Published 22nd January 2019
20 months post-Grenfell and housing is under the microscope more than ever before.
Last year, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, published his London Housing Strategy, setting out a new approach to tackling the capital’s housing crisis. Top of the agenda is an online database that names and shames unscrupulous landlords and letting agents.
All 33 London local authorities have signed up and are submitting the details of prosecutions to the portal; an online tool that empowers Londoners to check up on convicted landlords and agents in the capital.
Local Authorities now have the power to manage the standards of their stock in their boroughs, however this has created huge variation in regulation between and even within councils causing large admin burdens for landlords and agents.
As it stands, there are 541 licensing schemes nationwide running across 393 local authorities. Moreover, property licensing is in a constant state of flux with a further 31 schemes in consultation or awaiting approval with expected launch in 2019, meaning a new scheme launched every 10 days on average. Step forward Kamma (formerly GetRentr), a PropTech company that has built a platform to simplify this increasingly complex and fragmented regulatory system. As the UK’s Property Licensing architecture becomes increasingly dynamic and fragmented, the frequency of new consultations, amendments, expiries and implementations is rapidly increasing. Kamma leverages AI, data and tech to automatically track and aggregate each one into a UK-wide database.
Kamma’s innovative data platform puts agents and landlords back in control, automatically and continually reconciling their portfolios with the UK’s Property Licensing framework, immediately notifying them of changing regulations that impact their properties.
In England, a property becomes a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) when 3 people, at least 2 of which are unrelated, share a home. With a few exceptions, landlords will require a licence when HMOs have 5 or more people living there. Here’s the regulation predicament in simple terms, highlighting the need for Kamma:
The Selective Licensing guide for local authorities sets out intentions to make the private rented sector ‘strong, healthy and vibrant’. Moreover it is helping to set accomodation standards to ensure security, stability and decency. Local Authorities have powers to introduce Selective Licensing on properties in areas where there are problems that need addressing such as low housing demand or increased anti-social behaviour. The benchmarks used and enforcement of such schemes varies by council.
The National Landlords Association explains what is required to introduce an Additional HMO Licensing scheme. It requires a ten week consultation with residents and landlords and is introduced to properties local authorities can demonstrate … ’significant management issues and poor property condition that need addressing within a designated area…’. The outcome of additional schemes again is subject to each council and property in case, and will vary nationally.
Clearly, the convoluted system not only makes it difficult for landlords to know what regulations apply to their property, but also having access to all the Local Authority regulations changes, and which licenses apply to which property can make landlords vulnerable to significant fines. Planning authorities and licensing departments within the same councils do not necessarily share data – another layer of complexity making landlords vulnerable to compliance.
Kamma CIO and co-founder, Alex Schembri, states a local approach to meet local requirements does indeed makes sense, but a nation-wide and a standardised way of accessing these requirements is what is required. This is the exact solution that Kamma addresses: a way to query all regulations and laws applicable to all properties in the UK in a single location to protect Landlords, Estate agents and their tenants from risk.
Orla Shields, Kamma CEO confirms:
“We’re a data and tech company, providing a creative solution to a massive problem. We strive to make regulations work better; to ensure people live in safe homes. We’re certainly not making a case for more—or less—regulation; simply, “smarter” regulation.”
The promise of smarter regulation is why this company has won the attention of the government and the private sector.
In April 2017, Civil Penalties were introduced as a faster alternative to expensive prosecutions, and Newham council became the first council to use these new powers to fine a landlord following a fire at a property in Plaistow:
Councillor Terry Paul, Mayoral Advisor for Housing, said: “Newham is proud to be the first council in the country to adopt and make use of (these) new direct fines for criminal landlords.
“Our swift adoption and application of the new powers underlines our commitment to protect tenants from rogue landlords. In this case there was a single breach of the law, but by failing to install fire alarms, even after a blaze in the block, this landlord clearly showed his reckless lack of care for the safety of his tenant.”*
The largest fine of its kind relating to breaches of planning and licensing laws ofterraced houses converted into flats, was back in 2012 with fines totalling in excess of £1.4 million. The largest fine in 2018 was over £330,000.
Tech that simplifies and makes sense of the complex, is always a good thing. The primary benefit of Kamma is to help agents and landlords make compliance easy; cost effectively and quickly to avoid hefty penalties. This at the same time then ensures tenants are protected and not vulnerable to substandard living conditions.
By connecting industry and local government together, Kamma can create an automated early warning system to help landlords, estate agents and local government keep track of their legal obligations and maintain a safe standard of living for tenants in their care.
Kamma are equipping councils with the ability to help streamline how they operate and better regulate the property sector.
Tenants will indirectly benefit from Kamma. By having a much easier way to comply with regulations, landlords and agents can offer more security and protection for the first time, while councils and tenants can now hold them to account if they fail to do so.
Another surprisingly good news story.
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