In 1999 Lord Wolfe completely reformed the court procedures to allow greater access to justice so that ordinary people were better able to use the system of arcane rules more easily, but he specifically commented:-
“Procedural reform can have only a limited impact on housing law . the main source of difficulty is the complexity of the substantive law itself. . . . The Department of the Environment should look at this as a matter of urgency. The Law Commission should be invited to carry out a review of housing law with a view to consolidating the various statutory and other provisions in a clear and straightforward form.”
The root and branch reform of housing law never happened and since 1999 a raft of new housing legislation has passed through as well as thousands of bits of case law, just to make life more difficult for all concerned.
Tracking down legal principles and then trying to understand exactly what they mean has never been harder for landlords, agents, council homelessness officers and housing advisers.
There are many books aimed at lawyers and specialists out there. Very good ones too, LAG’s ‘Defending Possession Proceedings’ is a must for anyone involved in repossessions, whether applying for the possession order or defending against them but there is a dearth of books written in a way that non-lawyers can understand and find what they are looking for easily.
Enter my new best friend. “Housing Law Handbook” by Diane Astin.
I started off in frontline housing advice in 1990 but only came across this book on the second edition back in 2011. Since that time as both a housing law trainer and a Tenancy Relations Officer it has become my go-to book of choice for a quick answer.
Good things about the book
It’s the speed of access that really wins out for me, not just the clear, remarkably jargon free explanatory text.
The sub headings in the Contents list are bang on. Looking to clarify family rights when a tenant dies? Its right there. Got a tricky homelessness query? Takes you straight to the relevant bit.
In the training room you always get asked questions whose answers aren’t in the front of your mind. ‘Housing Law’ helps me find an answer without sitting like a plum for minutes leafing through pages, muttering “Hang on, its in here somewhere”.
The ability to navigate fast is also a winner for frontline housing staff in busy offices with a client in the interview room and 4 more people in the queue.
They don’t have time to ponder 20 pages of Law Lords summations on BAILLI, they need to find what they can do to help that person and do it quick, so they can get onto the next person.
The visual layout also helps the speed of navigation in that the case law that is dotted throughout the book is highlighted in their own grey boxes, so you can pick them out quickly from the body of the text and see if they are helpful to what you are researching.
New things in the Third Edition
The Third edition, having been published in March 2015 is about as bang up to date as you could possibly wish for, including laws and regulations that technically aren’t actually in yet.
Either Diane Astin has a crystal ball or inside gossip because she gives us information on the ‘Right to rent scheme’, (The one everyone except government calls the ‘Landlords as immigration inspectors scheme’) and we didn’t know until after the election in April whether that was going to be rolled out.
It will be…so well done Diane for making an accurate assumption.
Also new in the third edition are the Deregulation Act changes, still being ushered in for the most part and the new grounds for eviction under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 that many councils and housing associations have still to get to grips with.
The Deregulation Act changes should be of interest to landlords everywhere as they have created 9 different ways that the wheels can come off of your section 21 notice.
Homelessness officers across the land will be pouncing on these as ways to defeat possession claims and prevent homelessness, I know, because they tell me.
A book for the Private Sector too
Its not just a good book for housing advisers though.
Landlords and letting agents tend to operate in the field of ‘Loan to value ratios’ and ‘Void periods’ but in actual fact, that is only about a quarter of the picture. The rest is housing law and it’s the absence of this knowledge that can cause so much aggravation, excess cost and heartache.
(Although many private sector landlords will probably find the book a bit expensive at £55 from Amazon)
‘Housing Law third edition’ is the answer to everyone’s needs.
Since the second edition in 2011 I’ve been recommending it to my training course delegates as the must-have book on your desk.
I lent my battered old second edition copy to a colleague to bone up for an interview with. He got the job but didn’t return the book. Fortunately a week later the third edition dropped through my letterbox, so I texted him, generously saying “Hey don’t worry about it. Keep it”.
Now guess who is ahead of the game?
You can buy Housing Law Handbook 3rd Edition from Amazon