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Councils restricted by new licensing conditions on private rented homes

Councils cannot use selective licensing conditions to impose new standards on private rented homes, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

The case saw Accrington-based landlord, Paul Brown, challenge Hyndburn Council which sought to use its selective licensing scheme in certain areas of the borough to force the installation of carbon monoxide detectors and also to carry out electrical safety checks and implement their findings. 

Whilst the landlord had already carried out both of these requirements, he argued that imposing such standards through licensing schemes went beyond the powers available to local authorities, and this was a view supported by Court of Appeal yesterday.

Instead, the court and the landlord argued that rather than relying on licensing schemes which only cover certain properties, electrical and gas safety issues are best addressed by councils using the extensive powers they already have under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

The HHSRS is the risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings. Crucially, this applies to all private rented homes, whether they require a licence or not.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA), which supported Brown’s case, is calling for the guidance associated with the HHSRS, which was last published in 2006, to be updated urgently to reflect considerable changes in the sector since then, as this would better support councils to use and enforce their powers under this system.

The RLA policy adviser, Richard Jones, said: “This case was not about trying to stop Councils from imposing requirements.  It was about how they go about this ensuring that they use the proper processes which already exist.

“Today’s judgement is a reminder that councils already have extensive powers to deal with properties found to be unsafe and they must act in a legal manner.”

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