We applaud the Council’s initiative to take action to protect tenants from landlords who would use the desperate housing shortage in Oxford to take advantage of tenants. However, the city must ensure that the result is not an even greater scarcity of rental accommodation in Oxford than already exists.
A licensing scheme that drives landlords away in Oxford would only further worsen the affordability crisis that has left Oxford as the worst city for income-adjusted housing affordability in the entire country. Oxford’s City Council has wisely recognized this in other contexts, notably in their endorsement of the SMHA’s recommendation that the county add 30,000 new homes in the next 20 years, but unfortunately it is all too easy for seemingly small and reasonable requirements to pile up on top of each other and discourage renting. When there are fewer homes for rent than people who want them, the richest individuals will outbid the rest — thus causing rent to rise for all. When there are more homes than potential tenants, tenants have more power — if a landlord tries to raise their rent or refuses to fix their homes, they can simply threaten to move elsewhere — and that threat will have teeth to it, which it sadly does not in the current situation.
If the Council decides to implement the proposed licensing scheme, they should ensure that it does not prevent potential rental units from coming on to the market. If it does, its effects would run contrary to the purpose of the licensing, which is to protect tenants. Apartments or houses owned by small landlords, who this bill would impact the most, provide a large share of affordable housing for tenants. Licensing should therefore be easy to obtain and affordable. The Council could consider implementing a streamlined version of licensing or creating more straightforward and understandable documents for potential small landlords.
The Council should also carefully consider its ceiling on HMOs, which are capped at 20% of buildings (although current HMOs are grandfathered in). As part of its reasoning for implementing the HMO licensing scheme, which will be renewed by this proposed bill, the City has written that “HMOs are a major concern in Oxford” and that it “has an unusually high number of HMOs.” As a university town that wishes to attract a young and promising workforce, Oxford’s supposedly high number of HMOs is both unsurprising and even desirable. For young people, who wish to save money in such an expensive rental market, living with roommates is an important and fundamental housing option. Without roommates, many of our signees could not afford to live in Oxford, and this is undoubtedly true of many others.
Oxford’s commitment to protecting its tenants is admirable. But the government can’t have eyes everywhere at once, and it can’t welcome newcomers who would diversify or participate in Oxford’s growing economy to a community that doesn’t have enough homes for them. The best tool for combatting a bad landlord or predatory rental agents is an adequate supply of safe housing. We urge Oxford City Council to ensure any new licensing scheme does not negatively impact supply of rental housing, including HMOs.