A court ruling that certain basic safety requirements cannot be built into a housing landlord licensing scheme has been labelled ‘ridiculous’ and ‘dangerous’ by Hyndburn council chiefs.
Landlords have called for the controversial selective licensing scheme to be suspended following a Court of Appeal ruling stopping the council from using the scheme to force them to install carbon monoxide detectors and carry out electrical safety checks.
Council bosses say they are ‘extremely disappointed’ by the landmark judgement and fear it will increase safety risks to tenants such as carbon monoxide poisoning by encouraging some landlords to avoid ‘basic preventative’ measures.
Coun Clare Cleary, cabinet member for housing, said they are now ‘taking legal advice as to how best to proceed’ but the local authority has rejected demands by landlord representative Paul Brown to immediately put the whole scheme on ice pending full investigation.
Coun Cleary said: “Tenant safety is paramount and I think it’s a dangerous judgement in that it might encourage some of the potentially rogue landlords in the area into believing that it’s not necessary to carry out proper electrical safety checks on their properties and exposing tenants to unnecessary risks.
“It’s also ridiculous that some landlords may now avoid fitting carbon monoxide alarms, which cost as little as £15 in properties with gas supplies, thus exposing their tenants to the very real and preventable risk of CO poisoning.”
Coun Cleary also called on the government to introduce new legislation giving local authorities more power so ‘minimum safety standards are complied with’.
The £1.1 million licensing scheme was first introduced in December 2012 as part of wider measures to deal with low housing demand, improve lives of tenants and landlord standards, but it has a chequered history.
It is the second time the council has lost a legal challenge by landlords.
In 2011 it was hit with a £100,000 legal bill after a High Court judge quashed a previous attempt to introduce the selective licensing scheme, which now covers around 4,850 properties in Accrington and Church, ruling there had been a lack of proper consultation.
The financial implications of the latest court defeat to the council are not yet known.
Landlords have threatened to sue the council for financial losses and called for the licensing scheme to be suspended.
Paul Brown, representing 346 landlords in Hyndburn, challenged the council after it sought to use the scheme to force the installation of carbon monoxide detectors and also to carry out electrical safety checks.
He argued that imposing such standards through licensing schemes went beyond the powers available to local authorities.
Speaking to the Observer after the court ruling, he said: “I have demanded that council leader Miles Parkinson suspends landlord licensing pending a full and frank discussion and investigation and also include ourselves as to how they go forward.
"I am considering suing them on my behalf and on behalf of landlords.
"There are landlords that have spent money on these houses which we always said they didn’t need to spend.
"What the court clearly stated is the council has more than sufficient powers already and it should be using them.
"The reality being, it has insufficient resources and funds to perform its own obligations and for the past five years the good law-abiding landlords have paid for the council’s obligations under the guise of this illegal licensing scheme.
“Worse now is that the council have had five years unhindered by this judgement and yet they are here asking the same landlords to license again.”
Conservative group leader Coun Tony Dobson said the legal ruling ‘came as a complete shock’.
He said: “It’s disappointing that the landlords felt they needed to take a course of action to a higher court.
"I would call on all sides to get around the negotiating table and come up with a comprehensive agreement.
"It is important that residents renting property in our borough live in a clean and safe environment.”
The legal challenge was supported by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).
Richard Jones, policy advisor, 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.
"[This] 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.”