The London borough’s initiative is designed to help it identify rogue landlords and gives its housing standards taskforce more clout to enforce the mandatory HMO licensing scheme.
Westiminster’s new rent repayment checker lets renters input their details online to instantly find out if they’re eligible.
It first verifies if the property has a licence by asking them to provide details about their situation and address; the council will then contact them to discuss their case and give advice on how to apply for a rent repayment order.
It promises to refer tenants to Safer Renting, a charity which will guide them through the process of applying to the property tribunal.
A council spokesman tells LandlordZONE: “We don’t know exactly how many HMOs are in the borough, nor how many are licensed – part of the reason for the checker is that it will allow us to build a much more complete database of this.”
Councillor Heather Acton, cabinet member for public protection and licensing, adds that the tool will help tenants be aware of their rights and check whether their landlords are abiding by the rules.
“We would encourage all landlords letting homes of multiple occupation to ensure they are being responsible and meeting their full legal obligations or face the consequences.”
Rent repayment orders allow tenants to claw back up to 12 months’ rent if a landlord has committed an offence, although they don’t need to have been convicted.
While local authorities around the UK are latching onto the enforcement and deterrent possibilities afforded by rent repayment orders, the National Residential Landlords Association has questioned how workable or effective they really are.