LANDLORDS in Croydon could pass on the cost of a £200-a-year licence fee to their tenants, the council's housing chief has admitted.
Croydon Council is consulting on plans to introduce a selective licensing scheme for private sector housing.
It would mean all private landlords would have to obtain a licence which could cost £1,000 per property over five years. Those who do not sign up could face a fine of up to £20,000.
The Labour-led council argues the scheme will target rogue landlords and drive up standards of accommodation among the borough's estimated 30,000 private sector homes.
It has been dubbed the 'tenant tax' by some critics who argue good landlords will be penalised and "vulnerable" tenants will be hit with rent increases.
Alison Butler, the council's housing chief, was grilled on those concerns by an audience member at a public meeting at Matthews Yard on Thursday.
The man, who only gave his name as Matthew, said: "I'm worried [the licence fee] could end up penalising the good landlords as well as the criminals.
"It's a huge amount of money which is effectively going to be passed on to the tenant who will have to find an extra £200 rent every year.
"That's hurting the people we want to help."
Cllr Butler, cabinet member for homes and regeneration, said recent rent increases meant there would be "no need" for landlords to reclaim the costs from their tenants.
"You talk about [the costs] being passed on to the tenants; I would never stand here and say that isn't a risk," she said.
"What I would say is that rents have gone up in Croydon over the years far higher than that fee. So there's no need [for landlords to pass on the costs]."
Matthew replied: "Why increase it further?"
Cllr Butler said: "There's no need for any landlord to pass on [the cost] to the tenant, but there is a risk they would do."
She added that money raised from the licence fee would be used to administer the scheme as well as hiring more enforcement officers.
Matthew said: "It doesn't seem right that we are charging landlords, the majority of whom aren't going to be criminals, when actually all you need to do is go into buildings suspected to be of a low standard and use the existing legislation available to councils.
"Surely you don't have to ask landlords to come and give you money so you can find the bad houses."
Newham council has already adopted a licensing scheme which has registered 20,500 landlords, raised £6.5 million and seen 18 landlords banned as not 'fit and proper'. Enforcement of the policy has led to 243 prosecutions and 135 cautions.
Tom Copley, deputy chairman of London Assemblies housing committee, was one of the guest speakers at Thursday's meeting, which was organised by Sarah Jones, Labour's prospective general election candidate for Croydon Central.
He said the licensing policy would not penalise good landlords but instead create a level playing field.
"Good landlords suffer because of bad landlords, who cut corners and,if you're not doing the right thing, you're being undercut," he said.
"It's like an insurance scheme. If you have a car, you pay insurance on it. You can't argue that you should be exempt because you're not a bad driver."
Mrs Jones said there was a "real problem" with rogue landlords in Croydon.
"A third of our private rented houses are not at a 'decent homes' standard and over 10 per cent are particularly bad," she added.
"I don't think it's particularly left wing to think that people should have a decent home."
Robert Ward, a landlord, told the meeting there was an "illusion that landlords make tonnes of money".
"Do the math," he said. "There's not a lot in it."
He added: "In the short term I don't see how a landlord could pass on the costs [of the licensing scheme]. The market rent is the market rent. Longer term, it would probably lead to increases."
Matthew said: "If this gentleman is right, there's not much of a margin [in being a landlord] so, in all likelihood, the cost is going to be passed on to the tenants who we all want to help."
The meeting also heard from Simone, 40, a mother of five, who has been given notice to vacate her property. When she went to the council for help, she was told to leave Croydon because of the lack of available housing.
"For the council to tell us - a working family - to leave, is just awful," she said.
"We're put in the same bracket as a family that doesn't work and only claims benefits, just because we have to have a housing top-up.
"How is that fair? We're doing exactly what we should be doing in life. We're a good family. But we're being turned down, on average, for five or six properties every single week."
Cllr Butler said the council is doing "everything in its power" to increase the supply of homes, including plans to build 200 of its own, but that the situation was "desperate".
"We've gone to every single landlord we know and begged them to allow us to rent their properties to our families," she told Simone.
"We're absolutely desperate. We have 500 families living in bed and breakfasts, which is what I call appalling accommodation and I'm ashamed of. We have another 2,000 families living in temporary accommodation.
"I promise you we're doing every possible thing we can. If there's anyone out there who knows of ideas we haven't tried, they need to let us know. If there was somewhere we could put you, we would do it tomorrow."
The licensing scheme consultation process ends on October 17th. To submit your views click here.