The current housing and homelessness strategy (2019-2024) has as one its four core themes ‘improving the use of existing homes’.
- Clear and realistic policy and action plan set out in the housing strategy and local plan.
- Corporate approach and collaboration with external stakeholders eg universities.
- ‘Carrot and stick’ approach on dealing with landlords by rewarding good landlords and taking effective enforcement action on poor practices.
- Development of innovative policies and action to address local issues.
Over 25 per cent of households live in the private rented sector compared with 57 per cent in owner occupation and 18 per cent in social renting. It is estimated that there are 6,500 HMOs (five per cent of the stock) – over two-thirds of these comprise smaller terraced properties (which is a characteristic of the city’s housing stock).
Key interrelated drivers in the rise of the sector include:
- lack of social housing – there are 14,000 households on the housing register but in recent years, on average, only 1,500 lets per annum have been completed
- unaffordability of owner occupation – the ratio of lower quartile house prices to lower quartile earnings continues to increase and currently stands at nearly 7:1
- growth in the number of students – there are over 60,000 registered students in the city’s two universities
- population growth and in-migration – it is estimated that the population of the city is 370,000 and the annual average growth rate over the last decade has been 1.7 per cent. Nearly 25 per cent of the population was born outside the UK.
However, the cost of private renting does not match local housing allowance rates – for example, the average rent for a three-bedroom property is over £740 per month compared with an LHA rate of £555 per month. Overall, rents have risen by approximately 20 per cent since 2013.
Furthermore, nearly 30 per cent of homeless households owed a main duty was due to the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy.
Addressing issues in the private rented sector is a high priority for the local authority. The current housing and homelessness strategy (2019-2024) has as one its four core themes ‘improving the use of existing homes’. This includes ‘supporting and advising landlords to improve the management and maintenance of properties’ by, for instance, exploring landlord accreditation schemes and proactively identifying HMOs that require licensing. The associated action plan has seven specific areas of work that are being taken forward during the plan. As of early 2020, a number of these have been completed eg additional HMO licensing and a landlord accreditation scheme (see below).
The local plan, adopted in 2018, incorporates policies on purpose-built student housing (and conversions) and the management of HMOs in order to free up family housing for rent and purchase. In relation to the former, schemes are encouraged where they (i) are in close proximity to the universities, (ii) help to regenerate neighbourhoods without detrimentally affecting local services and amenities to local residents and (iii) are in character with the local area. In relation to the latter, HMOs will not be permitted in areas where the amenities of and services to existing residents will be adversely affected, the character of the area will be detrimentally altered and the quality of life of occupants will be poor (eg size of rooms, open space provision etc).
Implementation of these policies is aided by the organisational structure. Planning and regulatory services are located together in the Place Directorate. Regulatory services (which has approximately 50 staff) include housing enforcement, property licensing and trading standards (as well as general licensing and food regulation). In addition, a multi-agency approach has been adopted involving liaison with the two universities, HMRC and the Border Agency as well as informal networking with adjacent councils.
Working with landlords and tenants
The Coventry Landlord Accreditation Scheme (CLAS) has been developed. This is a free voluntary self-regulating scheme that landlords and letting agents are encouraged to join. It incorporates free training on a variety of regulations and reduced fees for property licensing (see below). These are delivered by, for example, webinars and there is a regular newsletter. In addition, landlords can advertise themselves as being accredited by the council.
The benefits of the scheme for all parties, including tenants, are better property conditions, higher management standards and more tenant considerate behaviour in relation to neighbours. It also helps to reduce misunderstandings and disputes between landlords and tenants. This links to the council’s corporate ‘local commitment policy’ which aims proactively to make communities safer by tackling anti-social behaviour and ensuring a cleaner and greener city.
The council also works closely with the two universities in terms of accommodation strategies right through to detailed property condition and management issues. For example, the University of Warwick Accommodation Service works with the local authority on its landlord support service. This includes a fully managed letting service for landlords and advice on property standards etc. In addition, specific issues are addressed as and when they arise, such as the impact of private lettings of former right to buy houses on two large social housing estates close to the University eg encouraging landlords to join CLAS.
There is a proactive approach on enforcing standards in HMOs and traditional family rented stock. This is set out in the public safety and housing enforcement policies and is based on three principles – transparency, clear standards and consistency of approach. It is helping to build up a database on stock condition without the necessity of commissioning a large-scale survey.
As part of this activity, from May 2020, an additional licensing scheme to improve the management and condition of HMOs will come into effect. This will cover smaller properties ie those occupied by three or four tenants (see above). It will affect approximately 4,000 units. An innovative fee scheme has been developed.
A licence for a compliant landlord for five years will cost £640, while a non-compliant landlord will need to pay £1,250. In addition, pre-licensing advice is being provided at a cost £190. The objective of this approach is to support, work in partnership with and reward good landlords. It also aims to enable targeting on those that are operating on the fringes of illegality. Income generated will cover the administration and running costs of the scheme. The local authority in developing new initiatives is keen to ensure value for money.
The council is maintaining a watching brief on selective licensing. Considerations include the availability of data to support putting together a scheme, the length of time to develop and implement a proposal (especially if there are legal challenges) and the regulatory requirements underpinning selective licensing. In addition, selecting a specific neighbourhood given the changing nature of the private rented sector in the city area would require detailed investigation.