Some notes on landlord and tenant related news from the past week.
Gas Safety Eviction Case
Landlords will be pleased to learn that leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal has. been granted in the case of Trecarrel House Limited v Rouncefield which we reported on here.
This is one of the two cases which held that landlords could not use section 21 where the gas safety certificate had not been served in advance of the start of the tenancy.
Sarah Cummins of legal firm Anthony Gold, which is representing the landlord in this case said:
The court’s role in this case is limited to deciding how the current rules surrounding section 21 notices should be interpreted and political questions about whether section 21 should be abolished or reformed will not be directly addressed by the Court of Appeal
Legal Aid culture of refusal
A report in the Guardian says that legal aid in homelessness cases have fallen by 34% in six years. Some housing lawyers say they have to take cases on a pro bono or unpaid basis, hoping that legal aid will belatedly be awarded by the LAA to cover their costs.
For example, concerns have been raised by the case of Birmingham woman, Terryann Samuels, won a case at the supreme court this month. Her lawyer Mike McIlvaney, has published a detailed chronology of her battle to obtain legal aid.
Figures obtained by the shadow justice minister, Gloria De Piero, show that since 2012-13, when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act came into effect, applications for civil representation in homelessness cases have fallen by 34%.
The Guardian reports that specialist lawyers say applications are being deterred due to a strict interpretation of regulations, delays in determinations and the suggestion that lawyers take on claims at their own financial risk.
Jo Underwood, the managing solicitor at Shelter, said:
The LAA are blocking access to justice and making perverse decisions about the merits of cases in situations where the courts, the solicitors and the barristers involved all agree there are good reasons for the matter to be heard in court
Simon Mullings, a solicitor at the law firm Edwards Duthie Shamash, talking about the growing evidence of a culture of refusal, said
If legal aid is not granted it means people’s rights are not being enforced. Local authorities who may well be subject to a duty will not be subject to the duty. A case is not just for the individual, it also has a precedent and so it can affect hundreds of homeless people. Lack of legal aid is contributing to homelessness.
The problem is not entirely down to the Legal Aid though. Another issue is the growing desert of legal aid housing lawyers willing to take on such cases.
Leasehold reforms announced
The government have announced that
- ground-rents on new leases to be reduced to £0 – preventing leaseholders being charged soaring fees
- All new houses are to be sold on a freehold basis unless there are exceptional circumstances, and
- they will take immediate action to ban Help to Buy being used to support leasehold houses
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said:
We are committed to taking bold action to reform the sector and will be pressing ahead as soon as parliamentary time allows – helping us deliver our promise to make the home buying and selling process quicker, cheaper and easier.
Sebastian O’Kelly, spokesman for the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership said:
The only dark cloud is that this is a policy statement at the point where the prime minister is changing.
Let’s hope Brokenshire stays in post to see all this through.
Government proposes a national licensing scheme
The government has now published its independent review of the effectiveness of selective licensing which can be found here. Surprisingly they recommend a national licensing scheme saying it would complement selective licensing schemes and provide easy access to data on who should have a licence, saying
Such a scheme would allow for far more accurate enumeration of the private rented sector at the planning stage and would facilitate the ongoing identification of unlicensed properties in an active designation. These factors would increase the effectiveness of any selective licensing scheme significantly
John Stewart of the Residential Landlords Association, commenting here, said
Ministers have repeatedly made clear that a national register of landlords would become an unnecessary and costly additional layer of bureaucracy.
We agree. All it would become is a list of good landlords which brings us no closer to finding the crooks that operate under the radar.
Selective licensing has become a replacement for lost central Government funding and provides no assurances to tenants about the quality of accommodation. Properties do not need to be inspected before a landlord is given a licence and the RLA has found that many councils are charging eye-watering sums of money for almost nothing in return.
Local authorities need the will and the resources to put real effort into finding the criminal landlords who never come forward to make themselves known. That means using a range of information they can already access including council tax returns, information on tenancy deposits and benefit data to root out the minority of landlords who bring the sector into disrepute.
ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox said:
Licensing schemes do not work, and never will.
They are not an effective way of promoting higher quality accommodation, and introducing landlord registration will not be the silver bullet to improve the effectiveness of property licensing. Local authorities need investment to enforce the wide range of legislation that already exists.
Recommending that government promote a ‘Property MOT’ instead.
Richard Lambert, chief executive of the NLA, said
For the most part, selective licensing has failed to root out the bad landlords, and the recommendations in the report will do very little to change that.
The suggestion to introduce a national registration of landlords and a property MOT would be a viable alternative to selective licensing, but would need to be well thought out and proportionate to avoid an unnecessary burden on good landlords.
- Landlord fined £66,000 (with costs) after ‘sending in the heavies’ to evict a tenant complaining about poor conditions
- CAB calls for new national housing body to oversee the private rented sector, but the RLA disagrees
- L&G and Oxford University team up and announce a £4 billion housing scheme
- Peter Savage has set up a ‘Speedihomes’ company to develop modular housing units for Councils to rent as affordable housing and for temporary accommodation
- Conservative leadership contenders urged to scrap right to rent