Landlord licensing under threat – fight back, build homes, cap rents

Marching against the housing crisis, photo Paul Mattsson

Marching against the housing crisis, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Niall Mulholland, executive committee, London Federation of Housing Co-ops (personal capacity) and East London Socialist Party

Not only are many families in Newham, east London, living in overcrowded and inhumane conditions, the borough has now revealed that half of its 27,000 landlords failed to declare their rental income.

Newham estimates that across London that means lost tax of £200 million a year. HM Revenue and Customs estimated in 2014 that up to one million buy-to-let landlords are not declaring their rental income nationally.

From 2006 to 2016, private landlords’ share of housing stock in Newham rocketed from 21% to 46%. The council came under pressure to do something about greedy, unscrupulous landlords.

The borough’s private housing sector is notorious for illegal conversions, overcrowding, unsafe wiring, atrocious fire safety standards, damp, poor heating and pest infestation.

In 2013 the council took the minimum step needed by introducing a compulsory borough-wide licensing scheme for landlords, the first in the country.

It claims 1,135 prosecutions for ‘housing crimes’ – an incredible 70% of all prosecutions in London – and £2.6 million a year in additional council tax.

But what happens to tenants cleared from dangerous slum housing? Thousands of households on Newham’s council home waiting list have been there for over a decade. Newham needs to build homes.


The Labour administration pleads that it has lost half its ‘core grant funding’ from central government since 2010-11. But it has docilely passed on these cuts to housing, schools, social care and local services in one of the country’s poorest boroughs.

And even this limited regulation is too much for the landlord-friendly Tory government. In 2015, Brandon Lewis, housing minister at the time, declared it imposes “additional unnecessary costs” on landlords.

He made it obligatory for local authorities to apply to the communities and local government secretary to license landlords if the scheme affects more than 20% of homes in a borough.

Newham may have its application for renewal of the scheme turned down by the December deadline.

Local authorities that followed Newham – Barking and Dagenham, Croydon, Waltham Forest and Liverpool – could then also see their schemes scrapped. Redbridge had its refused before it even began.

Compulsory registration of private landlords should be linked to private rent caps and no-cuts council budgets.

Councils need to build campaigns to fight the government, not just accept its austerity diktats.

And instead of exporting those made homeless by councils – like Newham’s ‘E15 mums’ – local authorities need to start building genuinely affordable, safe council homes.