Deputy John Young – who narrowly failed to secure approval for a licensing scheme in September last year – is to try again with ‘lighter-touch’ proposals that would see landlords required to hold three-year licences for any rental accommodation from 30 June next year.
Although the law allows fees to be charged, under the new proposals there would be no charge for licences at present, and existing landlords would not routinely require inspection of their premises.
The minister described the approach as ‘much simpler’ than the one defeated by three votes in the States last year. ‘I hope the simplicity of what is now proposed will make a big difference,’ Deputy Young said. ‘There is no question that the case for having a system whereby we can ensure we get a better level of compliance against minimum standards is overwhelming.’
Responding last year to questions from Deputy Rob Ward, the minister revealed that more than 2,900 out of 3,000 rental homes inspected had failed to meet minimum health and safety standards since tighter regulations were introduced in 2018. Over that period, 316 complaints had been made about living conditions.
Under the new regulations, all rental accommodation would be treated the
same way, requiring a licence which would be valid for three years with effect from the end of June 2022, a period of notice which the minister said he hoped would give both the Environmental Health Department and landlords appropriate time to prepare.
If existing landlords apply within a six-month ‘grandfather rights’ period, they would not require an inspection for their premises, although properties new to the rental market, or those for which applications were made outside the six-month period would need to be inspected.
Asked about properties which had, in the past, be the subject of complaints, or which had failed to meet required standards on previous inspections, Deputy Young said: ‘It will be a question of judgment for housing officers.
‘By saying they won’t automatically require an inspection doesn’t mean to say that there will never be an inspection. If, for example, there was a complaint that would trigger it, as would a change of owner or some other trigger event. But routinely it would not be the case.’
In the light of the new proposals, Reform Deputy Rob Ward has agreed to postpone a scheduled debate on a proposition which he had lodged directing the minister to introduce a landlord licensing scheme.
‘I am pleased that the Environment Minister has agreed to lodge these regulations without a full States debate first. [The proposition] remains lodged and can be debated if necessary. I hope that we can quickly reach a positive outcome on this matter, and that the Assembly will support this change which will provide a step forward for both tenants and landlords,’ Deputy Ward said.
According to the minister, there is already evidence that some landlords are responding positively to the increased standards by upgrading accommodation but he said that the licensing scheme would help to achieve a high level of compliance across the thousands of rental properties in the Island.
‘I think it is likely that there will be some opposition in the States but my judgment is that these proposals should, and ought to, go through. This is the right thing to do. It is my responsibility as minister to bring this forward and I am fulfilling what I regard as an important moral obligation,’ he said.
The regulations are due to be debated by the States on 8 June.