The outbreak of the Coronavirus is having wide-reaching implications for the private rented sector. Businesses, landlords and local councils have been forced to adapt in order to protect public health during this pandemic. Most notably, we have seen a number of local authorities across the country make changes to their introduction or enforcement of HMO and selective licensing schemes in response to issues related to the Coronavirus.
Guidance recently distributed by the Ministry of Housing advises councils to take a pragmatic approach to licensing enforcement. It proposes that councils “take individual landlords’ circumstances into account where licence fee payments may have been delayed due to the current situation”.
Additionally, the guidance asks councils to “prioritise high-risk licensable properties if this is necessary to protect vulnerable tenants and target imminent risks to health”.
Whilst councils have also been advised to continue business as usual for existing non-mandatory licensing schemes, several local authorities have taken action to postpone or restrict some of their schemes.
In Newcastle, despite initially confirming the introduction of its additional and selective scheme, the council has now suspended their implementation by three months from 6th April to 6th July.
Luton‘s selective scheme, which affects 5 wards within the borough, was scheduled to start on 1st May, however now it will come into effect from 1st July.
Greenwich is the latest London borough to pause its selective licensing consultation in response to the Coronavirus crisis. The council kicked off the process in February and was due to end on 26th April but it has decided to call a halt due to ‘safety issues’.
Sandwell Council’s consultation on its additional and selective schemes was halted early due to the Coronavirus, although people were still able to submit feedback online.
Camden Council has suspended inspections whilst it battles with dealing with the outbreak.
In Great Yarmouth the council has promised to continue with enforcing its HMO licensing scheme, although it has rolled back on proactive inspections.
Liverpool Council also insists that, despite their landmark council-wide selective scheme recently ending, all current cases will continue to be processed by their legal team and taken to court if necessary.
It remains to be seen whether more councils across the country will enact similar changes to the enforcement of their licensing schemes. However, it is clear that, while all local authorities are having their resources stretched during this pandemic, many are still keen to limit disruption to their schemes as much as possible and ensure that they can continue to serve their function of improving rentals standards.
During the Coronavirus outbreak it is still imperative that landlords and letting agents alike fulfil their licensing obligations. Time now must be spent preparing for when the implementation of these licensing schemes will resume as usual.
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