A plan to make it mandatory for all landlords to sign up to a rating system measuring the standard of their accommodation has been thrown out by politicians.
Senator Kristina Moore's bid to get landlords to sign up to the ‘Rent Safe’ scheme was defeated this morning with 26 votes against and 20 votes in favour.
The scheme, which is currently voluntary and with 2,115 units of accommodation registered, gives a tenants a list of landlords that have reached 'accredited status' under its standards, and an overview of properties which have reached 3, 4 or 5 stars.
Landlords who have a 0, 1, or 2 star rating do not currently appear on the Rent Safe register.
Senator Moore's proposals, which were opposed by landlords and Ministers, came a few months after States Members threw out an attempt to introduce a registry of rented homes, which they had backed in principle just a month before.
Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore brought forward the proposals.
At the beginning of the debate, Senator Moore accepted the amendment brought forward by Deputy Rob Ward which required properties to be accredited in order to be let.
She described the Rent Safe scheme as an “easy scheme” which would offer certainty to renters the same way the Food Safe scheme provides certainty to those wishing to buy food.
She said she had previously refused the landlord licensing scheme because of the cost of its implementation and added that using a “well-established system” would be better.
Senator Moore suggested her proposition would achieve what the Housing Minister, Deputy Russell Labey, wishes to do – he recently submitted drafting instructions for a new a Residential Tenancy Law – in a “much quicker fashion”.
Several States Members took part in the debate, with the reasons put forward for rejecting the scheme focusing on two main areas, the issue of resources and the potential impact on landlords, while those in support of it argued something needs to be done.
Pictured: Several members said the Environment department didn't have the resources to implement the proposition.
The Environment Minister, Deputy John Young, was the first to speak in the debate and thus the first to raise concerns about the impact the proposition would have on his department if it was adopted.
He said if the Rent Safe scheme became “legally mandatory” it would need to comply with laws, which need to be amended themselves. “The intention is well-meaning and superficially attractive,” he said.
He then went on to say that if an additional 8,000 landlords wanted to go onto the scheme it would have to be changed as it was too comprehensive.
According to Deputy Labey, an “incredible amount of extra staff” would be required to administer the scheme.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister, Deputy Richard Renouf, said the proposition would lead to an “administrative nightmare” that would require “at least 20 extra staff”.
“It’s far better to target the inspections because the department well knows what premises to inspect,” he added.
Deputy Rowland Huelin, who said he was five stars under the Rent Safe scheme, described it as “an exceptionally good scheme”, adding that although the process had been laborious, it had been “thorough and good”.
Referring to the debate about the Common Population Policy, which took place earlier in the day, he questioned how the IHE department would “miraculously” find 20 staff amid a staffing crisis which he said was greater than the housing crisis.
Senator Tracey Vallois, who brought an amendment to the Government Plan to give more resources to the IHE department, said the proposition bothered her because of the impact on an already under-resourced department.
Deputy Kirsten Morel said the proposition would not introduce or improve minimum standards. Describing the proposals as “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, he said the civil service would need to grow to accommodate it.
Constable of St. Ouen, Richard Buchanan said that, if even if introduced gradually, the proposition would add to the burden of Government.
Pictured: The Housing Minister said the proposals were not fair for landlords.
Deputy Young was also the first to suggest the effect of the proposition on landlords would be too great and push them to sell. He said Deputy Ward’s amendment made the proposition “much more intrusive and much more likely to adversely affect the availability of properties”.
The Housing Minister agreed, saying landlords viewed the proposals as “licensing by the back door”. “It’s not fair to do this to them,” he said, suggesting that appropriate process should be followed.
He said the new law he is bringing forward would be “loophole-proof” and yield benefits for landlords and tenants alike.
The Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said that while officers and Ministers were “absolutely passionate” about trying to resolve the problem, Senator Moore’s proposition was not the solution. Whilst “well-intended”, he said it would lead to “significant negative unattended consequences”. He said landlords leaving the market were a “real concern” and that the proposition made “matters worse”.
Deputy Huelin said that if landlords decided to sell their properties, they would likely be bought by a developers who would seek to make a profit, which would not help anybody.
For Constable Buchanan, the Housing Minister’s approach was “refreshing”, as it sought to improve standards as well as tenants’ rights whilst “taking landlords with him”. He said the intentions of Senator Moore’s proposition and Deputy Ward’s amendment were “entirely laudable” but “unworkable”.
The Constable of St. Mary, John Le Bailly, however, took a different approach in arguing against the proposition.
He said he saw no benefit in creating a new legislation and that the focus should instead be on creating more affordable homes. He said if demand was met, rents would drop and quality would increase as landlords would have to compete with each other. "The lack of housing is the source of many of the island’s problems," he said.
Pictured: Deputy Rob Ward brought forward an amendment which required properties to be accredited in order to be let.
Deputy Rob Ward described the latest attempts to “find protection for those renting” as “groundhog day” - a view seemingly shared by Deputy Tadier, who said it was the “fourth iteration” of the same debate in a short period of time.
Deputy Ward said the States Assembly had missed a “real opportunity” when they rejected the landlord scheme after it had been accepted in principle, as a licensing scheme would have been better.
He rejected the suggestion the proposal would lead to an “exodus of landlords”.
Senator Sam Mézec said that while Senator Moore’s proposition wasn’t ideal he would support it because it was better than the Housing Minister’s proposal, which he described as a “data gathering exercise” which meant unsafe properties might go unnoticed. He said it as “waste of time” given regulations already existed and could be brought back to enable a licensing scheme.
He argued that many good landlords wouldn’t be affected, while those at the margin, “who are well intentioned but not quite upto date”, would apply and be told what to improve.
Meanwhile, he said there would be an option to “kick out” those at the bottom end. “If that means they sell their property, I’m unconvinced it’s a tragedy,” he said.
According to Deputy Montfort Tadier, claims of “too much bureaucracy” or of an unfit for purpose scheme were “red herrings” and told the Housing Minister supporting the proposition was his “last chance saloon” to achieve something in his term.
The Constable of St. Lawrence, Deirdre Mezbourian, questioned whether the argument against the scheme were based on extra costs or in recruitment challenges. In the case of the latter, she said the Government should take stock of the potential employees currently employed for the vaccination scheme which could be immediately available.
Deputy Inna Gardiner argued the proposition was clear and allowed the Minister to decide when and how inspections would be taking place.
The Constable of St. John, Andy Jehan, said when similar proposals had been brought forward, the Assembly had been asked for more time to consider them. He said the proposition didn’t present an “overnight solution” and that there would be the opportunity to speak with stakeholders as the legislation is drafted.
He questioned whether such proposals would be delayed if they concerned employment or financial services. “We should be finding solutions,” he said.
Deputy Kevin Pamplin suggested the Government didn't necessarily employ staff in the right areas. He said he didn't have issues with some of his taxes going towards the recruitment of staff to manage the scheme, which he argued would raise standards, as they would have "done something good for the island". He also argued that as the quality of properties improved, fewer inspections would be required.
At the end of the debate, Senator Moore urged Members to support her proposal, saying it was the last chance for the Assembly to have this debate.
"I would like to leave on a good note and make sure tenants have a safe home over their heads and landlords are part of an effective scheme," she concluded.
However, the proposal lost by six votes.
Deputy Rob Ward shared his thoughts on the Rent Safe rejection for the latest edition of the Politics Disassembled pod...
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