Letter: Question over Crawley landlord licensing

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In response to your columnist Cllr Duncan Crow’s article last month regarding your local Councils plans to follow a number of other authorities around the country and introduce a landlord licensing scheme in Crawley, I would like to ask him a simple question.

Let’s say Cllr Crow had been out enjoying the cultural delights of your town - maybe a film, theatre or a nice meal at Zari (my own favourite restaurant in the area) - and, having enjoyed an alcoholic beverage or two, needed to use a taxi to get him and his family or friends home. Would he, I wonder, given the choice, entrust the safety of his loved ones and himself to an unlicensed driver and vehicle that may have no current insurance or MoT because it may save him a tenner or, would he chose to use a taxi or mini cab licensed by the Council of which he is an elected member, knowing that both driver and vehicle are required to meet required levels of safety and competency?

While I cannot know the answer for sure, my guess would be that Cllr Crow - like 99% of the population - would chose the licensed vehicle and driver option in order to maximise their chances of ending their night out safely back in the comfort of their beds. So, why should anyone who rents a home - a place where they spend far more time than in a licensed vehicle and that potentially contains many more hazards - not also know that both the person they are renting from (the landlord) is a fit and proper person to be letting a property and that the property itself is safe, decent and properly insured? Personally, I cannot think of any reason why they should not. While there are many landlords who do the right thing, we also know there are large numbers who do not, and let squalid and unsafe properties often to vulnerable people who are either too frightened to complain about their conditions (in case they get evicted) or do not understand their rights. Councils around the country are now increasingly coming to realise that the only effective way to ensure safe and decent standards in the private rented sector is through the introduction of a landlord licensing scheme.

In the London Borough of Newham, for example, it is now against the law for any landlord to rent out a property without a licence, and the council work with the Metropolitan Police and other agencies across the area to find unlicensed properties and take legal action - which could result in a fine of up to £20,000 and have control of unlicensed properties taken away from landlords, and be ordered to repay up to 12 months rent to their tenants.

As an organisation campaigning across East Sussex for a professionally managed, secure and decent private rented sector, we fully support Crawley Borough Councils initiative to introduce a local landlord licensing scheme.

For Cllr Crow to describe such a scheme as a ‘tenant tax’ is the equivalent of describing licensing taxis and their drivers as a ‘passenger tax’. At the end of the day we get what we pay for, and the price of continuing to allow unscrupulous landlords to rent out sub-standard and dangerous properties is one that nobody who claims to represent the interests of local tenants should be prepared to pay.

Clive Gross, East Sussex community co-ordinator, Generation Rent