Rules of the Game Change

A new licensing system in Hammersmith, Fulham and Shepherds Bush aims to protect landlords from badly behaved tenants, and renters from poorly performing landlords. But how will it work in practice?

Landlords and tenants will see a change this summer as a new set of standards and licences is introduced in Hammersmith, Fulham and Shepherds Bush. They are designed to shield renters from unscrupulous landlords and raise the quality of properties for rent.
Two different categories of licence come into force from June 5, with landlords required to apply for either a selective or an additional licence, and comply with a new package of minimum standards.
As a third of all H&F residents are renters, the new measures will affect thousands of people… in a positive way, insists the council’s Head of Residential Environmental Health, Richard Buckley. “It means that in this borough, any house in multiple occupation – where three or more households share a bathroom, kitchen or toilet with other tenants – will have to have a licence,” he says.

Licences will last for five years and landlords will have to pay the equivalent of £108 a year, which is tax-deductable and covers admin and inspection costs. The council makes no profit from the fee. There are discounts for landlords who belong to recognised bodies and who sign up to a new landlord’s charter. When the application is made, the property will have an initial inspection, including such things as fire doors, then there is a detailed follow-up full inspection during the five-year term.

The new set of standards was agreed by H&F Council in December last year in an effort to reduce the thousands of complaints received each year; mainly about mould, damp, fire safety, excessive cold and rubbish being put out on the wrong day. By addressing these issues, the new landlords’ charter aims to raise the overall standard of rental properties in the borough.
The council believes that landlords who hold a licence will be in a better position to attract good tenants, and that renters will feel more confident about security of tenancies, property standards and fair treatment on deposits.

John Horton, founder of Horton and Garton, says: “I firmly support the council’s efforts to raise the standards for all landlords across the borough. It’s important landlords understand their responsibilities – and thankfully the majority are extremely responsible. It’s also great news for the huge number of local renters who now have more protection and can expect higher standards from landlords.”

A new social lettings agency will also be set up, putting would-be renters in touch with the best local landlords.
Last summer, a 12-week consultation exercise saw a majority in favour of the new measures. In all, 18,000 leaflets were distributed to properties, while registered letting agents and landlords were also notified.

Two types of licence come into force in July, selective and additional. Selective licences apply to shared flats in more than 100 named streets in Hammersmith & Fulham where antisocial behaviour, noise, overcrowding, litter or the dumping of rubbish on non-collection days has proved to be a problem in the past. Selective licences apply to all rented properties. Each licence – which are physical documents – will cost the landlord a total of £540 over five years. Every council in London is introducing new rules, but many are charging double the fee being levied on landlords by the Labour-run H&F Council.

There are still grey areas. The issue of flats and houses which use Airbnb to rent rooms to visitors for short spells is currently under the radar. However, as the vast majority of H&F tenants are long-term this is not considered a major problem.
The council is trying to strike a balance between improving standards in the rental sector in one go (rather than by regular tweaks) while not risking increasing homelessness. It believes that the new licences will create a level playing field for landlords, with no shortcuts being taken, or blind eyes being turned to sub-letting.
If landlords do not comply with the new system by the 5 October 2017, enforcement action will be taken, ultimately resulting in prosecution. All predictions suggest that the proportion of people renting in H&F will continue to rise in years to come.
Any updates, changes or alterations to the timetable of licence introduction will be announced on the housing department pages on H&F Council’s website. The latest version of FAQs can be downloaded here.

What other West London councils charge for the licences:
Ealing (including some parts of Acton and Shepherds Bush) £1,100 + £30 per habitable room. Selective licence flat rate £500. Discount of £75 for members of LLAS/professional body. Read more in our previous article here.
Hounslow (including some parts of Chiswick) Both selective and mandatory licences are £1,069.36 with £75 discount for members of LLAS/professional body.