The city council is to apply for a judicial review of the government’s decision not to renew its landlord licensing scheme.
The legal challenge was filed with the High Court on Friday. Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said Liverpool City Council had “a moral obligation” to tens of thousands of residents living within the city’s private rented sector to ensure the scheme continued.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick turned down the application to keep the citywide scheme going until 2025. The council said the scheme is backed by Merseyside Police, Mersey Fire & Rescue Service and the majority of residents who responded to a consultation.
The government’s decision hinged on whether the scheme should be selective or across the whole city. Ministers decided the evidence given by Liverpool for a citywide scheme was not robust enough.
The Mayor has instructed the council to pursue legal action after being unhappy with the minister’s “inadequate reply” when asked to clarify the government’s position.
Over the past five years, all property owners, landlords and managing agents in Liverpool have been legally required to license any property unless a statutory exemption applied. That ended on Wednesday 1 April after the government turned down a renewal application.
Critics of these landlord licences, introduced by many councils across the country, say they are a money-making venture and effectively a tax on the private rented market.
In Liverpool, there were 51,764 property licences in force, issued to 10,074 licence holders, and the council’s team conducted over 34,000 compliance checks of properties and identified 65% as not being fully compliant with licence conditions at first visit.
Property condition fears were also confirmed as officers discovered 3,375 incidents of the most serious category one and two hazards across 1,971 inspections, affecting the health, safety and wellbeing of residents. These ranged from fire safety hazards to significant damp and mould, serious disrepair and excess cold issues.
There were over 300 successful prosecutions that led to fines and in one case a custodial sentence for offences including operating unlicensed properties, breaches of conditions and failure to comply with legal notices, of which more than 2,600 were served and 87 Civil Penalties were issued.
The council said all current cases that are with the legal team will continue to be processed and taken to court where necessary.
Alongside the Judicial Review, the council is actively looking at submitting another application to the government for a substantial landlord licensing scheme.
Until then, the city council will continue to use its statutory powers to provide help and advice for tenants and landlords, focusing on the licensing and inspection of the 3,000 houses of multiple occupation, as well as investigating complaints and referrals about private sector housing in Liverpool.
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, said: “The decision not to renew the Landlord Licensing scheme was a disgrace – it defied logic and has put the lives of some of our most vulnerable tenants at risk.
“Despite asking for clarity from the Government, who always talk tough on housing standards, their reply has been totally inadequate and on behalf of all those residents who have benefitted from the scheme a Judicial Review has to be issued.
“The council has a moral obligation to protect people from rogue landlords. Many in the private rented sector are good landlords but unfortunately there is a sizeable minority that need to be tackled.
“Over the last five years our officers have come across people whose landlords are happy to take their rent while allowing them to live in appalling conditions with unsafe electrics, gas supply and no fire doors to protect them in the event that a blaze breaks out.
“The Landlord Licensing scheme has enabled us to create a team to be able to hit the streets every day and carry out inspections of properties and bring rogue landlords to book. It is not just about raising housing standards – it is about protecting and saving lives, which is why Mersey Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Police have been so supportive.
“This Government has already taken away £444m of our funding since 2010 and has now weakened our power to improve housing standards for those who are part of generation rent to the bare minimum.
“All of the talk of devolution away from Whitehall rings hollow when we see ministers in London making vital decisions about cities like Liverpool and other areas they never step foot in.”