[Ben Reeve Lewis regular Friday feature has been temporarily re-named – no news today, just a manifesto for world domination … (Note that Ben’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the management)]
If I Ruled the World.
I have been posting and tweeting a lot over the past week or so about rogue landlords, rogue agents and Shelter’s campaign. Plenty of others are still discussing these things so I figure it is still within the remit of a news round item……….well that’s my excuse Tessa.
But seriously I feel I am getting a reputation for slagging off when what I should really be doing is saying how I think the lettings business should be operating in the UK, rather than jeering from the side-lines. Give people the chance to jeer at me for a change.
So here is my Manifesto for a better deal for all in the renting world.
As you all know there is no government commitment to regulating landlords. The argument being there are enough rules and regulations in place for punishing offenders. It is certainly true there is a raft of legislation in place, the chief ones being
- The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 – which makes harassment and illegal eviction criminal offences.
- Breach of Covenant for Quiet Enjoyment – A civil way of dealing with the same thing.
- Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act – is regulation for punishing cases of disrepair.
- Compulsory HMO Licencing
There are also a bunch of ancillary things which plug various gaps, like Section 40 of the Administration of Justices Act, Section 4 of the Landlord and tenant Act, Sections 27 and 28 of the Housing Act 1988, and on and on.
In this I don’t disagree with either the government view or Shelter’s campaign to get council’s to be more pro-active in prosecuting rogues but it is not as simple as that. The theory is great but the actual execution is another matter.
TROs like me can’t act in isolation; we need the back-up of our own legal departments and the support of police and the courts. Most TROs will tell you we get none of that.
Nobody would argue with Shelter’s campaign to prosecute rogue landlords, even those not involved in housing hate bullies but they need to widen their focus, not just look to point score against hated councils. If they would call for judges to impose stiffer penalties and to simplify the prosecution system I would be the first person to sign up.
I find myself leaning towards a short sharp shock technique personally, preferably a civil matter where damages are far more punitive than criminal court and less complex to follow.
Unless you re-categorise harassment I can’t see that getting better, it is difficult to prove and often goes on out of hours where there are no witnesses. Illegal eviction however is another matter and is relatively easy to quantify and for that I think it should be a straight to court matter. A set civil penalty, like deposit protection was supposed to be, of say 3 times the annual rent, payable within 6 weeks to the unlawfully evicted tenant or face forced sale of the property to clear the debt.
That would stop it.
Mandatory licencing and compulsory, annual exams for all staff to maintain their licence. [Exams? That’ll scare off everyone! Ed]
My mate Eamonn is a plumber and every couple of years he has to sit exams to keep his right to fit central heating systems. Why not agents?
Back in the 1990s London was awash with immigration law centres, more often than not operated by some very dodgy characters with non-existent legal qualifications from god knows where. These people usually doubled as people traffickers, sweat shop owners (employing the people they trafficked for £2 an hour) and supplying accommodation that they pushed people around in because most were here illegally, on threat of bubbling them to the home office for deportation.
The government brought in proper licencing for them and they dropped away overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure they just got into other lines of work but they were driven out of housing.
All good agents should have no problem with this. If they are above board and professional they would welcome the rogues being driven out of business and the professionalization of their expertise.
Pressure should be brought to bear on the judiciary to impose maximum fines for harassment cases, £5,000 per offence, not a few hundred quid.
Six month Assured Shorthold tenancies should be extended to a minimum of 2 years to give some level of security and allow communities to grow. Recent figures in the English Homes Survey show a rental community in a constant state of moving, with only a small percentage of tenants being in their accommodation for more than 1 year.
Short lets might be encouraging for landlords but they disincentivise tenants to take ownership of their property and settle in. The transient nature of short lets destroys communities.
Shorten and simplify eviction processes.
An odd one for me to champion but if I am advocating longer fixed term agreements I know you will have to pick up the slack elsewhere. It takes far too long for a landlord to evict tenants.
The time alone provokes illegal evictions by desperate landlords owed money by feckless tenants. Also the cost of eviction makes many rogues weigh up the cost of doing things legally against a paltry fine for illegal eviction. [It doesn’t have to be expensive – Ed]
Get rid of bloody LHA and give tenants the choice of direct payments to the landlords. A survey this week confirmed everyone’s fears that rather than lower rents for housing benefit tenants, landlords are moving away from them in droves.
Why should landlords be expected to underwrite the government’s austerity drive? Landlords are effectively small businesses. Are they asking Lloyds or Barclays to do it? No they would tell them to get stuffed and walk off to Marbella with their million pound bonuses.
Change the rules for disrepair:
At the moment, under Section 11 of the LTA a landlord is obliged to carry out certain structural repairs. That legal obligation exists even if the tenant owes the landlord £5,000 rent and the landlord is facing repossession.
Other countries have rules whereby if the tenant doesn’t pay their rent the landlord doesn’t have to do the repairs. Similarly though, if the landlord doesn’t do the repairs the tenant can withhold rent. I quite like the give and take simplicity of that.
Grants for small landlords.
We need landlords to invest in property because there is a property shortage and people can’t afford deposits to buy. Start council departments to help people get into landlording with full support, in terms of advice and grants.
Solar panels will wipe out tenants electricity bills, provide extra income for landlords selling the excess electricity on and qualify them for tax relief for eco conversions.
I actually believe all this stuff and at the same time I know I am being provocative.
Vote me in as housing Tsar and I promise I will bring these changes in. Like all politicians, I also promise to fiddle my expenses and employ Glenn Mulcair to hack your phone if you complain.
Ben Reeve Lewis
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