The following article appeared on the WalesOnline news website on 18th July 2011;
A controversial scheme to charge landlords for extra property inspections in the heart of Cardiff’s student village has generated over £300,000 in its first year.
Additional licensing was brought in by Cardiff council in July last year to raise the standards of property in an area of Cathays. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show 824 licences have been applied for, with 501 now granted – adding £314,475 into the council’s coffers.
Council officers believe around 1,500 properties will need to be licensed, but landlords have criticised the scheme. Chair of Cardiff Landlords Forum, Douglas Haig, said it could be seen as a fee generating exercise. He said: “One of our arguments about the introduction of additional licensing was that it was a fee generating exercise and that the local authority had not done enough to prove that they had exhausted other avenues”
“The resources generated by additional licensing have clearly not been spent particularly wisely and seem particularly front loaded for the scheme. It would appear that the local authority will continue the attempt to expand to another district simply to increase revenue to keep the scheme going. The Cardiff Landlord Forum is adamant that effective benchmarking should be introduced, taking into account other initiatives that are tackling similar areas to limit the temptation to expand the scheme simply to fund the overspend.”
Steve Tudball, service manager for HMO licensing, said the additional licence was a small price to pay for keeping tenants safe.
He said: “If you think a landlord with four or five students in a property over five years will be making excess of £60,000, so to ask for £500 to make sure the property is up to standard is not a lot. We’ve been into over 500 properties since the scheme started, and without it we wouldn’t have been able to improve the standards. We’re checking things like fire safety and ensuring that gas and electricity certificates are up to date.”
Cathays councillor Simon Pickard said the scheme would run over five years and it was unfair to judge it after one year of operation.
He said: “Almost everybody I speak to in Cathays feels that the landlords simply don’t look after their properties well enough. Gardens are left overgrown, to-let signs are on display all year round, and furniture is just dumped in the street over the summer. Most landlords don’t care because they don’t live in the local area, but people who do live in Cathays are fed-up. Self regulation by landlords has clearly failed, and it’s right that the Council has launched this scheme to improve rented houses and kick out the worst landlords altogether.
“When landlords complain about the cost of this scheme I have to laugh. Between them they own thousands of properties in Cathays, worth many hundreds of millions of pounds. They convert old family houses into 7 or 8 bed properties, and then charge each tenant thousands of pounds in rent every year. I hardly think it’s unreasonable for them to pay a small one-off fee to cover the costs of the Council inspections.”