Landlords having been ripping off tenants for years. Rent is rising, but the standards of rented housing are falling. In some parts of Britain, the problems are getting so bad that many houses are unsafe to live in.

One solution would be to ensure houses were inspected by a health and safety team before they are rented out to ensure they were up to scratch. We could also make landlords pass a test that proved they were able to ensure this standard was maintained.

No programme like this exists nationally, but councils can introduce smaller initiatives within parts of their cities if they find that the problems there are particularly common or dangerous. It’s called selective licensing and it exists to improve housing standards in a city for the benefit of everyone who lives there.

In January 2015, Sheffield City Council approved selective licensing for part of Page Hall, where housing health risks and overcrowding were common. Despite opposition from landlords during every stage of the process, the scheme is now improving the safety and security of the houses within the area.

That’s why a similar scheme was proposed for parts of London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road when the same problems were found there. Council inspections found that three in four houses in the area had high-risk hazards, “exposing [tenants] to serious harm”, like fire, risk of falling, damp and mould.

ACORN is a community union which exists to empower people on low and moderate incomes. Most of our members are tenants and we democratically decided to support the selective licensing proposal. During the consultation period, our members were knocking on doors to encourage local tenants to complete the consultation questionnaire and make their voices heard. ACORN also submitted a collective response in support of the proposal.

All the other collective responses were from organisations representing landlords. The consultation report tells us that they strongly opposed the licensing scheme, with the majority disagreeing with the purpose and benefits of licensing. The extent of their opposition to the scheme was proven during one consultation discussion at Bramall Lane, where ACORN members vocalising their support for the licensing proposal were bullied and threatened.

Despite responses from landlords, the Council voted to implement the licensing scheme in June. Landlords must now apply and pay for a licence for each property that they let out in the affected area. The application will involve an inspection to ensure the house is suitable for living in, and they’ll be unable to rent it out to anyone new until they have sorted any problems.

They must also be able to prove that they are ‘fit and proper’ to manage a property. This will involve showing that they don’t have criminal convictions which may affect their management of the property or risk the safety of their tenants. They also need to prove they have satisfactory arrangements in place to deal with property maintenance issues.

This is a positive step forward for renters in Sheffield, but landlords have already been threatening to make life harder for their tenants to ease the financial impact on themselves. They’ve been throwing around threats of rent hikes and evictions since before the consultation began.

Passing on the cost of making sure properties are safe and secure to tenants is abhorrent. ACORN will support our members to fight against rent hikes if landlords try this trick. We will also take direct action if landlords threaten to evict residents from their homes. We’ve successfully stopped the evictions of ACORN members in Sheffield before and we’ll do it again.

Learn more about ACORN and become a member at acorntheunion.org.uk.

Art: Helena Pérez Garcia

Michael Scarborough