A scheme which aims to drive up standards in the private housing sector and improve communities across County Durham is being considered by senior council members.

Earlier this year, Durham County Council held an extensive consultation on proposals to introduce a selective licensing scheme in areas of the county to set a good-quality and fair standard for private rental properties in the area.

Selective licencing is one of the key priorities of the adopted County Durham Housing Strategy 2019 to 2024 targeted to maintain and improve standards across the county’s housing stock and put people and communities first. The council is continuing to work with partners to ensure that the housing needs of the community are fully met, and it has the support mechanisms in place to help those who need it most.

This includes developing an approach to ensuring the right homes are built in the right areas that meet the needs of residents. Alongside selective licensing, the housing plan will continue to address the issues around empty homes and continue to invest in existing stock through projects such as improving the energy efficiency of properties

The scheme will make a significant contribution to a wider strategy of regenerating the county’s towns and villages by improving both housing conditions and access to quality housing and follows a number of areas nationally who have employed selective licencing as to improve homes and the environment.

The proposed scheme will cover approximately 30,000 houses, 42 per cent of the county’s private rented sector.

The introduction of this scheme follows a growing concern over the significant increase in private sector properties. While most properties are well-run and are kept at a high quality, the sector’s increase has also attracted landlords who do not meet even the minimum standards in either the condition of the property or management of their tenants.

This has resulted in many communities and residents across the county being affected by increased levels of anti-social behaviour, criminality, fly tipping and tenants living in sub-standard, unhealthy properties.

Selective licencing aims to help create long term, sustainable neighbourhoods by ensuring that any privately rented property is in good condition and well managed, protecting both residents and tenants alike and prosecuting those landlords who do not comply.

Currently, the council relies on complaints and requests from tenants, or other residents, for issues to come to light and action to be taken. Selective licensing allows for a pro-active, multi-agency approach where enforcement action can be taken against owners
of unlicensed properties and where breaches of licensing conditions are identified.

Council officers will work with external partners such as police and fire services, as well as in close partnership internally with HMO licensing and private sector housing, to tackle problems.

The scheme will also enable additional support to landlords to be provided in managing their properties by assisting with tenant support and accessing training in compliance and changing legislation. Last week, the council launched its Stop B4 You Serve scheme which has already assisted a number of landlords and tenants in resolving financial issues that could have ultimately led to evictions.

The council will continue to work with landlords in ensuring that they too have confidence to invest in areas, knowing that the council will not tolerate those who undermine their profession.

The scheme will mean landlords must apply for a licence and ensure their properties meet the standards set out by the scheme. The licence will last for five years and the council will set a charge that the landlord must pay for each rental property they own. A licence fee of £500 is proposed but discounts will be available which could reduce the fee to £350.

Subject to authorisation from cabinet and the Secretary of State, the scheme is expected to be introduced in April 2021.

Cllr Kevin Shaw, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “Whilst it is accepted there are many good landlords who manage their properties and tenancies responsibly, unfortunately we have identified an increasing number of absent and irresponsible landlords who flout the law and avoid accountability to their tenants and the neighbourhoods in which they operate. This has led to major issues for both our people and our places.

“Good quality and varied housing is a key factor in meeting our county’s needs. It helps attract investors who, in turn, help create jobs and boost our economy while also significantly benefitting people’s health and wellbeing and improving the areas in which we live, work and visit. We want to lead the way by putting people first and improve our communities and selective licensing will allow us to continue in supporting our good landlords and help us drive out the bad ones.”

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said: “Many of my constituents have suffered from anti-social behaviour, crime and nuisance from tenants who far too often have been able to quickly move into a similar property, sometimes even in the same street. But this licensing scheme will ensure that irresponsible private landlords in communities across County Durham take responsibility for their properties and for their tenants, whilst supporting good landlords.”

Cabinet will discuss a report on the introduction of a selective licensing scheme when they meet virtually on Wednesday, 16 September at 9.30am. Members of the public can view the meeting live via the council’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DurhamCouncil