On Thursday I caught part of Barrister Peter Marcus’s Easy Law Training workshop on landlord’s repairing obligations.
Attendees included some Landlord Law regulars I have come to know and other landlords and letting agents wanting to increase their knowledge of landlord-tenant law as a sound basis for running their businesses.
Amidst the flurry of websites encouraging people to become landlords, talking of the financial benefits of yields and loan to value ratios little is made of the legal aspects of what happens when things go Pete Tong (“Wrong”………giving away my 1990s clubbing roots)
Tessa and I come from different sides of the track. Her clients are decent landlords wanting to educate themselves and do things right, whereas I come from years of dealing with scumbags and criminals who are landlords by default, simply because where there is property there is money.
So I always find it heartening to meet Tessa’s clients, it restores my faith in human nature.
A problem is told
My reverie was shattered however upon leaving the workshop and spending half an hour on the phone to a mate in council housing advice, whilst standing outside Gloucester Rd Tube station.
She has a unique problem from the bottom-feeder end of the spectrum that as well as being interesting from a legal perspective, also provides a perfect illustration of the kinds of problems that can beset a decent landlord, swimming in a tank full of sharks.
Treat this as a housing law essay question and see what you make of it. Its real life and its ongoing as we speak.
Landlord Mr A owns two flats side by side. Both are rather run down and not fit to be let, So he has pulled them from the market for the past few months whilst he builds reserves of cash to do them up.
His normal ‘letting Agent B ltd’ also have the properties on hold, until such time as they are fully functional.
Somehow, in the mix there ‘Persons unknown’ who we shall call ‘Agent C’ have procured a set of keys and advertised both properties for let on a well-known property portal. Modesty and a fear of a libel suit precludes me from mentioning their names but suffice to say they are massive in both the property lettings market and a complete lack of willingness to tackle people abusing their services.
Flat 1 is let to a family.
The council have intervened and pronounced the property a death trap and have placed the family in temporary accommodation, pending re-housing. No fault on Landlord A , or letting agent B as they didn’t rent it out anyway.
However, new occupants have moved in, without sight of a tenancy agreement.
Rubbish in the front garden and neighbour complaints about dubious comings and goings have alerted a different arm of the council to eradicate allegations of anti-social behaviour against occupiers whose security of tenure are as yet unknown.
Flat 2 next door suffers from the same uninhabitable conditions as flat 1. None of which is the fault of landlord Mr A or letting agent B because they are not letting them out.
The council haven’t closed the property down because they are mindful that unlike the occupants of flat 1, the residents are all single, therefore not eligible for homelessness assistance and they don’t want to throw people on the street.
Trouble is, the residents of flat 2 claim to hold a tenancy agreement with a person that none of them know the name of, stating that he comes to the property once a month to collect rent which they pay in cash.
When asked to see the tenancy agreement they announced that the sole tenant who has a copy is visiting family in Romania and mysteriously has taken the contract with them……well you would wouldn’t you?
Upon being apprised of this situation by my friend my immediate response was to laugh like Brian Blessed and to utter two words….the second being ‘Off’.
But what is the legal situation here?
Are they licensees?, Are they tenants? If so what kind of tenants?
What legal questions should we ask to clarify what rights people have and what procedure the landlord needs to follow to regain control of his property?
Where did fake ‘Agent C’ get the keys in the first place? Does ‘Agent C’ have the legal power to grant a sub tenancy?
Are they squatters? In which case why don’t the police simply arrest under s144 of LASPO?
If poor ‘Landlord A’ goes to court for an Interim Possession Order, treating the occupiers as squatters what happens if they produce evidence that they have a tenancy agreement?
If residents of Flat 2 have a written agreement, who let people into flat 1 after the council re-housed them? And under what arrangement?
This is not an exhaustive list of legal questions but it is not an uncommonly complicated situation given how many bad guys there are out there, operating with no regard to the legal niceties.
This is the world of ‘Rent to rent’, a new phenomenon that is sweeping the nation unchecked.
We are talking Landlord Law here, not common sense. We don’t have the luxury of saying, as my wife Frazzy did, that they are “All lying little shits”. She may well be right but this doesn’t cut any mustard when dealing with the law.
So here is your challenge for the week.