In Waltham Forest, we’re well aware of the need for improved safeguards in the private rented sector and action to prevent homelessness and help households currently being priced out of the market.
In recent years we have seen an increased number of evictions from the private sector due to rocketing prices, changes to benefits and a shortage of properties. Families have been priced out of the borough.
We are taking a new approach to housing services by offering more comprehensive support to private sector tenants and landlords. By doing this we can play a more significant role in raising private sector rented housing standards and help more people to find good accommodation in the borough.
In October 2016 we launched Lettings Waltham Forest, a market rent lettings agency offering good quality, suitably priced accommodation to nurses, teachers and other key workers. We are recognising the vital role these key workers play in supporting our communities and wanted to help them find homes locally.
The scheme has already helped a number of key workers to secure homes in the borough, and we have a growing list of landlords and prospective tenants signing up. The feedback from those who have used the scheme has been incredibly positive.
The scheme presents an attractive offer to local landlords, with no set-up fees in the first year, tenant checks and full management, rent collection and let-only services.
We are going even further by making a range of commercial services available to private landlords including repairs and maintenance, pest control, house clearance and access to grants and training.
Another way that we are driving up standards is through our private rented property licensing scheme, launched in 2015. We require landlords to hold a separate licence for each property they rent out, which comes with certain conditions. We have licensed more than 20,000 properties.
While we were not the first council to introduce a scheme like this, we are taking a very proactive approach and in the past year we have prosecuted more than 50 private landlords for licence-related offences. This includes the landlord fined £12,000 for refusing to licence three flats, and another fined over £7,000 after a potentially fatal fire revealed serious overcrowding and lack of fire precautions.
While we do all we can to help responsible property owners, we are sending a clear message that rogue landlords have no place in Waltham Forest.
We have also launched a programme of regular ‘action days’, which are helping us to identify unlicensed properties and those that require improvements. We have inspected over 26,000 properties in the borough. During action days we have also carried out enforcement activity for offences like fly-tipping, graffiti, dirty front gardens and abandoned vehicles.
We are taking the lead on building genuinely affordable new homes. Our Housing Revenue Account (HRA) new build programme will deliver 170 council homes by March 2018, and we will provide another 400 homes through two estate regeneration schemes. To ensure the supply of new housing continues we are setting up Waltham Forest Developments, a council-owned company, which has been allocated an initial investment of £100m.
While the government’s recent housing white paper shows some encouraging signs, it was disappointing there was no mention of removing the HRA borrowing cap and relaxing the use of right to buy receipts, which would allow us to increase affordable housing development. We hope the government will listen to the points councils will raise as part of the consultation process.
Khevyn Limbajee (Lab), cabinet member for housing, Waltham Forest LBC