Nottingham City Council is taking a lead role in the development of a digital service to help local authorities identify unlicensed landlords.
It has been working as technical partner with software developer Marks Out Of Tenancy on the Vault platform, which enables private renters to feed in reviews of properties, neighbourhoods, landlords and letting agents.
Nottingham used the service in its beta phase and provided input into its further development, and is now using the live version on a trial basis along with 13 other local authorities.
The information from the tenant reviews is checked by Marks Out Of Tenancy to ensure the person lives at the address, anonymised then published on the site and passed to the relevant local authority.
This enables them to run checks against their own records and identify landlords and letting agents who are not licensed, local unlicensed homes of multiple occupation, and use the feedback when running ‘fit and proper’ landlord licence tests.
It also provides them with data to understand what is happening in the private rental market in their areas.
Paul Greevy, Nottingham’s Safer Housing service’s strategic housing manager, said: “Sometimes the plates come together, and the simplest ideas impact on local authorities from another tangent – in this case to the world of raising standards in the private rented sector.
“The cumulative impacts over time – of statutes, accreditation and licensing – are now augmented by what has the potential to be a TripAdvisor for the private rented sector. If you’re letting private rented accommodation enjoy that 10 star review, for the one star landlord, time for a rethink because your local authority should be in touch.”
Ben Yarrow, chief executive officer of Marks Out Of Tenancy, said the councils involved in the trial are making their own assessments of the service’s value, but that it could take in factors like how they relate the quality of a property to physical and mental health issues and how children are progressing at school.
In an effort to assess the value to tenants, the company is providing information to market intelligence company Insight for Good to produce a social impact report. One of the aims of this is to establish how many people decided not to rent a property after reading a negative review on the website.
Although not naming the other councils taking part in the trial, he said they vary widely in size and that the service can help them to catch landlords “flying under the radar”.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0