Landlord Law Blog is an online information service site which has interesting articles, news and tips on residential landlord & tenant law and practice. It help landlords and tenants understand their legal rights and obligations.
In late November 2001, I launched the first Landlord Law website. Landlord Law 1.
On 14 December 2010, I launched the second Landlord Law site. Landlord Law 2.
Today we launched the third iteration of Landlord Law. Landlord Law 3.
So why are we doing this
I have known for a few years that something needed to be done. The software that runs Landlord Law 2 (Drupal) is now out of date. However, investigations revealed that it would be very expensive to update it. It would be cheaper (much cheaper actually) to create a new website in WordPress.
So that is what we have done. Over the past six months or so, Gill Bishop (my long-term web designer who has created all three Landlord Laws) and I have been working on the new site.
I am very pleased with it.
Because we are keeping Landlord Law 2 going while we transfer all the members over, the site is on a new domain – LandlordLawServices.co.uk but this is appropriate as we will be using it for the other services run by the company – the training services and the conference.
About the new site
Its got a new look, new colours and a new logo.
It is, of course, mobile friendly, indeed some of the content, I think, actually looks better on mobile.
The existing content has been moved over and updated, and
We have some new content
What new content?
We have some new articles and FAQ. For example a new article on getting the best results from your telephone advice (there is a free version here) and some new FAQ on disability issues.
There is a new content type ‘Real Life Stories’ which at the moment mostly features my stories illustrating issues in evicting tenants, but which I hope will feature members stories too.
We are creating a ‘Local Authority Directory’ which will have information and links to help landlords when applying for HMO licenses.
And we have a new, ‘News Blog‘ which will keep everyone up to date with what is happening on the site and will also feature ‘critical news updates’. But it won’t take the place of this blog – as this is where you will get the comment, analysis, and Ben.
Most of my time has been spent copying over the very considerable content on Landlord Law 2 and updating it. That is more or less done now (still a few bits to move but nothing critical).
The new content will come later when I can catch my breath and start developing new things!
The new membership types
There are two membership levels:
Basic level – £25 pm or £250 pa
Business level – £350 pa (we will be adding a monthly version shortly)
Basic level members get access to everything but the Eviction Guide, the videos and some new content I am planning but have not had time to add yet
Business level members get access to everything
During December we are running a special promotion where you can join at Business Level for the same price as Basic – ie £250. This is a good deal as it is a permanent price reduction for you – if you sign up for it.
We are also looking to develop a group membership for people working in the same office. However, we need to get some coding work done to make it work the way we want – so Teams will be coming a bit later, probably in the new year.
The FREE Content
Some of the Landlord Law content will be available for everyone.
The News Blog – this is all open access and everyone, for example, will be able to read the critical news updates.
The Top Tips – these are updated and improved versions of our Landlord Law 2 free tips.
Three of our Trails – ‘trails’ are a special content type which leads you by question and answer to the correct solution. The three free trails are:
We also have a new Weekly Bulletin which will replace our former monthly newsletter and the Tuesday updater.
It will let you know about any new items in the News Blog, keep you up to date with critical and other legal news, and also feature some of our site content – often opening it up so you can see members-only content for the week.
You can sign up to get it here (and get a free ebook).
I hope you will go and take a look at the site and view our free content.
Another week of news items. I suppose the ones which is going to annoy landlords the most is on
Tenancy Deposits and the Tenant Fees Bill
It has now been confirmed that the government has caved into the tenant organisation demands and will limit deposits to five weeks rent rather than six, for tenancies with a rent of £50,000 pa (or £4,166.66) or less.
The response from landlord and agent bodies is that this will result in landlords being less likely to take on people with pets or take a chance on tenants.
David Cox of Arla Propertymark said
Once again politicians are attacking the industry for their own purposes.
Tenancy deposits have worked perfectly well for over a decade, and there is no basis in research that these amendments are necessary.
This move will do nothing but push the most vulnerable in our society away from professional landlords and agents, and into the hands of rogue landlords and agents who will exploit them.
I suspect that so far as potentially destructive pets are concerned, landlords will probably charge a premium rent to take account of the extra wear and tear or ask for a guarantee.
I’m not sure how the bill treats guarantees or how it will affect paid guarantee services such as Housing Hand. Does anyone know?
Reforming the wild west
Lord Best recently reported on the progress of his working party on letting and estate agent reform.
Describing the current regulatory system as the ‘wild west’ he said his group is working in four areas:
a single mandatory certificate for all agents and an end to the patchwork of different qualifications that currently exist
establishing a single Code of Practice for everyone working in the industry that gathers all the current codes into one tool
policing this by a single regulator covering all areas of the industry which “would have teeth” although the current ombudsman set-up would continue to handle complaints, along with a proactive body to prevent poor business behaviours, and
bringing managing agents into the scope of his reforms to prevent abuse of leaseholders
Most of those sound sensible so long as they do not go over the top with excessive regulation, which could push many agents who will already have lost income under the Tenant Fees Bill, over the edge.
Local Authorities again
As we have often commented elsewhere on this blog, there is not a lot of point in giving Local Authorities enforcement powers if they don’t have the staff or the funding to use them.
This is illustrated by a freedom of information request by Simple Landlords Insurance to 90 local authorities which found that most of them have more or less lost the plot. Out of the 90 Councils surveyed
65 (72%) had no idea how many unlicensed HMOs there may be in their area,
29 (32%) had no idea how many properties should come in under the new regulatory scheme
31 (34%) had not prosecuted any landlords at all for infractions of existing rules in the past two years.
Richard Truman, head of operations at Simple Landlords Insurance, said
Earlier this year, we found that 85% of landlords we spoke to weren’t aware of the looming HMO regulations. A month on from their implementation, we wanted to find out exactly what those landlords are facing on the ground.
The changes may be well-meaning, but a failure to support local authorities to communicate about them and enforce them is bad news – for good landlords and for tenants.
Client Money Protection
It looks as if insurers are not going to be liable for all losses and that their liability will be capped. A government update saying
Allowing schemes to set a limit per individual claimant ensures that they are not required to pay out without limit.
It will ensure that more sophisticated large corporate landlords take responsibility for the control of client money held on their behalf.
David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said:
It is disappointing that the Government’s plans will not offer full protection and we urge ministers to think again or they will undermine confidence in the scheme.
Otherwise, we will encourage landlords to ensure that they do not put all their eggs in one basket and spread the risk.
Minimum Energy Efficiency
The government has published the responses to its survey on the minimum level of energy efficinecy saying
The majority of responses were supportive of the government’s key proposal to amend the domestic minimum standard regulations to introduce a capped landlord contribution element. However, there was some disagreement over the proposed level of the cap, and a number of other specific proposals, with a range of views expressed on these issues.
The government’s response will be published later.
Ombudsman warns Councils
A new report the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King has told councils not to ‘throw out the rule book’ because of a lack of staff ‘when redesigning services in the face of budget and resource pressures.’
Michael King, said:
While I appreciate the challenges councils are dealing with, we cannot make concessions for failures attributed to budget pressures and must continue to hold authorities to account. Some of the pitfalls to avoid when redesigning services include ensuring changed services continue to meet statutory levels and timescales, or making sure discretionary powers are not replaced by a one-size fits all approach.’
The way councils have adapted and innovated in the face of huge challenges is to be admired. But the lesson from this report is for councils to get the basics right and not throw out the rule book when working under pressure. The core principles of good administration are more important than ever when undergoing major transformation.
Here is a question to the blog clinic from Alice (not her real name) who is a landlord
I am a Landlord. My tenancy agreement says that my tenant should arrange chimney sweeping every 9 months and provide a receipt.
He is regularly using an open fire and has advised me that it is, in fact, my responsibility and that the wording in the agreement is not corrrect. This would appear to be the case. Can you confirm, please?
NB He says he has swept it himself and has a qualification from years ago which entitles him to do this. My building insurers say that I need a proper certificate from a professional. I just want some clarity?
There are really two issues here
Who is responsible, and
Your insurer’s requirements
Who is responsible?
Under law, (section 11 onwards of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985) there are certain things which landlords are responsible for keeping in repair. This includes:
11 (1)(c) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.
There is a question mark over whether this would include the chimney and flues for an open fire. Having done a quick search on the internet:
This site believes that the wording DOES include flues and chimneys and the landlord is responsible for chimney sweeping. However,
The TDS site has a page which says that the tenant is responsible and
The relevant Shelter page seems at first glance to go both ways saying that the landlord is responsible for chimneys and ventilation and then lower down saying that you must keep chimneys and ventilation free of blockages!
The answer is almost certainly as follows:
The landlord is responsible for ensuring that at the start of the tenancy the chimney, flues and fireplace are in good order and repair, with the chimney swept and in a safe condition.
If during the tenancy the chimney, flues or fireplace fall into disrepair – then the landlord is responsible for dealing with this under the statutory repairing obligations.
However (unless the tenancy agreement says otherwise) the tenant is responsible for keeping the chimney free from blockages (ie soot!) and in a safe condition. This means having it swept regularly.
There is also a very old case from 1954, called Warren v. Keen, where Lord Denning discussed the tenant’s obligation to act in a ‘tenant-like manner’ under the common law.
The tenant must take proper care of the place. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler. He must clean the chimneys, where necessary, and also the windows. He must mend the electric light when it fuses. He must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste. In short, he must do the little jobs about the place which a reasonable tenant would do.
Your insurer’s requirements
If your insurance requires a certificate then it will be invalidated if a certificate is not provided. However, in your tenancy agreement, you only refer to a receipt. It does not (from what you have said) mention a certificate – which is different.
So at present, it looks as if you can require your tenant to get the chimney swept but not to obtain a certificate – only a receipt.
This is not sufficient to satisfy your insurance and so I am afraid you may need to get this work done yourself in order to obtain the certificate your insurers require.
This will not be implied into your tenancy agreement, by the way. You have to be precise in what you say.
I would suggest that you take a look at your insurance policy and see what else it requires, and make sure that this is included in any new tenancy agreement which your tenant signs at renewal.
After 28 years in rogue landlord enforcement, I have been surprised over the past three years at the amount of extra legislation and powers being tossed our way by government.
I think much of it prompted by Shelter’s rogue landlord campaign, which I was critical of back in 2012 for being an unhelpfully vague description.
I still think that of it, given the criminals I deal with, but I can’t deny it did do what it was designed to do – bring the problem to broader public awareness.
It seems these days rogue landlord porn TV programmes have supplanted cookery shows as the nation’s favourite watch. I know……I’m usually in half of them.
The Deregulation Act 2015
This placed a range of requirements on the creation of Assured Shorthold Tenancies that will invalidate a s21 notice which has made defending possession proceedings something a 6-year-old could do. Because the rubbish landlords who don’t bother to educate themselves or cut corners to save money, never get the notices right.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
This gifted us banning orders, a rogue landlord database and now there is compulsory registration and training in Wales,
We also have or will have
banning letting agent fees charged to tenants,
a new HMO definition,
the right of councils to keep all of the penalties charged, to use for enforcement and of course
the inclusion of harassment and illegal eviction to the list of things a Rent Repayment Order can be claimed for and the concomitant relaxing of the need for a prosecution before they can be applied for.
But, there is a problem…
Even five years ago people in my kind of job would never have imagined we would be in this environment, spoilt for choice.
Unfortunately, all these new powers came in at the same time that austerity cuts hit public services hard and councils responded by choosing to cut the wages bill to keep services going. Meaning the staff numbers available to employ the powers took a steep downward curve as the powers were moving in the opposite, upwards direction.
Lately, public, government and press alike are asking why things aren’t moving faster in the fight against criminal landlords. A couple of weeks back The Guardian ran a series of articles on the low enforcement figures and I wrote my own response then:-
Cuts are one reason and a big one.
The unwieldiness of the regulations, which are in practice fiendishly bureaucratic for the most part.
An inability of councils to recruit staff as people abandon the sector. One senior TRO of 12 years standing that I know, now runs a coffee shop and two homelessness officers with years of service, now drive busses.
The fact that the criminals who are the targets of enforcement use aliases, fake companies and obfuscation routinely to avoid prosecution.
Councils not working smart enough in their efforts to apply a multi-team approach – although I’ve noticed this changing quite rapidly this year as more get into the groove.
The Goremsandu Case
So given these challenges and sometimes justifiable criticisms I was mightily miffed to read in the Guardian the case of rogue landlord Katia Goremsandu, the subject of so much enforcement activity that she has sixty convictions for housing-related offences.
Nobody could accuse the enforcement teams of being slack there and a measure of how bad this woman actually is. Although she accused her tenants of damaging her property and had the temerity to view herself as the victim.
She has a reported portfolio of 17 properties across London, valued at over £500,000 a pop and an annual rental income of £188,000. In 2016 her housing fines stood at £71,000 which she wilfully refused to pay. The fines since then rising to over £143,000 as she carried on regardless of council enforcement.
In such circumstances, the standard procedure is for councils to force the sale of property to recover the debt. I doubt any decent landlord would have a problem with that concept in cases like Goremsandu’s and her flagrant disregard of the law, not to mention giving the middle finger to the courts.
It is after all, what government are encouraging council’s to do in order to tackle the problems and drive the criminals out of the sector.
So what did Highbury Magistrates do?
When they were faced with Ms. Goremsandu’s defence of her multi-million-pound property empire they refused the application to force a sale and gave her nine years to pay the fines.
This woman was banned from managing her own portfolio for ten years, she is that bad. She refused to voluntarily sell one of her properties to pay the fines and yet the courts protected her and gave her time to pay when ordinary people with limited income are fighting off bailiffs for £200 – £300 council tax bills.
The rogue landlord wins again
I don’t know whether this decision was arrived at by a bench or a single magistrate. But whoever it was, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Goremsandu is the embodiment of the kind of person that all this new legislation was brought in to deal with. The sixty prosecutions would have been the result of thousands of hours of enforcement officer time, countless tales of misery from her tenants – and yet the courts took the view that the establishment should support the rights and interests of property ownership and cut her slack that they would not do for a starving single mum caught shoplifting in M&S.
In cases like these, you have to seriously wonder if the decision makers were friends or family or if their bloody medication had just worn off.
I popped down to London on Thursday for the Legal Futures Innovation Conference to see what new things other law firms were doing.
Most law firms are still very traditional it seems but there are a few innovaters out there. For example Farillio sounds like a great idea if you are setting up a business. And I enjoyed the presentations by the ‘Legal Engineer’ from Wavelength Law and the CEO of Rradar.
You would think that by now there would be a clear and simple definition of a landlord, given the job has been around for time immemorial and in modern housing law terms at least since 1925 but nope….this is housing law we are talking about.
The standard dictionary definition is:
The owner or possessor of an estate in land or a rental property, who, in an exchange for rent, leases it to another individual known as the tenant.
Fairly simple and easy to grasp there but when it comes to practice things can and do get messy, a mess that is exploited by criminal landlords and agents to their own advantage, who can be a landlord when it suits them and nothing to do with the property when it doesn’t.
So here’s an example
I was recently training a homelessness unit, where a group of the delegates ran the council’s temporary accommodation section.
They had, in the customary manner, procured properties from landlords and used their own stock, mixing and matching as needs arise. Obviously, when their own stock is used they are indeed the landlords but some of their properties were under a Private Sector Leasing Scheme, where the owners leased the property to the council for 5 years to use as they saw fit, on the basis that the council were responsible for all repairs.
You see this all over the place but sometimes the council draws up a licensing contract with the owner and sometimes the council is listed as a tenant themselves and not with a commercial contract.
The council cannot be residential tenant chiefly because to be a residential tenant you have to reside in the property, which they clearly can’t.
Are they even the landlord of the occupants?
If rent or HB is given to the council who then pass it on to the owner does that not make them a managing agent?
Section 7 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 defines an agent as:-
(a) any agent of the landlord named as such in the rent book or other similar document, or
(b) the person who receives the rent of the dwelling,”
Suggesting that in Private Sector Leasing arrangements the council could be the agent while the owner is the landlord, despite the council’s contracts stating that they are the landlord.
Equally common is for letting agents to give contracts to the occupants detailing themselves as the landlord. This often cuts both ways, in that they will claim to be the landlord when it comes to applying for possession orders but when being leaned on by enforcement teams over repairs will point the finger at the owner as the person with responsibility.
I have dealt several times with a ‘For-profit housing association’ who lease properties from private landlords and act as landlords in all matters relating to the occupants, except when it comes time to carry out repairs, then they refer to the owner and despite officially being a housing association never use the Rent Arrears Pre-Action Protocol required of all social landlords, preferring at such times to simply call themselves the owner’s agent.
The Civil Procedure Rules and the case of Chesters Accommodation Agency v. Abebrese (1997) tells us clearly that a managing agent cannot sign a Statement of Truth, which is required for all court paperwork in possession cases and I have successfully defeated possession claims brought by agents on several occasions using this as an argument. So identifying who the landlord is, becomes very important when dealing with possession orders.
Judges often don’t enquire whether the agent who has taken the action is actually the landlord. Sometimes they are because they also own the property but often they don’t and the court grants possession anyway. In such cases, we have to apply to have the possession order set aside after it has been granted.
HMO’s are just as challenging
HMO licensing throws up interesting challenges as well Section 72 of the Housing Act 2004 states:-
‘(1) A person commits an offence if he is a person having control of or managing an HMO which
is required to be licensed under this Part (see section 61(1)) but is not so licensed.
It doesn’t mention ‘Landlord’ but instead opts for “A person having control or managing’.
The predictable “Not me Guvnor” finger pointing always makes itself known when licensing enforcement comes around but as you can see from the wording, it offers no protection, thanks to the looser wording, although it doesn’t stop them trying.
Friday’s case for example
Owner of property lives in Pakistan, he uses Fred Smith Lettings based in the high street to source a tenant for this three-bed family home. Fred Smith Lettings also get property licensed with the local authority but under someone working for Red Rose Lettings, who have no other involvement other than to be the license holder.
Fred Smith source the ‘Tenant’, who advertises online and puts 5 families in the single-family home, under the management control of Bluehouse Estates, a company based in Bulgaria who advertise properties through a facebook page in Bulgarian and use some guy who the occupants only know as Boris, when they have a problem with the boiler and all you have for Boris, is a mobile number.
Bluehouse serve an invalid s21 on one of the 5 families, who go to the council for advice, at which point the property comes on the enforcement radar and the threats against the tenant’s start. Boris visits the property and introduces the occupants to Anya, who he tells them is their new landlord and so on.
Not made up and such setups account for 9 out of 10 cases I deal with these days, although real names withheld and this “Who is the landlord, who is the agent” game rolls on.
But there are options here
The first task is to revoke the license, then go against either the owner or the persons’ with “Control”. Whilst Bluehouse are playing silly buggers in Burgas, Fred Smith Lettings is based in the High Street and thanks to the recent case of LB Camden v. (1) Leycam Ltd, (2) Citydeal Estates (London) Ltd (2018) can still be in the frame as a managing agent, even though they didn’t take any rent other than the initial rent in advance.
The looser definition in the Housing Act 2004 is not so useful when it comes to doing the Rent Repayment Order, where the FTT want to clearly identify who should put their hand in their pocket and all these musical chairs can create serious problems.
I’m following closely the passage of the Sublet Property (Offences) Bill, up for a second reading to see how this might impact this nonsense.
The new Landlord Law site is coming along nicely and we hope to be launching in a couple of weeks. I spent much of yesterday wrestling with the terms and conditions followed by filming some of the topic intro videos with Patrick.
When I finish this I’m going to put another one of the tenancy agreements online. So work continue apace.