A TOWN letting agent has asked for reassurances from a council over how it will use money raised through selective licensing, whereby private landlords in a specific area must get a licence or risk being fined.

Darlington-based My Property Box is calling for reassurances from Durham County Council over how it will use millions of pounds raised from the proposed selective licensing.

Selective licensing can be introduced to an area with low house demand or problems with anti-social behaviour, giving councils the power to regulate privately rented housing.

Durham Council could generate up to £25.5 million if it decides to impose the scheme on 51,000 private rental properties, the letting agency says.

A consultation on the scheme was due to end on April 27, but has been extended until May 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If the plan goes ahead, it will require private landlords to apply for a licence costing around £500 for each rental property they own in each of 43 proposed designated areas.

Ben Quaintrell, founder and managing director of My Property Box – which represents private landlords across the North East and North Yorkshire - is seeking assurances that all money raised will be ring fenced to improve the housing stock and raise management standards. He is also urging councils across the region not to treat the scheme as a simple tax on private landlords.

Durham County Council says the fees will cover the cost of processing and administering the licence - which is non-transferable and must be renewed every five years.

The initiative is designed to improve the condition and management of rented homes, with the aim of raising the health and wellbeing of tenants and curbing anti-social behaviour.

The scheme makes it an offence to let a property within a selective housing area without a licence, or risk prosecution and an unlimited fine.

Other councils using selective schemes include Middlesbrough Council in the North Ormesby and Newport areas and Hartlepool Council, which introduced the scheme in 13 streets.

Similar plans were dropped by Stockton Council which had sought to introduce a £945 licence in central Stockton and parts of Thornaby in favour of a private landlord-led scheme, Private Landlords Supporting Stockton.

Mandatory conditions of the licence require that gas and electrical supplies and associated appliances meet safety standards along with furniture and that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are fitted. It also sets out standards governing tenancy management, energy performance and waste removal.

Ben Quaintrell, founder and managing director of My Property Box, said: “I support any initiative that improves the standard of both rental properties and their management.

“However, selective licensing has attracted a great deal of criticism among landlords who claim it merely penalises honest landlords who sign up for the scheme while failing to hold rogue landlords, who ignore it, to account.

“There is a danger that it could be viewed as a revenue-raising exercise and that the extra costs incurred by the landlord are simply passed to the tenant. This is troubling, given the financial implications that the coronavirus has had on many people, with tenants front and centre when raising concerns.

“Many councils already possess existing enforcement powers to tackle poor housing conditions and management and I would prefer to see the money from the licence spent directly on practical improvements to properties, rather than being spent on the administration of yet another system."

Regarding the consultation, Lynn Hall, Durham County Council’s strategic manager for housing, said: “The consultation for the selective licensing scheme was scheduled to end on Monday 27 April. However, this has been suspended due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are taking advice from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on this consultation and we will be publishing any updates when a decision is made on how we will proceed.”