Council plan clampdown on 'high-risk' rented flats in area of Sheffield where inspectors found buckets being used in place of toilets
After a propertyÂ licensing scheme in Page Hall forced private landlords to make over Â£1million in repairs, Sheffield City Council is now looking to introduce the scheme in a second area of the city - where inspectors found buckets being used in place of toilets.
Using Government legislation, a five-year-long Selective Licensing scheme was introduced in Page Hall in April 2014, aimed at improving the safety and standard of privately-rented homes in the area and the way they are managed.
Known for being home to vast swathes of restaurants and takeaways selling cuisine from around the world, the local authority is now set to start consultation on whether the scheme should be introduced in the London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road areas of the city.
According to the local authority, it is the flats located above those restaurants and takeaways that are their 'main cause of concern' due to issues created around fire safety and means of escape.
The council says it has chosen to target the London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road areas specifically, after inspectors found 75 per cent of rented properties had 'high risk hazards'; which put tenants at risk by exposing them to serious harm such as 'fire, falls, excess cold and damp and mould'.
The proposed scheme would cover around 1,000 privately-rented homes, across a four-mile stretch.
Council statistics show that 59 per cent of properties in the area are privately-rented, which is significantly higher than the national average of 20 per cent.
Michelle Houston, Service Manager, Private Housing Standards and Sheffield City Council explained: "What we found when we started going out to some of these properties we were getting complaints about is that it wasn't just individual properties that had problems we were finding the same problems in numerous properties in this area.
"Most of the properties in the proposed area, are flats above shops. Now in this area we've got situations where we've got lots of flats above takeaways, above restaurants.
"Sometimes the only means of escape for the tenants upstairs is through a commercial kitchen downstairs. If you've got a fire in that commercial kitchen and your tenants are upstairs and the only way out that they've got out of the flat is through the commercial kitchen then you've got a serious risk."
She added: "We've found properties that don't have a toilet, it's just a bucket on a corridor. So when we're going out as the regulators of private sector housing and we've seen that more than once, twice, three times we say we need to do a scheme for this, it's not just something we can deal with individually. And that's why we've chosen this area."
The 13-week-long consultation begins on November 27, 2017 and ends on February 23, 2018 during which time surveys will be sent to more than 9,000 properties in the area and nine public events on the consultation will be held.
As part of the consultation, landlords, tenants, residents and businesses will be asked to give their opinions on the proposed scheme, and to highlight any issues in the area.
The feedback will be used as the basis for a recommendation that will be put to the city council's cabinet next summer, and should it be approved, Selective Licensing could be introduced in London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road by next Autumn.
If the scheme is given the go-ahead, the council is proposing to charge landlords a £1,000 license fee, the entirety of which will be used to maintain the scheme and to pay for inspection officers, as well as property courses for landlords and information packs.
Councillor Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, said: "We have serious concerns about the safety of some rented properties along London Road and parts of Abbeydale and Chesterfield Road. Concerns raised by tenants, along with our findings, lead us to believe a licensing scheme is needed to improve safety.
"But we want landlords to show us if this is not the case; and we want tenants, residents and businesses to tell us about their experiences. Our goal is for all the private-rented properties in this area to be safe, in good condition and well-managed."
Since 2014, the council has prosecuted 23 landlords and letting agents for housing offences in 40 properties in the area and has ruled that nine landlords are not 'fit and proper'.
Under existing national rules, the council is unable to prevent such landlords from practising, but this would change under Selective Licensing which would grant the council the power to withhold licenses from people who have previously been convicted of housing offences and who fail a 'fit and proper' landlord test.
Ms Houston said: "This is something similar to taxi licensing, for example.
"So we would check that applicant if they have a criminal record for instance, if they've got a previous record with us for housing offences we can refuse that license on the fit and proper basis.
"We've done that quite a lot in Page Hall for instance where we've done selective licensing before. And all that means is it's a check we can put on a landlord or agent to stop them operating in that area. So if we've got concerns, like we do in this area, that landlords aren't perhaps as professional as we'd like them to be then that's a really good measure that we can introduce."
Landlords and letting agents have spent more than £1million on making repairs to privately-rented properties in Page Hall since the introduction of the scheme, and a total of 293 serious hazards have also been 'resolved,' according to the local authority.
Government legislation states that a maximum of 20 per cent of properties, or 20 per cent of a geographical area, in a local authority area may be made the subject of a Selective Licensing scheme. Should a council wish for a higher percentage of Selective Licensing properties, they would need to receive permission from the Secretary of State to do so.
The Government says that a designation of the scheme may be used to 'to combat problems in an area experiencing poor property conditions, an influx of migration, a high level of deprivation or high levels of crime'.
To have your say online visit: www.sheffield.gov.uk/selective-licensing-scheme
You can also speak to a Private Housing Standard officer and find out more about the scheme at the first of nine consultation events, a drop-in session set to be held from 10am until midday on December 6 at St Oswalds Church on Bannerdale Road.