Today we are launching a consultation on proposals to introduce new property licensing schemes in Bristol. We believe that licensing will help further improve the quality and management of private rented properties across the city.
Having a safe and secure roof over our heads is key to ensuring we all have the best possible opportunity to live a happy and healthy life but, unfortunately, many renters still live in poor-quality homes.
We want to make sure that people renting properties across the city can feel confident that their home will be safe and secure, with clear standards for what this looks like and routes to raise concerns where property conditions are falling short.
The ten week consultation focusses on plans to introduce licensing requirements for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) citywide, and to certain properties in the Bishopston and Ashley Down, Cotham, and Easton wards.
What are the main changes?
The proposed scheme covers two types of licensing:
- Additional licensing will include a house or flat that is occupied by three or four unrelated people who live together and share some facilities including kitchens and/or bathrooms.
- Selective licensing will include private rented properties that are occupied by one or two tenants, or a family, but are not HMOs.
Private rented accommodation has been identified as more likely to be in poor condition or have lower standards of management than other properties. Therefore, we are proposing these tighter measures to drive up standards.
Those in private rented accommodation have lived for too long without adequate protections and very limited options to guarantee decent living standards. Licensing places conditions on the landlord or agent to ensure certain property standards are met, and good management practice is delivered.
While we know that the majority of landlords offer good quality homes and have positive relationships with their tenants, these additional measures would allow us to take action where this is not the case.
Previous licensing schemes in Bristol have proved to be successful, helping us to improve standards of accommodation and tackle bad management practices.
The first discretionary licensing scheme ran from April 2013 to April 2018 in the Stapleton Road area. The scheme was set up to help tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB) and we worked with several stakeholders to achieve the scheme objectives. In total, 1,207 properties were licensed as part of the scheme. Of these, 396 (33%) properties had at least one serious hazard resolved, 845 (70%) required improvements to meet licensing conditions, and 10 landlords were prosecuted for 37 offences.
The Eastville and St George selective and additional licensing scheme ran from July 2016 to June 2021. The scheme delivered significant improvements to private-rented housing standards including: 3,316 licences were issued, 3,409 inspections were conducted, 3,019 (88%) properties were improved to meet licensing standards, and 675 properties had fire safety improvements made.
We are working hard to make sure that people living in private rented accommodation have adequate protections and decent living standards. We will continue to take action to crack down on criminal landlords who do not meet the legal requirements for a safe and secure living environment. This includes the use of banning orders where necessary.
Licensing is just one way we are looking to further improve the private rented sector. We are actively working to protect renters, but we can only work with the legislation we have. The Living Rent Commission was set up to look at how we can improve the sector, including what the impact of rent regulation across the city could be.
The commission concluded that private renting in Bristol faces a serious access, affordability, and security of tenure crisis which is impacting the wellbeing and quality of life for people and playing a major role in creating homelessness.
The report, written by the University of Bristol, sets out a range of recommendations based on evidence of the challenges we face and potential solutions we could introduce. We made sure that a wide range of people were heard during the process, including listening to the lived experience of tenants, residents and landlords.
If the licensing schemes go ahead, landlords will be charged a fee for licensing their properties. A licence will normally last for five years and conditions would be attached to the licence to improve management practices and standards. This includes anti-discrimination practices, which now also includes discrimination against people because they are in receipt of welfare benefits.
Landlords will be offered advice and guidance on the necessary improvements required to ensure properties comply with licensing conditions, but where landlords do not meet the required condition standards, enforcement action may follow.
We are consulting with residents, private landlords, agents, and local organisations that may be affected by the changes to find out what they think, and we would like to hear your views. We will be writing to landlords and tenants across the city to make sure they are aware of the proposals.
You can find out more and have their say by filling in a survey available online at www.ask.bristol.gov.uk/property-licensing-2023
Alternative formats or paper copies of the information can be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0117 9224947 and leaving contact details.
The consultation closes on Tuesday 7 November.