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Council strengthens focus on private housing

Oxford City Council is planning “the largest change to rules around private rented accommodation in Oxford for a decade,” as it seeks to improve safety standards across the sector.

Subject to government approval and a public consultation in the summer, the Council aims to expand its current licensing scheme to incorporate all 20,000 rented homes in Oxford in order to maintain a minimum standard. If all goes to plan, the Council hope that the scheme will be enacted by the end of the year or the start of 2021.

Landlords will have to provide proof that their properties have the legally-required gas, electrical and fire safety certificates. The license will also seek to establish that every landlord is a “fit and proper” person, namely that they have not committed any housing-related offences or crimes involving fraud, violence, drugs and certain sexual offences.

Last week, the council received £71,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to fund the implementation of the plans. The money will go towards the development of an algorithm that will be used to identify unlicensed properties, as well as a solicitor who will work for 3 months on a guide for enforcement officers to successfully retrieve money from fine-dodging landlords.

The proposal comes after inspections carried out by the Council uncovered rogue landlords renting out garden sheds as rooms and placing toilets in showers, among a broad range of clear infringements of safety standards. 

Deputy Council Leader Linda Smith said that the Council “have found countless examples across Oxford of homes where even the most basic of standards have not been met and vulnerable tenants have been left in illegal and dangerous conditions.” Of the 243 inspections undertaken in 2018/19, 32 per cent were given notices warning of unsafe condition.

However, there are fears that the proposals could in fact have a negative impact on Oxford tenants living in the city’s most precarious situations. Gavin Dick, a local authority policy officer for the National Landlords Association, warned: “The reality is Oxford will become more expensive and push the most vulnerable out again as we’ve seen before.”

Under the current plans, all landlords will have to apply for a license costing approximately £600 over five years, and will also be liable for further miscellaneous costs, costs that could be passed on to renters.

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