Fury over decision in States made in ‘biased’ conditions

THE Jersey Tenants Forum has reacted with fury to the ‘disgraceful situation’ which saw States Members with declared financial interests in property able to vote down proposals to regulate the Island’s rental sector.

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After Environment Minister John Young’s proposals for a Landlords Licensing Scheme were defeated by 24 votes to 21 yesterday, the body representing tenants vowed to submit a complaint over the way the debate was handled.

Stuart Langhorn, of the forum, said 17 States Members with previously declared interests – many of them landlords – had voted against Deputy Young’s proposition.

‘It is a disgraceful situation that these people were allowed to remain in the Chamber and meant that the debate could not take place under unbiased conditions,’ he said.

Mr Langhorn said the decision of the Bailiff to allow Members with interests to take part in the debate was ‘unacceptable’.

The forum welcomed suggestions by Constable Mike Jackson that the matter be further reviewed by the Scrutiny panel which he chairs, adding that they would be glad to take part in a discussion.

The Jersey Landlords Association welcomed the Assembly’s decision to reject the licensing scheme.

‘This should not be viewed as a victory for landlords or a defeat for tenants, but rather the triumph of common sense,’ the association said in a statement.

‘This is not a case of the JLA resisting reform. Rather, we just want to see things done in a targeted and cost-effective manner. We want to help promote good standards in the sector and will be contacting the minister shortly.’

If passed, the proposition would have seen property owners required to register annually to rent out accommodation, paying a licence fee of between £50 and £200.

Landlords would have had to pass their contact details to Environmental Health and inspect properties before and after tenancies to assess their condition.

The minister would also have been able fine landlords for breaches of the regulations.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré did not take part in the debate and abstained for the vote, saying this was due to his involvement with the Les Vaux Housing Trust.

Outlining his proposition, Deputy Young described it as the ‘next step’ after the States voted to approve laws on minimum standards for rental properties two years ago.

The minister said that the licensing scheme would allow enforcement of those regulations and information to be gathered on the rental market.

‘This is not about regulating landlords, it’s about achieving health and safety for people, and this law was passed unanimously in December 2017,’ he said.

‘I would ask Members to allow the principles to be voted on. Then we will know where this States is, otherwise we have a law which is useless to us, in effect.’

He added that the proposed regulations were ‘oven ready’ and could be brought into force by 1 November.

Supportive Members, such as Children and Housing Minister Sam Mézec, said that the move would ‘empower’ tenants.

Senator Mézec said that some tenants were currently ‘living in fear’ of complaining about landlords because they were worried about being evicted.

But opponents of the plan claimed that it was bureaucratic and the cost of the scheme would be passed on by landlords, forcing rents up.

Deputy Rowland Huelin, who has openly criticised the plans for some time and is a member of the Jersey Landlords’ Association, said that he believed the proposals would force many landlords, some of whom depend on rents to fund their retirement, to take properties off the market.

‘We have no idea how the licensing scheme will work and how frequent inspections will be,’ he said

Deputy Huelin said that the scheme had been described to him as ‘heavy-handed bureaucratic enforcement’ and ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ which would cost more than half a million pounds a year to run.

The vote

For

Deputies Carina Alves, Louise Doublet, Gregory Guida, Mike Higgins, Russell Labey, Stephen Luce, Jeremy Maçon, Judy Martin, Kevin Pamplin, Jess Perchard, Trevor Pointon, Richard Renouf, Geoff Southern, Montfort Tadier, Rob Ward and John Young; Constables Simon Crowcroft and Deirdre Mezbourian; Senators Sam Mézec, Steve Pallett and Tracey Vallois. (21)

Against

Deputies Steve Ahier, Lindsay Ash, Inna Gardiner, Rowland Huelin, David Johnson, Carolyn Labey, Mary Le Hegarat, Kevin Lewis, Kirsten Morel, Susie Pinel, Hugh Raymond, Graham Truscott and Scott Wickenden; Constables Richard Buchanan, Mike Jackson, John Le Maistre, Philip Le Sueur, Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard, Karen Shenton-Stone, Chris Taylor and Richard Vibert; Senators Lyndon Farnham, Ian Gorst and Kristina Moore. (24)

Abstained

Senator John Le Fondré.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

On the States Assembly website, 28 of the 49 elected States Members list interests under the heading of ‘land’ – which includes property they may own or rent. Prior to this week’s debate, which started on Tuesday afternoon, 23 elected Members declared interests, although three of the declarations were from Members as tenants, who were told a declaration was not necessary.

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