The overall focus of the council’s policy is to improve the health and well-being of tenants in the private rented stock, as well as tackling the issues of poverty and deprivation faced by communities.
- Importance of prioritisation of actions.
- Accessing MHCLG funding sources to build up and improve knowledge and skills.
- Value of a dedicated team working in collaboration with internal and external partners.
- Importance of working with landlords and their organisations.
- Having clear processes and procedures on enforcement action.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that in 2017 nearly 21 per cent of dwellings were in the private rented sector – slightly above the national average. The draft housing strategy indicates that it is now over 22 per cent and points out that in 2001 it was only seven per cent.
It is concentrated primarily in three central wards – Normanton, Abbey and Arboretum. The stock mainly consists of small terraced properties built before 1919 in relatively poor condition. These areas continue to be the point of entry for in-migrants to the local housing market – currently East European workers.
A stock condition survey in 2019 found that nearly 15 per cent of private housing (owner occupation and private renting) was classified as having a category one hazard under the HHSRS. A more focussed survey of the private rented sector stock is scheduled for 2020/21.
Many landlords work closely with the local authority and meet required standards. However, there are issues with those that are not aware of the regulations as well as rogue landlords and lettings agents. In some cases, as evidenced by enforcement cases, there is a complex and confusing pattern of ownership and formal/informal managing agents including absentee landlords and family members acting as managers.
There has been a growth in the student population over the last decade with the expansion of the University of Derby. Purpose-built student accommodation has had an impact on the dynamics of the private rented. There are fewer opportunities for traditional landlords to rent out shared accommodation leading to the sale of properties, a reversion to family accommodation or vacant stock. The latter sometimes results in referrals to the empty homes team.
The overall focus of the council’s policy is to improve the health and well-being of tenants in the private rented stock, as well as tackling the issues of poverty and deprivation faced by communities. The two wards with the highest proportion of private rented stock are also neighbourhoods with wider issues of low incomes, poor health and low educational attainment.
The draft housing strategy for 2020-29 is at the consultation stage and highlights the need to improve the evidence-base and update the private housing renewal strategy. The draft strategy is likely to be approved in late summer 2020.
A housing standards team is a well-established small group and includes environmental health officers, research staff etc. There are close working relations with trading standards, the housing options team and adult social care. As one of the housing strategy priorities is to support vulnerable people, adult social care is involved in cases where action is required to improve the health and well-being of tenants in the private rented sector.
DASH (Decent and Safe Homes East Midlands) is located within Derby City Council offices and there is joint working with the local authority and landlords to improve conditions in the private rented sector (see below). There is also collaboration with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue over fire safety.
Making best use of resources continues to be a major challenge. This requires prioritisation that currently is resulting in a focus on reactive enforcement action based on a triage system of urgent, high priority and medium priority cases.
Core funding covers the salary costs of staff. This is supplemented from sources such as HMO licensing fees, enforcement notices, fines etc. In addition, the council has been relatively successful in accessing MHCLG schemes which, for example, have enabled a greater focus on improving the evidence-base on rogue landlords and unsatisfactory housing.
Working with landlords and tenants
Resources permitting, the housing standards team work cooperatively with landlords to ensure that existing and prospective tenants benefit from good quality accommodation through:
- advisory inspections and consultations
- information for landlords on the Council’s website eg ‘activities of the housing standards team’
- conferences / seminars run by the Council and its partners on, for instance, new national regulations, local policies etc
- attendance at meetings run by landlord associations eg Pear Tree and Normanton Landlords Association, Hartington Street Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association.
DASH delivers several services designed to increase the supply of good quality well managed accommodation within the private rented sector and to ensure the delivery of appropriate private sector housing services.
These include training sessions, briefings, updates and guidance. DASH also manages the local landlord accreditation scheme, which recognises and encourages improved property standards. The service is open to all landlords but is predominately used by landlords wishing to let property to students via the University of Derby. Overall, there are over 130 landlords in Derby who are members of DASH, with a combined portfolio of approximately 400 properties.
The housing standards team responds to complaints from tenants about unhealthy and dangerous living conditions. In addition, it attempts to operate proactively in a number of streets in the central wards that have high concentrations of rented property. There are regularly scheduled meetings with internal partners and other stakeholders to exchange information on rogue landlords.
As has already been pointed out, prioritisation has resulted in a focus on reactive enforcement based on the severity of the individual cases. Normally, statutory action through a works notice is taken. This is the case where improvement requirements are complex and lengthy to implement because of unsafe conditions especially in HMO properties.
Additional and selective licensing options are kept under-review. Decisions to adopt these approaches are determined by whether they would address the specific issues in the city.