Also coming into force on 1 April is the government’s new database of bad letting agents and landlords and the introduction of banning orders for the worst offenders (which Ben wrote about here).
However, the database will only be available to Council officials, not the public. David Cox, the CEO of ARLA criticised this saying
“This is a truly ridiculous piece of legislation.
“What is the point of banning people when no one will know who’s been banned?
“We were very supporting of the concept – we want to see the eradication of bad letting agents and landlords. But how will this help?
“A public list would protect consumers. This won’t.”
The same article also discusses the new minimum room sizes coming into force at the same time, which Cox also criticised saying:
“Older properties often have box rooms, which are used as bedrooms and are often cheaper to rent.
“If box rooms cannot be used as bedrooms, there will be fewer tenants in shared accommodation and so they will have to pay more.”
GDPR deadline on 25 May
I wrote about this earlier this week here, but you may also be interested in this post on Property Industry Eye where the Information Commissioner debunks some scaremongering myths.
But again, this is a serious change in the law and you need to be informed and prepare for it.
Howard Davies v Scott – a tenancy deposit case
A country Court case (reported on Nearly Legal) where a landlord was ordered to pay the full 3x the deposit penalty to the tenants – so is worth reading for that alone.
However, the Judge was not altogether on the site of the tenants as she refused their claim that a second award of the penalty fall due when the tenancy became periodic:
The Judge accepted the proposition that the periodic tenancy arising at the end of a fixed term was a new tenancy (section 5 Housing Act 1988 and Superstrike Ltd. v. Rodrigues (2013) EWCA Civ 669) but disagreed with submissions that a second penalty was payable when the statutory tenancy arose in April 2015. She referred to section 214 of the Housing Act 2004 which refers to “a penalty, a tenancy and a deposit” in the singular, and noted that the opportunity to clarify the point in the Deregulation Act amendments to Housing Act 2004, after Superstrike, had not been taken.
Which will be welcome news for many landlords. However Nearly Legal disagrees with the decision and in the comments, there is a list of other country court cases where the Judges took a different view.
It would be good if someone could take this issue to the Court of Appeal so the matter could be settled once and for all.
I expect you have already seen reports on the news that as well as having inferior cladding, the tower also had inadequate fire doors which have now been shown to be half as fire resistant as they were supposed to be.
However, you may have missed the report about Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur, who believes that the UK government may have failed to comply with its international human rights obligations.
Farha, who said her visit was not to make a formal assessment of Grenfell, said she was concerned that survivors and local residents had been stereotyped and discriminated against on the basis that they lived in social housing. This meant they may have been treated less as people with human rights, and more as objects of charity.
“Residents told me they feel the government’s position is that they should feel lucky that they are going to be rehoused and that they should feel lucky that they had social housing. That doesn’t suggest residents feel the government recognises them as rights holders.
“The fact that so many residents have said to me they are not being treated as human beings is suggestive of a society that is structured in a way where those in social housing are viewed perhaps as counting less. And that is deeply troubling.”
I suspect that she is correct in her views, but whether anything will ever be done about it is another matter. For example, no doubt large numbers of the hapless residents still need to be rehoused despite all the promises made at the time of the fire to rehouse them quickly.
Section 21 too difficult?
There is a report on Property Industry Eye today saying that there has been a drop in the number of section 21 claims, at least by eviction specialists Landlord Action, because the procedure has become too complex and time-consuming.
Many landlords, having failed to inform themselves of the rules at the time of renting the property, are finding that they a not able to use the section 21 procedure because they have failed to set the tenancy up properly. Either they have failed to protect their tenancy or they have failed to serve the gas safety certificate or EPC.
If they are renting their own property or require it back to live in themselvees, a more straightforward procedure would be ground 1 but of course, most landlords will have failed to serve that notice too,
NB Landlords wanting guidance on eviction will find some help here.
Is the housing crisis driven by immigration?
Whatever you think about the Spectator this article has some worrying figures which if true go to show that immigration is much greater and is having more effect that many of our news services are prepared to say.
For example, an increase of 1.7 million more residents in Greater London in two decades is a lot of people to absorb.
I don’t have any objection to immigrants per se – like probably everyone else in this country I have at least some immigrants in my ancestry, and we all know how important they are for jobs in farming and the NHS. However, if the Spectator figures are correct, it makes worrying reading.
How on earth can we house all these people when we already have a housing crisis?
Government launches a survey of landlords and agents – read about it here.
Most people it seems won’t give up Avocado toast in order to get on the housing ladder (what?)
Plans to use the site of Holloway Prison for social housing discussed here.
If you are worried about the ever-increasing burden of regulation and despair of ever getting your head around it all – the Landlord Law Conference (sponsored by TDS) is here again to help you.
On Friday 18 May 2018
We will reconvene at the fabulous Sprowston Manor Hotel and Country Club for a day of learning and enjoyment. Let’s take a look at the learning first. As usual, we have ten half-hour talks (long enough to be useful, short enough to keep your interest) as follows:
The Year in Review – housing barrister Sam Madge Wyld’s overview of regulation changes and new case law over the past year and a quick look into the future at what is to come
Rent to Rent, pitfalls and procedure – rent to rent is popular but can be tricky and sometimes disastrous. Solicitor and RLA director of policy David Smith gives us a guide.
Tenancy Agreements and the Courts – housing barrister Peter Marcus was one of the most popular speakers last year. This year he turns his attention to tenancy agreements
Letting Agent Regulation – ARLA CEO David Cox comes back to take us through the main developments that agents need to know about, including no doubt the tenant fee legislation.
Tax Update – Philip Hunt of Aston Shaw accountants will be looking at any recent tax changes and giving advice for landlords
Tenancy Deposit Adjudications – always popular, in this talk by TDS Director of Dispute Resolution Mike Morgan gives tips and guidance on how to get the best results
HMO Update – the HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) regulations will be changing in October and in his second talk, David Smith will be bringing us up to date with this and any other new HMO related developments
Avoiding problems with Section 21 – Housing Barrister Robert Brown will be taking us through the latest legal changes and giving guidance on how to comply with all the new rules
Unlawful Eviction and the Courts – In his second talk, Peter Marcus will be looking at the penalties and problems when landlords fail to follow the proper eviction procedures
Identifying Rental Fraud – our own Ben Reeve Lewis returns to Conference with some stories from the seamy side of renting.
Other Conference Benefits
Everyone always agrees that the conference is a great day out. It’s a time to meet new people and make new friends.
Maybe over lunch? The Sprowston Manor provided the best lunch we have ever had at our conferences last year – a sit down hot and cold buffet – very welcome after a busy morning.
You will also get our Conference Handbook – a valuable item in itself as it has our speaker’s detailed notes so you don’t forget anything.
Then there are the exhibitors. TDS, our lead sponsors, of course, are there to answer any deposit related questions. However, we also have solicitors Anthony Gold, accountants Aston Shaw, ARLA, the Property Redress Scheme, the Bank of Scotland, MW FInance, Envirovent, and the Eastern Landlords Association not to mention insurers Total Landlord Insurance and Alan Boswell Group.
NB If your firm caters to landlords / letting agents we still have room for one or two more exhibitors – see here.
Learning and laughter
Landlord Law Conference is a serious training event but its also a fun day and some of the speakers can be quite funny! The venue is also rather lovely and being surrounded by grass and trees helps give a good atmosphere.
Although sometimes perceived as being remote, Norwich is in fact only two hours by train from London. If you prefer to drive there is a huge free car park for delegates. If you live at a distance – why not stay over? The hotel is four star, has its own golf course, swimming pool and sauna, and we have negotiated special rates for delegates. Plus we always arrange a ‘night before’ meal where you can meet the organisers, other delegates and some of the speakers and exhibitors.
We look forward to welcoming you to our 2018 Conference.
Here is a question to the blog clinic from Larry (not his real name) who is a tenant.
Hi, I signed a lease on 1 Oct 2011 and the deposit was never returned to me. Have I missed the deadline to make a claim, please? I have been told I can claim within 6 years but having looked at the legislation I cannot see where this is written.
The law regarding the time limit for bringing claims is set out in an act called the Statute of Limitations. This act sets out time periods within which you can bring court proceedings for different types of claim.
Your deposit was paid under a contract. The limitation period for contractual claims is six years. The time runs from the date when the claim arose.
So, in your case, the time limit will run, not from the date when the lease was signed, but the date by which the landlord was supposed to return the deposit, i.e. the date when the landlord was first in breach of his obligation to return the money to you.
The exact date will depend on the terms of your contract and probably also the terms of the deposit scheme. However, let us say it was 1 October 2013. You will then have six years from that date to bring a claim, and so will need to file your paperwork at the court not later than 30 September 2019.
If a claim is brought after the limitation period has expired, lawyers describe it as being ‘statute barred’ and the defendant can defend and get the claim thrown out on that basis.
Mind you, this does not mean that the money is not due at all – it just means that you have lost your chance to bring a claim for it through the courts. So if you are able to claim it back in some other way – for example offsetting it against money you owe the landlord, this is (so far as I am aware) still allowable.
GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and refers to the new Data Protection rules which will come into force on 25 May.
Now before you click away thinking “this does not apply to me” be aware that:
If you are a landlord it DOES apply to you (even if you just have one rented property), and
The fines for noncompliance are up to the larger of 4% of your turnover or 20 million Euros.
So if you get things wrong you could lose out big time.
The data in question is personal data. Information about people which if it got into the wrong hands could cause them untold damage. If you hold people’s data you are expected to look after it.
The new rules are a lot more onerous than the old and the deadline is creeping up on us. So if you are a landlord or a letting agent and have not started your preparation yet, here is a plan of action to help you.
1. Make sure you are registered
If you are a landlord or letting agent – you should already be registered with the Information Commissioners Office. The Information Commissioner enforces the Data Protection rules.
Everyone who holds and processes (ie uses) data needs to be registered. There are very few exceptions and they probably won’t apply to you. If you are not registered, you need to get this done asap – check the ICO website here.
2. Do a list of the type of data that you hold
So, for example, if you are a landlord or letting agent:
You will hold personal details about your tenants.
If you are a letting agent you will have details about your landlords.
You may also hold details about ‘prospects’ eg your mailing list, for example, if you regularly send information or promotional emails or letters out to prospective landlords or tenants
3. Do a list of the places where it is held
For example, if you are receiving this post via email, then I will hold some details (your email address and maybe your name) on Aweber which is the software used to send most of the blog post mailings. Or, if you have been subscribing for a long time, on Feedburner.
There will probably (particularly if you are a letting agent) be more than one place where you hold data – for example, your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, any separate service used to send out newsletters (e.g. Constant Contact or MailChimp), your accounts software, etc.
4. Check that those places are GDPR compliant
If data is held online it should be on a secure site and be password protected. However, there is more to it than that. You need to contact your service to find out what they are doing.
Most of these services are fully aware of the new rules and should have a policy statement somewhere. Find out where it is and keep a record of it. Most reputable services will ensure that they are compliant by the deadline of 25 May.
But remember – if you input people’s data onto these services YOU are responsible for its safety as well as the service company.
5. Check that you have permission from people to use their data in the way that you are using it.
For example, if Mrs A gave you her email address in connection with her application for a tenancy that does not necessarily mean that she gave her permission for you to send marketing mailings to her.
If you are using data from a purchased list to send out marketing emails you need to be very careful. Even if you created your mailing list in-house, it may be best to start again from scratch so you can be sure that you have everyone’s permission. This is what I am doing here.
Remember that it has to be an active ‘opt-in’. One of the purposes of the new rules is to reduce spam and unwanted mailings – so make sure that you can show that everyone on YOUR list has actively consented to get your mailings.
6. Do a ‘privacy page’ on your website
This needs to set out in detail what you do with people’s data and inform people what they can do if they want to unsubscribe or get their data deleted.
My privacy page (still a work in progress) is here. Take a look also at the ICO privacy notice page here.
Once you have this set up you should link to it from all your mailings, particularly any automatic mailings.
7. Appoint a Data Protection Officer
If you are a small firm or one-man band – this will probably be you!
The Data Protection Officer’s job is to monitor compliance, ensure that your employees are informed of their duties under the regs, and to be the first point of contact for members of the public contacting you about data protection issues, and also the authorities (i.e. the ICO). Generally, the Data Protection Officer will be responsible for compliance within your organisation.
They should be someone of reasonable seniority and have the authority to make any necessary charges.
If your organisation is quite large (or even if it is not), you should arrange for your Data Protection Officer to have suitable training.
Here are a few other suggestions.
Keep a diary or record of actions taken
Use this to record any work you do preparing for the GDPR so if the ICO contact you about a breach you can show them that you are taking it seriously.
Answer the ICO GDPR checklist.
You will find this here. Keep a record of your answers and review it from time to time. Maybe keep your answers as part of your diary. Again it will go to show the ICO that you are preparing as best you can.
Needless to say, take any action which is flagged up by the ICO checklist – do not assume that my checklist is the final answer! It is only a starting point.
Make sure that your tenancy agreements include suitable Data Protection clauses.
Thank you to everyone who came along to our Ending Tenancies workshop on Thursday (and to our sponsors Anthony Gold). Despite the fact that I was down with the dreaded cold / cough / whatever, it seemed to go alright.
By the way, for all those with uncontrollable coughs, I have discovered that gargling with salt water is revolting but effective.
Friday again. Lets see what news items we can find.
Crisis in buy to let?
There are a lot of articles around just now, such as this one, saying that landlords are selling up and moving out of the Private Rented Sector largely due to issues with increased tax burdens and increased regulation which is putting them off.
However, on the other hand, we have this article in Landlord Today which says that although being a landlord may not be as profitable as it was before:
The impact of the tax changes has been greatly exaggerated
There is a difference between ‘deciding’ to sell up and actually doing it
Around 30% landlords are accidental and are likely to remain, and most importantly
What other investments are there with the sort of return you get from rented property?
Needless to say, these conclusions, especially those on tax, are disputed in the comments.
The other response to the problems facing landlords is to increase the rent.
It looks as if this is happening especially in the East Midlands and the Eastern Counties.
The Problems with Planning
Mrs May has recently criticised Local Authorities for being ‘anti-development’. However, this article in the Guardian by Ben Rodgers argues that the problem is much more complicated.
For a start, there is a lack of expertise in Councils, something which has been happening over the past 40 years or so (which I discussed in my post here.)
In 1976, 49% of UK architects worked for the public sector. Today it is 0.9%, and only 0.2% in London. Over the same period, important roles in planning departments, including those of architect-planner, borough architect and chief planner, have simply disappeared.
Which, the Rogers continues
marks a loss of public sector capacity to engage with local residents, to plan and design new schemes, or to effectively engage with private developers. Master plans can be commissioned from world-leading architects, and housing can be built by joint ventures, housing associations or private developers, but if borough planners are struggling to keep up with their day-to-day workload of applications, councils lose the ability to carry out strategic planning or to ensure that developers deliver on their commitments.
Many Councils are being innovative with the resources they have, but the Rogers argues that
we won’t get the new housing we need without well-resourced, highly skilled and locally engaged planning departments. And that requires the government to acknowledge a deeper problem at the heart of our planning system.
The number of CCJs (many of which will be for rent arrears) rose by 59% over the past 4 years and the Ministry of Justice consulted last year on reforms to protect the public. However, the general view among the respondents to the consultation seems to have been that the Ministry’s proposals did not go far enough.
Top things that worried them were
the effort needed to dismiss a case and
the time that judgments stay on an individual’s record
said that consumers should be alerted of claims by email as well as post, and that they should also be able to carry out a free online search for any judgments against them. The Society added: ‘We suggest action could be taken to provide clearer public information, educating consumers of how and when they may be able to set aside default judgments.’
The Bar Council
said the proposals will result in the ‘unsatisfactory’ situation of a claim remaining on the register for many years, even it was served at an incorrect address. The body said it ‘does not consider that it is satisfactory that a CCJ should remain on a consumer’s credit record where they have been served at an address at which the consumer does not reside.’
The council also suggested creating a specific process for setting aside default judgment when service has been made to an incorrect address.
The Civil Justice Council
welcomed the proposals but criticised the length of time (six years) that a judgment stays on a person’s record. A six-year register entry ‘and subsequent poor credit’ rating is onerous in some circumstances, it said, suggesting a system where the length of registration is linked to the value of the debt.
We will have to see what responses if any the Ministry makes to all this.
A campaign to axe VAT on landlord safety products
This, reported on Property Industry Eye is a petition which has been launched asking the government to exercise its discretion to remove VAT on various safety products including Gas Safety Certificates.
Of course, it is not specifically aimed to help landlords as such, it is aimed at ‘safety products & services for residential homes’. However, landlords would be a major beneficially of such a change.
The campaign is supported by various celebrities including Ultravox singer Midge Ure, former Liverpool, England footballer Jamie Carragher and West End actress Carley Stenson (all of whom I suspect may have invested some of their earnings in the property market).
The campaign makes the very valid point that MOT inspections are zero rates as they save lives. Items highlighted on the petition page to be zero-rated are smoke alarms, annual gas safety checks, fire blankets, and carbon monoxide detectors.
April sees the commencement of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, a radical overhaul of nearly 40 years of existing homelessness law.
A piece of legislation that is being greeted by many in the business with the same enthusiasm as Charlton Heston in the end scene of the original Planet of the Apes, when he comes across the statue of Liberty on the beach.
Given that my work in rogue landlord enforcement often impinges upon homelessness casework, and the fact that I teach both branches of housing law, I am naturally curious about the link between the two fields.
Points of note for landlords
I thought I would highlight parts that may be of interest to landlords, leaving out things like changes to local connection rules for care leavers, or duties of public bodies to refer.
My aim here is not to argue the practicalities of this Curate’s Egg of legislation (God knows, I’d be here all day) but to explain what is being required of councils in terms of their relationship with private landlords.
Mindset needs to change
The main thrust is simply that the mindset of homelessness units has to swivel around to focus more on homelessness prevention at an early stage. Getting involved much earlier on in the process, whether a potential applicant is facing rent arrears before the landlord even realises it, or picking up people about to be discharged from prison, hospitals and the armed forces.
That point alone tells you that simply dealing with a case when they walk through the door of the Town Hall is not going to satisfy the new requirements.
Code of guidance
As with the Housing Act 1996, the HR Act comes with its own code of guidance, which interestingly states in paragraph 6.33:-
“Housing authorities will be mindful of the need to maintain good relations with landlords providing accommodation in the district”.
A point I shall return to shortly.
One major change that is causing concern
If only in terms of officer time spent, is the brand new requirement inserted as s189a of the Housing Act 1996, at the start of a case to produce a written “Personal Housing Plan”, that is used as a map to guide the applicant through their homelessness process.
The gist of this is for applicant and caseworker to sit down and agree on a list of actions each will take. But the legislation holds some curious wording:-
“The authority may include in a written record produced under subsection (5) or (6) any advice for the applicant that the authority consider appropriate (including any steps the authority consider it would be a good idea for the applicant to take but which the applicant should not be required to take)”
The eyes of everyone in my end of the business are alighting on the phrase “Good Idea”. Knowing full well how many legal challenges there are already to the interpretation of the word “Reasonable”.
How long is a piece of string?
A caseworker may consider it a “Good idea” for a homeless applicant to relocate to an area where the rents are more affordable for them but will the applicant and/or their solicitors, also consider this “A good idea”?
William Hill should open up betting odds on the first Judicial Review challenge with that one. I’ll give it a week.
Statistics are going to change
Persons currently threatened with homelessness within 28 days are considered officially a homelessness statistic but this is now being rolled out to 56 days. On the plus side, this gives the local authority extra time to get something sorted but it also means that a spike will appear in homelessness statistics, as those previously not recorded will now appear.
Landlords may be interested to read about section 4 of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 replacing section 195 of the Housing Act 1996, widening the duties on homelessness prevention and specifically as referenced by paragraph 12.4 of the code of guidance, which states:-
“The first option to be explored, with the applicant should be enabling them to remain in their current home, where suitable. Where this is not possible, the focus should be on helping to secure accommodation that the applicant can move into in a planned way. This will often involve taking steps to extend an applicant’s stay in their existing accommodation until they can move”.
The code specifically states “The first option”, so evidently, this is where many homelessness units in areas of high demand, think London, are going to focussing their efforts….as the code advises them to.
This may involve benign things, such as clearing rent arrears, negotiating with landlords, offering rent top-ups or it could also mean defending possession applications, through the identification of things like invalid section 21 notices.
There are twelve different legal breaches that can invalidate such notices and as tenancy sustainment is the ‘First option’, it seems reasonable to assume that much attention will be paid to repossession paperwork.
Balance that off against keeping the landlord happy
Though I wonder how that approach might play out against the aforementioned para 6.33 of the new code, to maintain good relations with landlords providing accommodation in the district.
The ways that different councils go about meeting the prevention duty will, of course, differ widely depending on whether that authority deals with 150 homelessness cases in a year, in a rural council or 6,000+ as with an average London authority, limited in options by swinging benefit caps v. market rents in the capital.
The HR Act widens the duty of care
The new ‘Relief Duty’ set out in s5 of the HRAct also requires the council to offer greater services to those who were not previously owed much of a duty, namely single people, to take ‘Reasonable’ (that word again) steps to secure accommodation for at least 6 months.
How does this look in reality?
So, a duty to find homes for more people than they had to before, in a situation where, in many areas, benefit caps don’t match rents and landlords are reluctant to rent to anyone coming through the homelessness route, whether because of a negative image of such people or a refusal to entertain working with councils.
That’s the background and practicalities folks.
We need a growth mindset
Personally, I think much can be done but the cultural mindset of many local authority homelessness units is really going to have to change to make it work.
Some councils are well on top of things and ready for D-Day, whilst others are just staring like a rabbit at a headlight wondering how the hell they are going to cope when the doors open on the 3rd of April.
The HR Act is a version of something that’s been operating in Wales for a couple of years. I recently spoke to the head of homelessness for one Welsh local authority and he informed me that the sky didn’t fall in as they were expecting but Wales is not Manchester, neither is it Hackney or Birmingham.
So we’ll have to see. It really will be a mixed set of response on an area by area basis.
Here is a question to the blog clinic from Linkdrick who is (or will be) a landlord.
I will be a live-in Landlord in a semi-detached house, living in a self-contained extension recently built, with a communicating fire door into main house. I want to rent main house; shared use of garden and a store room/utility/summer room. Extension is all electric, with landlord’s separate sub-meters for water and electricity.
Are the new occupiers tenants or lodgers?
Do I need a licence or AST?
Do safety regulations (fire exits, gas fire/boiler carbon monoxide) apply just the same as live-out landlords?
Are 3 single men living here classed as 3 households if they move in? Is this an HMO?
Is a family group with children counted as “one” unit rather than 4 or 5 separate persons?
What difference does it make for Landlord to live in as regards regulations?
Ideally, I seek some sort of association or family interaction, but it depends on who I get.
Here are some quick answers to your questions.
1 If the property is self contained they will probably be tenants. A lodger generally means someone who shares living accommodation (kitchen, bathroom, living room etc) with the landlord. There is a lot of free information about lodgers on my Lodger Landlord website.
2 Probably neither. If you live in the same building it cannot be an assured shorthold tenancy. It will either be a common law tenancy or a license – for example if you provide services such as cleaning which allows you unfettered access to the property it will be a license (provided you actually provide the cleaning services). But I suspect that in your case it will be a common law tenancy.
4. Three single men who are unrelated will make the property an HMO. If they are brothers or cousins it would not be an HMO. See here for some guidance.
5. If they are a family then they will probably be one household. It depends whether they fit the rules,. Again, take a look at this page
6. If you are a residential landlord then it cannot be an AST so the rules specific to ASTs will not apply – for example sections 21 and 8 notices. This does not mean it will be harder for you to evict if necessary though. The rules are just different thats all. The tenancy will be a common law or unregulated tenancy.
There is more detailed information about common law tenancies on my Landlord Law site for members, together with suitable tenancy agreements. .
Here is a question to the blog clinic from Paul (not his real name) who is a landlord.
My tenant has been growing weed in the roof and cellar, but I only saw the equipment for growing weed and a a few leaves(buds) on the floor.
The tenant also changed the locks without asking me. I forgot to put the deposit in a government registered scheme, so can’t give a section 21.
What can I do please as we would like him to leave and worry he is going to stay. He is not paying rent also.
There are several issues here:
Failure to protect the deposit is unfortunate but not fatal. If you want to use section 21 you can, but first you will need to refund the deposit money to the tenant. You can only offset his rent arrears with his consent (which should be in writing or otherwise you will not be able to prove it).
I have a special kit I have written to help landlords in this situation which you can see here.
Note however that once you are in breach of the deposit regulations you become liable to a claim for the penalty of between one and three times the deposit. There is nothing you can do about this. I suspect you would probably be liable for the 2x award for the reasons set out here.
Although there are grounds for possession you can use which relate to his growing of weed, these would be discretionary grounds and I would not recommend using them for reasons set out here.
If the rent arrears are over two months, you could normally use the mandatory rent arrears ground, but in your case, the tenant would be able to apply for the penalty for breach of the deposit rules, which would then be offset against your claim.
Unless the arrears are very serious, this would either wipe out your arrears altogether or bring them down to less than two months.
So in my view, your best bet would be to bite on the bullet, refund the deposit money, and use section 21.
If your tenant has changed the locks there is not much you can do about this now.
However, if this was in breach of the terms of your tenancy agreement you may be able to bring a claim against his deposit for any financial losses you may suffer as a result of this – for example, if you need to change the locks back again.