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City council says it's not keen on letting agency plan
OXFORD City Council rejected the idea of setting up its own letting agency in a bid to improve the quality of private rented accommodation.
Council officers looked into the issue after city councillor Sam Hollick, a member of the authority’s housing panel, proposed it to drive up the standard of properties available in Oxford.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail Mr Hollick, a Green councillor for Holywell, said: “I think the standard of private-rented housing very much depends on who your landlord is and generally there is a culture that landlords see renting as an investment rather than providing a service.
“It would be a way of driving up standards and leading by example.”
But after exploring the proposal the city council has decided not to go ahead with the scheme and submitted a report explaining why to the housing panel of the authority’s scrutiny committee.
One of the reasons officers gave for not pursuing the plan was because it would undermine the availability of properties available through its scheme used to allocate social housing.
In the report Dave Scholes, the city council’s housing strategy and needs manager, said that to drive up property standards Oxford City Council was the first council in the UK to adopt additional licensing powers for all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in its area.
Additionally the environmental development service had funding to be active in inspecting rented properties in the non-HMO sector.
Housing authorities were also working together to tackle poor standards in illegal dwellings and plans were in place to review further measures in 2014 which could improve regulation of the private-rented sector, he said.
Compulsory licensing of all HMOs was introduced by the city council in 2012 which means that anyone renting a property to groups of three or more students or professionals must be licenced, have regular inspections and pay a fee of at least £362.
Frank Webster, a director of letting agency Finders Keepers, said the city council already had powers to put landlords on notice should a property require improvements and so he did not see “much point” in it becoming a letting agency.
He said: “I don’t think Oxford has a massive problem, but we are all for seeing higher standards in the sector and we would urge the city council to work with us.”
A local letting agent approach has been used by other councils – such as Hackney – to improve the access to the private rented sector for customers who might otherwise be made homeless.
Essentially it would mean the council setting itself up as a letting agent; in some cases it has involved setting up a high street property shop with its own branding.
However, councils cannot use public funds to give themselves an unfair advantage as it contravenes competition rules.
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