and renters union, ACORN. We are 100% committed to fulfilling our joint programme and securing additional resources if needed to do this. We have already invested £195,000 in staffing to enable more proactive enforcement. Where demands from ACORN are not explicitly covered by the joint programme, for example the agreement of an ethical landlord charter, we would like to add them to the programme as part of the review process now underway. We anticipate that this will require us to agree resources, timeline and prioritisation against other key areas of work. Additional resource requirements would be subject to approval from other political parties.

Time table for landlord licensing

We enclose a flowchart setting out the stages that are needed before a decision to consult on the implementation of a specific scheme can be made. Assuming sufficient council officer capacity for all the stages to proceed on schedule (as outlined in the flow chart) and an absence of hitches, we commit to bringing a report for decision on implementation of a licensing scheme at Housing Committee in November 2022. The evidence will determine the type of scheme chosen. After this Housing Committee decision, it will take an estimated 4 months before a selective licensing scheme will be able to begin, taking us to Feb 2023 as the earliest possible start date. All going to plan, we commit to Feb 2023 as our target date for implementation of a selective licensing scheme, but it will take longer for a city-wide scheme to become fully operational as this would require Secretary State approval and

Since Housing Committee in September, we have secured to undertake peer research to investigate where and what type of licensing schemes have been successfully introduced in the rest of the country, what kind of schemes were successful and what other measures have been taken where schemes have not been achieved. If we are able to obtain the necessary supporting evidence, we will endeavour to find the resources needed in line with meeting our work programme commitment.

Successful introduction of a licensing scheme is contingent upon the following:

  • Evidence of poor property condition or anti-social behaviour (ASB) need
  • Gathering of evidence to the standard required by legislation to support any scheme
  • Evidence of the difference made by existing censing schemes
  • Evidence that existing enhanced enforcement approaches and other tools at the council’s disposal have been insufficient and licensing is necessary

Robust consultation embarked upon following an officer report that does not say there is insufficient evidence.

Proactive prosecution in PRS enforcement

Our joint programme pledges to create a dedicated private rented sector enforcement team to proactively enforce housing and energy efficiency standards, including:

  •  fixed penalties and action against landlords who criminally breach environmental health and safety regulations
  • tackling hazardous housing conditions by increasing capacity for Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) azard inspection and taking the initiative in identifying properties for inspection.

We have spent £195,000 on expanding enforcement capacity. Staff are now in place. There is also capacity to enforce on hard-to-heat homes. We convened a Private Rented Sector councillor working group meeting, jointly with Labour representatives in November to agree additional monitoring of enforcement such as the number of requests for assistance/enforcement cases opened, how many closed satisfactorily and the resulting actions. In time, this monitoring will be reported quarterly to housing committee. This group can also firm up effective monitoring and reporting of the impact achieved with the existing HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) licensing schemes. Once we have sufficient monitoring data, we will be able to review our PRS Enforcement Strategy. With greater capacity and a more proactive commitment, we will be in a position to act faster, and where landlord actions render this appropriate, we will pursue early action within the existing, jointly agreed PRS Enforcement Strategy. This should achieve more prosecutions than in the past and, where these occur, we will publicise them. This enhanced enforcement will reflect our stance of zero-tolerance towards rogue landlords and is expressed in our support for the motion on the same topic at November’s housing committee.

Ethical Landlord Charter

We welcome the work that ACORN members have done in providing the backbone of an ethical landlord charter. A voluntary charter can only help, and we would like to agree its content and discuss how it can be used and promoted in the city with ACORN. This is not in our joint programme, but we will aim to agree its inclusion as part of the workplan review. This will be subject to Labour’s agreement and to resources, timeline and prioritisation being agreed against other key areas of work, but in the meantime, we would like to arrange a meeting with ACORN to develop this further. 

Publicly viewable statement to support End Unfair Evictions, right to unionise and commend ACORN’s work

There is nothing about this in our joint programme. However, we are committed to ending section 21 ‘no fault evictions’ and have agreed joint motions with Labour to this end which we can publicise alongside support for the campaign to End Unfair Evictions and the other work that ACORN do. In the meantime, while section 21 remains law we shall write to landlords again urging them not to use these powers, but to work with the council to try and sustain tenancies. We indicated our willingness to consider rent support packages to help stave off evictions at September’s housing committee and are glad to see the government announce a £65m fund for this, even if this doesn’t go as far as we would have liked. We recognise the right to unionise and will investigate how we can signpost tenants to ACORN from the council website. We encourage ACORN to engage with the PRS team in the council at the earliest possible opportunity to attempt to resolve issues.

Summary

We hope these steps reassure you of our commitment to private sector renters in the city. We will publish this response on the Brighton and Hove Green Party website for accountability.

We also are happy to meet more regularly with ACORN in the future and would welcome meeting again before Christmas to update on progress and discuss other campaigns that we may be able to support in future.

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