The National Landlords Association is calling for Liverpool City Council to postpone the launch of a citywide licensing scheme due to go live on 1 April, saying that "the current application process would put every landlord in Liverpool in breach of the law".
The NLA claims that the current online application process provided by the council does not meet with legal requirements to allow landlords to comply with the new scheme. This would make landlords guilty of failing to obtain a licence and restrict their ability to regain possession of a property, which is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
After seeking legal advice from Anthony Gold Solicitors, the NLA has challenged the council to provide a solution or to postpone the go-live date so that landlords are not unnecessarily criminalised.
From 1 April it will be a legal requirement for all private residential landlords in the city to have a five-year licence for each of their rented properties.
Landlords are being told to go online and complete the first part of the application process at www.liverpool.gov.uk/landlordlicensing before 1 April, including their contact details and the properties they intend to licence.
The licence fee will cost £400 for each property and landlords with more than one property will pay £350 for each additional home.
Members of an accredited or co-regulation scheme approved by the council such as CLASS will pay £200 for each property to recognise that they are already a good landlord.
The NLA first alerted the council to issues with the application process on 19 March, after which the council issued a downloadable application form which landlords can fill out and return.
Richard Lambert, chief executive of the NLA, said: "As things stand, we're strongly advising landlords to avoid the online registration route at all costs and to instead download an application form and fill it out manually in order to escape being put at risk.
"However, we've again written to Liverpool City Council on 23 March to demand that they implement an operational online application process immediately or postpone the launch of the scheme until they can provide a legal way for landlords to comply."
The NLA said that it is currently awaiting further response from the council.
In response to the NLA, Cllr Ann O'Byrne, cabinet member for housing at Liverpool City Council, said: "The process has been designed to make it as easy as possible for landlords to apply and we took into account feedback from organisations including the NLA. We have now amended the procedure to give landlords the choice of completing the entire application process by 1 April, or doing it in two stages. Preparations for the introduction of the scheme on 1 April are on track, and more than half of all landlords in Liverpool have now commenced the application process.
"Any landlord who has not started the application process should do so as soon as possible. Our scheme was fully consulted on and has been endorsed by tenant's rights groups including Shelter and Generation Rent."
In a statement, the council said that its legal advice was that a landlords could apply for an exemption to licensing if they are trying to repossess a property.
The NLA is an organisation for private-residential landlords. It works with over 57,000 landlords, of which 26,500 are paying members, ranging from full-time landlords with large property portfolios to those with just a single letting.