A report by the Safer Communities Service Manager
The Safer Communities Service Manager presented the report, confirming it was to provide Members with assurance of the ongoing work undertaken by the Housing Standards Team, with the last similar report tabled in 2014. The team dealt with licensing compliance for those properties requiring licencing and dealt with complaints across all types of rented properties not solely HMO’s (houses in multiple occupancy).
Furthermore, the team worked closely with both the Police and, also with the Fire and Rescue service with whom they now accessed premises allowing them to see inside properties first hand and refer any findings on through the procedure in place. The team also received referrals from partner agencies when visits carried out to properties for other purposes, suggests that the property is occupied as a HMO. Officers’ would be attending a meeting with the Police to gain an insight into their activities and to understand the pressure they face with a view to possible working alongside them in the future. The team would continue to progress its work with all agencies and partners.
The Housing, Health and Wellbeing Officer worked with many colleagues across the Council, not only on housing standards issues but also in assisting residents with educational support by providing key information on issues including sourcing vaccines, and recycling and fly tipping problems. They further bolstered their workload with enforcement work as and when required. Following the resignation of the Senior Housing Officer, the Council appointed a replacement on the 1st December 2021.
Members were advised that the Council had received an approach from SHELTER to support them in lobbying Government for landlord registration.
Concluding the brief overview the Safer Communities Service Manager confirmed that the report sought to gain Members support for the team to continue with its ongoing initiatives. Furthermore, Members were asked to consider convention of a Task and Finish Group to scope the opportunities available to tackle issues in respect of HMO’s and rented accommodation, both in the immediate impact on the tenants and the further reaching effect they have in respect of neighbourhoods and also on Council resources.
Noting work undertaken by a neighbouring authority in respect of selective licensing, the Safer Communities Service Manager noted that it would be a good piece of work to take into consideration should the Task and Finish Group be agreed.
Committee comment and questioning followed which are collated and the key comments included:
Members all felt that due to the scale of such a review, that an initial briefing needed to be scheduled, to enable them to gain a clear perspective of what the Council could actually do to improve things. Depending on the outcome of the briefing, Members could then take the review forward.
Ongoing concerns experienced by Members in relation to HMO’s included the constant placement of black bin liners onto pavements which could not be accepted by the waste collections due the mixed contents, often with foodstuffs encouraging vermin, and resulting in the Council’s fly tipping team having to continually clear the debris up.
Concerns further noted included the compliance, or lack of, with the definition of HMO’s and the swiftness of the changeover of tenants in high occupancy houses.
The increase in transient tenants often crammed into small houses, the lack of understanding by many of the rules for waste disposal and the deprived conditions in which many of them resided also caused concern as did the lack of care by certain landlords’ for their tenants. Members questioned if changes in licencing in isolation would address the issues, even if it would be possible to increases charges. All landlords’ needed to be accountable across all areas of the rental sector and the Council currently failed in its responsibility to residents.
The Portfolio Holder applauded the suggestion of the Task and Finish Group and confirmed he would support such a review. He advised he was currently lobbying Cabinet to extend his budget to source more enforcement agents. He stated that the rents in Boston were high whilst salaries were low and advised he did not support any increase in charges as landlords’ would simply pass on to the cost to the renter. He also reminded Members that not all landlords’ were the same and the Borough had some exceptional ones who did not deserve to be penalised. The Council also had an excellent relationship with the Landlords forum.
Referencing the work of a neighbouring authority in respect of selective licencing a Member noted that further research would no doubt find other authorities across the country experiencing similar issues and comparative cases would be useful in identifying and supporting potential ways in building Boston’s response within the review.
Concluding, the Safer Communities Service Manager thanked Members for their comments and noted he felt reassured that they wanted to investigate further through a review, which would allow a full address of all areas impacted by the current issues including waste, recycling, education – landlords and planning. Stating that he was mindful a similar suggestion had been tabled through the sister scrutiny committee and that resources could not run two large reviews, he suggested that the one review be undertaken in conjunction with the sister committee.
The Head of Regulatory (Lead Officer) noted that it would be sensible to look at a combined piece of work.
Members noted that whilst there were two scrutiny committees, on such a large review, areas within the remit of each committee would be included and there was an invincible line between the two committees with a number of members sitting on both committees.
The Portfolio Holder confirmed he agreed an initial member briefing and confirmed that Scrutiny had previously undertaken similar joint reviews successfully, seeded from both committees.
That Officers’ schedule a Member Briefing prior to the official convention of a Task and Finish Group Review.