Fatality in Luton at unregistered HMO property might have been avoided if licensing scheme hadn't been delayed
Plans to regulate landlords of privately rented accommodation faced a legal challenge
A fatality in a house of multiple occupation (HMO) in Luton might have been avoided if a local authority landlord licensing system had been in place already, a meeting heard.
The borough council's plans to introduce a selective licensing scheme to regulate landlords of privately rented accommodation in the town faced a legal challenge.
A revised proposal has been approved by the local authority's executive, although it remains unclear whether it can be released across the whole of Luton in one go.
A notice of legal action was served on the council in July 2020, after a group of landlords and letting agents instructed a solicitor saying a previous executive decision was "unlawful".
The council presented an updated version of the policy to its overview and scrutiny board initially.
Labour South councillor Javeria Hussain told the board: "There was a fatality, a very sad death, in South ward where it was an unlicensed hmo in very bad condition.
"My heart just broke," she said. "This is something which is definitely needed. It's a long time coming.
"And, if we'd had that extra money from the income which would have arisen, we would have been able to fund these additional officers, one of whom perhaps would have prevented that death happening.
"This is about going after those not so very good landlords who put their tenants' health and wellbeing at risk."
Under selective licensing, the council can charge landlords a fee for a five-year licence.
Labour Challney councillor Tom Shaw explained: "We've got good landlords in Luton. They're not the ones we're after. They'll come in for the early bird discount.
"You'll get the next batch where we'll need to do a little enforcement to get them to pay.
"But then there are those who'll try to hide it away. On top of the licence and enforcement fee, hopefully there'll be a fine for operating a non-licensed property.
"We had a death recently in South ward. It wasn't just a non-registered HMO it didn't even have planning permission or anything.
"Those are the ones we want to get our hands on. We won't just stop at licensing. We'll go an awful lot further with it.
"You'll have a hardcore registering the property in their brother's, uncle's, aunty's or sister's names. They're the ones we'll get because it'll be a licence on the property rather than an indivdual.
"Whoever owns the property at that time will end up paying the licensing fee and the fine for non-registration."
Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks urged the executive "to make it townwide as fast as possible, but with some care to avoid the same legal traps you were caught in before".
Councillor Shaw, who's the portfolio holder for housing, added: "There was some comment at scrutiny that the fees were too low, but you're not allowed to make a profit on the scheme.
"The fees have been fixed and targeted. It's costing the council nothing and we're making no profit. We'll aim to have it up fully running in April.
"We'll be asking the Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government again to give us permission to do the whole town in one go.
"The scheme is paying for itself and any excess income is poured back into licensed properties.
"The cost is £488 and £122 per extra bedroom. We'll move the scheme forward as fast as we can to the other parts of the town, with High Town next, then Biscot and Dallow."