More than 50 councils in England now operate licensing schemes for buy-to-let landlords, but do you need a permit to let a property in your area?
Landlord licensing has been a hot topic over the last couple of years, with a growing number of local authorities demanding landlords sign up to codes of conduct and the government launching a review into how effective licences really are.
Here, we explain which councils are operating schemes, and offer advice on whether new launches can go ahead during the coronavirus crisis.
Types of landlord licensing scheme
Landlord licences fall into three categories, as follows:
- Mandatory licensing: if you’re letting out a large House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in England or Wales, you’ll need to have a licence to do so. HMO licences are required for any property let to five or more people from more than one household who share facilities (such as kitchens and bathrooms).
- Additional licensing: additional licensing also applies to people letting out HMOs. These licences are brought in by individual councils if they’re concerned HMOs aren’t being properly managed or believe that the mandatory licensing doesn’t go far enough.
- Selective licensing: councils can require some or all landlords in their area to get a licence to let property. Local authorities can set their own requirements, which may include a ‘fit and proper person’ test or an agreement to sign up to a charter or code of conduct.
Mapped: which councils operate licensing schemes?
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has shared new data with Which? showing the councils in England that operate selective or additional licensing schemes.
The NRLA submitted freedom of information requests to councils across England between November 2019 and February 2020.
It received more than 200 responses, with 55 councils confirming they’re operating additional or selective schemes, or are in the process of launching one.
Hover over an area on the interactive map below to find out whether it operates additional licensing, selective licensing, or both.
Licensing schemes in London
London is by far the most common place for landlord licensing, with 22 boroughs operating a scheme, as shown below.
Are licensing schemes here to stay?
Last year, the government conducted a review into selective licensing.
It concluded schemes were effective ‘when implemented properly’, and said a ‘national registration scheme’ for landlords should be considered to supplement selective licensing.
Landlord licensing schemes have suffered their fair share of bad press in the past couple of years.
In November 2018, we reported that Nottingham City Council had rejected 3,536 applications for licences due to ‘paperwork errors’, a figure well in excess of the 2,457 licences it had granted at the time.
And last October, research by Safe Agent and London Property Licensing claimed as many as 130,000 rented properties in London weren’t currently compliant with licensing rules.
Will licences be enforced during the coronavirus crisis?
The government has provided guidance to councils on launching and enforcing licensing schemes during the coronavirus outbreak.
It says that councils should ‘adopt a pragmatic approach’ on licensing enforcement and consider pausing the introduction of any non-mandatory licensing schemes to free up resources for more pressing concerns.
Coventry pushes ahead with licensing scheme
The NRLA told Which? it has written to Coventry Council over its plans to bring in a licensing scheme on 4 May, which it describes as ‘irresponsible’.
It says: ‘When a licensing scheme is introduced, landlords have to go into properties to check they meet the licensing obligation and may need to carry out non-essential works. This exposes them and the tenants to an enhanced risk of contagion.
‘Several local authorities including Luton and Newcastle have done the right thing and paused the introduction of new licensing schemes.’
In response, Coventry Council said its scheme would continue to go ahead, but it would ‘extend the date for compliance for a further six months’ and landlords will only be asked for a first stage payment of £450.
- Find out more: landlords and the coronavirus – your questions answered
Landlord licensing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
In Scotland, all landlords must sign up to a landlord registration system and obtain a licence, which must be renewed every three years. Fees vary between councils.
Wales has operated a similar system since 2015. All Welsh landlords must register with Rent Smart Wales (Rhentu Doeth Cumru).
Landlords who use agents to let and manage their properties need to pay £33.50 to register for a period of five years. Those who let and manage their own rentals also need a licence, which has a fee of £144 (if bought online, £186 for paper applications). This also lasts for five years.
Northern Ireland operates its own landlord registration scheme and has a central register of private landlords. It costs £70 (online) or £80 (paper) to apply, and licences are valid for three years.