Stuart Langhorn of the forum welcomed the Assembly’s decision and said a clear message had been sent that ‘this is something that needs to be done’.
During this week’s States sitting, Members approved Deputy Rob Ward’s proposition, which would see five-year licences for landlords, by 25 votes to 19. He said that good landlords had ‘nothing to fear’ from a free licensing scheme. ‘We urgently need a system to licence landlords,’ said Deputy Ward, adding that ‘time was running out’ to act before the next election, after already having postponed the debate.
A provision in the proposition allows for the introduction of charges, but only if they are first agreed by the States Assembly.
The proposal requires Environment Minister John Young to lodge draft regulations again – narrowly rejected by the Assembly last year – which Deputy Ward said had been reworked to address concerns from Members. Deputy Young said he and Deputy Ward shared ‘absolutely the same objective’, which was ‘ensuring we have a system of regulation in place that is effective, and helps us to ensure a high level of compliance with the minimum standards for rental dwellings’.
Deputy Young postponed a debate on a similar licensing scheme he lodged until July in response to a Scrutiny report last week. He said he needed the time to provide a ‘robust solution’ to concerns they raised, particularly on potential licence charges. ‘There are very mixed views about whether we should be charging for this service or not,’ he said.
In its report, the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel said it could not support Deputy Young’s proposition due to concerns over the scheme’s fee structure and potential cost impacts for landlords and tenants. Speaking during the debate on Tuesday, Constable Mike Jackson said the panel produced their report ‘based on the evidence presented to us’.
Senator Sam Mézec said supporting Deputy Ward’s proposal was ‘simply a no-brainer’, adding: ‘This sort of system is the right thing to do.’
Speaking after the result, Mr Langhorn said that licences would provide reassurance that minimum housing standards were being met. ‘I think a couple of Members said they thought that the way to solve the problem is to have more properties,’ he said. ‘That shows a misunderstanding that somehow housing is like a supermarket commodity – that if you just have competition there is going to be a different range for people to buy into. Housing is not like that – especially in Jersey.’
He added: ‘There is a limited supply. People cannot afford deposits and landlords, quite frankly, can charge as much as they can. It is really important that we make sure the rental market is as safe as possible.
‘What is currently happening is a drive to the bottom for tenants – people who are driven out of good-quality housing and into poorer-quality housing because they cannot afford the better-quality housing any more. The idea that more competition is going to drive up standards is nonsense. Housing is not like tins of beans or fish fingers.’