Just over seven years ago, I got an invite to a meeting which some local people had organised in the ward where I was a councillor. The organisers of the meeting were worried about the way that their area was changing, as a result of buy to let landlords buying up family homes and renting them out - with all the consequences of increasing amounts of rubbish in front gardens, lack of parking, some homes where ten or more people were crowded in to maximise rental income, and others where tenants received an appalling service from their landlord.
About thirty people turned up to that meeting, even though the organisers had only had time to send out leaflets to three, small residential streets. They argued that landlords should have a duty to ensure that their properties were kept neat and tidy, that bad landlords were destroying the community and that the council should take action to sort this problem out.
The response at the time from the government was that they were keen to reduce the 'burden of regulation' on landlords, and were dead set against giving councils powers which would enable them to address these concerns.
The local residents weren't deterred - they made links with other residents' groups across the city who had similar concerns, they turned up to try to influence planning decisions which they felt would be detrimental to their area, and they kept the pressure on their elected representatives to try to change the government's mind.
Fast forward to 2010 - the organiser of the meeting is now chair of the local residents' association, and another resident who was actively involved was elected to the council in 2006 as my successor. The local Labour MP called debates in parliament on the subject and the Labour-run council urged the government to give them the powers to introduce a mandatory registration scheme for landlords.
And last Wednesday, Housing Minister John Healey came to Oxford Town Hall to announce that he would amend existing legislation so local authorities could introduce compulsory licensing schemes from April. He said: “I am giving councils more powers to crack down on the worst landlords and stop the spread of high concentrations of shared homes, where it causes problems for other residents or changes the character of a neighbourhood.”
It takes time, and there are always frustrations along the way - but as a result of a meeting back in 2002, which a couple of local people organised, and which their friends and neighbours decided to attend, councils will now be able to act to prevent bad landlords exploiting their tenants and ruining communities.