Leicester City Council are waging war on smaller landlords in Leicester who provide student accommodation to the leaders of tomorrow whilst creating a monopoly for larger student accommodation providers including Sulets and Westmanor Student Living. The local authority, last year, applied for powers from the British government to limit the number of “To Let” boards in areas with large amounts of rental accommodation. The logic behind this move is unclear, we wonder how students and potential tenants alike will be able to tell whether a property is ‘to let‘ or ‘for sale’ and by whom when visiting the area seeking their ideal property.
Instead, letting agents and landlords will have to win planning consent to erect To Let signs in student areas of Leicester from next month whilst the likes of Sulets who manage large apartment complexes and a large portfolio of individual properties throughout the city have the freedom to erect signage stating that the property is student accommodation. This is another example of Leicester City Council’s attacks on taxpayers and the housing market who earn lower incomes than those larger companies worth £millions.
The city council has been granted powers by government to enforce stricter measures on agents wanting boards near to De Montfort University and the University of Leicester as well as:
- Clarendon Park,
- West End,
- Ashleigh Road, and;
- the West End conservation areas.
However, last year the council prosecuted student lettings firm Unipad and another company, Dexterford Ltd, for the display of advertisements without advertisement consent though these advertisements were not related to To Let or For Sale boards. Unipad also owns large portfolios of property clearly designated as student accommodation, along with Code and other student accommodation which is clearly marked as such whilst all the landlords who own properties which aren’t high-rise tower blocks are left to suffer with empty properties because they’re unable to adequately market them.
Under new rules coming into force on July 2nd this year, penalties for landlords and agents not complying can be up to £2,500 for the offence in principle and then daily fines of £250 for a continuing offence. This means the council are poised to make a lot of money between now and October as this little-known new by-law comes into force and more properties come onto the market for student tenants to occupy.
A spokesperson for Leicester City Council said;
We know that people who live close to the universities are concerned about the almost permanent proliferation of ‘To Let’ boards on their streets. We have had a voluntary code of practice in place for a number of years but only a handful of landlords complied with this. Despite our best efforts, these advertising hoardings continue to create an eyesore in areas with a high concentration of rental properties.
The council submitted the request for the Regulation 7 Direction Powers in 2017 and was given the green light by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in February this year. Any agents with boards already up will be told to remove them but there is no evidence to suggest this new rule will be properly promoted to landlords and agents who serve the student markets in those areas, a very underhanded and frowned upon approach as far as Leicester Property Insight is concerned.
This doesn’t necessarily mean every board will disappear from the streets though, the Leicester City Council say;
Advertisement consent is required to display a ‘To Let’ board, which can be done by submitting a planning application, along with a fee. However, to help landlords, we will not ask for planning applications for those boards which follow a new Code of Practice. Where applications for advertisement consent are submitted, only those that comply with the Code of Practice will be considered acceptable.
The Code of Practice is as follows:
- Only one residential lettings ‘To Let’ board per building will be
- Each board shall have a white background and will conform to the
following layout: 34cm x 48cm or 48cm x 34cm.
- One company logo per board will be permitted providing that the
logo does not exceed one third of the overall size of the advertising
- Boards marked with ‘Let by’, ‘Let’, ‘More Wanted’ or similar wording
- No more than one board shall be permitted per landlord/agent per
- a) Boards shall be mounted flush to the wall above/around the
front door, or if that is not possible, flush to the wall on the
street frontage elevation. In either instance, no part of a
board shall be higher than first-floor window sill level;b) alternatively, boards shall be displayed internally in a ground
floor window facing the street frontage, but not in addition to
a board displayed externally.
- Boards shall only be allowed on properties immediately available
‘To Let,’ unless they are for the following academic year, when they
shall not be put up until 1st January of that year.
- Letting boards shall be removed not later than 14 days after the
granting of a tenancy for the room, house or flat to which it relates.
- No ‘To Let’ boards shall be displayed between 1st October to
31st December inclusive.
As we can see from the above, there are some strict new rules for To Let boards and it doesn’t state whether or not the above code of practice extends to letting agents, Harry Albert Lettings & Estates, a relatively new letting agent who launched in January this year, also managing properties in the West End and London Road areas, say;
It is concerning to us that the council are trying to stamp out letting agents and residential landlords, especially those who provide accommodation to those who are likely to be the leaders of tomorrow, students. We wonder if anybody at the council who made the decision to harm landlords and agents in the areas affected alike ever experienced the difficulty of finding suitable student accommodation that was within budget before. If they had, we expect they’d have a difference stance on the matter.
Rather than police student accommodation providers, would it not be a better option to police the rogue landlords, including Leicester City Council themselves who left an elderly tenant with dementia of theirs die in squalor with a flooding bathroom, leaking radiators and toilet which didn’t work.
The council will enforce the new rules by carrying out regular surveys in the areas impacted by the change and they’re encouraging residents of the city to report breaches to their Compliance and Monitoring team at the planning department of Leicester City Council.
Cllr Piara Singh Clair, Deputy City mayor and lead on regulatory services, said:
‘To Let’ boards are intrusive, serving as little more than advertisements for the letting agents themselves.We are pleased that the planning inspector has agreed that more powers are needed to tackle this problem in the worst affected parts of the city.
Clearly, like his colleague, Sir Peter Soulsby, Piara Singh Clair has little understanding of the function of ‘To Let’ boards which is to clearly demonstrate which properties are ‘for sale’, ‘to let’ or not on the market. You see, a board saying ‘To Let’ means the property is available to rent, ‘For Sale’ means the property is for sale and no house board means the property may not be on the market. The boards do advertise the company the property is available for rent or sale and this is quite an important part of the buying process for tenants or buyers, if you don’t know who the property is ‘to let’ or ‘for sale’ by, you’ll be unable to contact them to make relevant enquiries therefore leading to longer void periods and less money for landlords which will, of course, translate into increased rents to cover the cost of the lengthy void periods imposed by the Leicester City Council as a result of these actions. They’re ugly and make buildings look disgusting. I think the scheme is a good idea.
The councillor, Piara Singh, was unable to provide any evidence to back up the claims of them being ugly and making buildings look disgusting, neither have they been able to back up the claim that landlords and agents use these boards solely for advertising.
Unsubstantiated claims are nothing new from the mayor’s department of the council, Peter Soulsby ripped off taxpayers when he sold the old Council office site in the city centre for £24thousand when it was worth more than £3million and claims the site was “crumbling” even though the buildings had been demolished and the land was perfectly fine to be rebuilt upon. Unfortunately, Soulsby has continued to fail to provide any evidence behind his claims which are costing the taxpayers millions.