What would a successful service which helps tenants understand their rights look like?
I have been considering this for quite a while, years in fact, ever since I closed down the tenant’s side of Landlord Law in 2014, mainly because it wasn’t being used.
So obviously a subscription service like Landlord Law won’t work for tenants.
There would be no point in having a general guidance site, because Shelter and the CAB already have excellent free sites along those lines. However, there is obviously a need for something.
Talking things over with solicitor Harriet Thomas we hit on the idea of a site based on questions.
Answering tenants’ questions not teaching the law
When a tenant or a renter (as not all those renting are tenants) have a problem it is normally best expressed as a question:
- What is the legal maximum deposit I have to pay?
- My tenancy agreement has expired. Do I need a new one? Am I still a tenant without a new tenancy agreement?
- I’ve been sent a Section 21 Notice. What should I do?
- My financial circumstances have changed and I am finding it hard to pay my rent. Is there any way I can get financial help?
- I am disabled. I have applied to rent a property but and have been told that I am unsuitable. Is this lawful?
You will see that those questions are also links. They are links to answers on the brand new site which Harriet and I have spent the past year developing – our Renters Guide website.
Which is all about answering questions.
Using the Renters Guide service
So it starts with a question. Tenants or renters with a problem are not really interested in the legal rules – they want the answer to their question!
Most pages on the site have a big search box. Into that box, you put your question. Or maybe just a couple of words, or even one word relating to your problem.
Click enter and you will see a dropdown list of questions. Each of those is a link to an answer to the question and then (for most questions) links to places on the site where you can get further information.
Where, if you are interested, you can learn more about the law and how it works. But you will always get a quick-fire answer to your question. In ordinary simple language.
The further information items on the answer pages will be either
- Free open access articles. So just click and you can read them, or
- Members articles – you need to join the site to read these, but membership is free plus you get a £5 coupon, or
- Premium articles and guides – these are paid-for items, but modestly priced, and so affordable for most people.
Help for those in most desperate need – those at risk of eviction and in financial difficulties – are free, open access items. We did not want to put anything in the way of getting help for these issues.
However, we do ask that people ‘join’ to read the other free articles. There is no charge for membership and you get extra benefits such as the discount coupon and the ability to bookmark pages. Later on, we may introduce extra benefits – it really depends on what people want and what works.
We have to have some paid-for elements as Harriet and I have to pay for the running and upkeep of the site. Also, the site has been funded entirely by us so it would be nice eventually to get our money back!
Some of the premium items are articles on more esoteric or complex areas of law, others are guides with documents and letters for you to use. All of them are (hopefully) easy to read and use.
We also have a paid-for telephone advice service, for those who want to speak to a solicitor.
Law-abiding Landlords have nothing to fear
‘What’s all this’ some of you may be saying, ‘I thought you were a landlord solicitor!’.
Well so I am, but I have always been a tenant’s solicitor too. My focus has always been good practice, rather than lobbying for landlords or tenants (I leave that to the likes of the NRLA and Generation Rent). And this blog has posts for both landlords AND tenants.
The Renters Guide is all about helping tenants and other renters know, not only their rights, but also their obligations. Which is to landlords’ advantage.
The landlord – tenant relationship works best when both parties honour their agreement and do the right thing.
Where next for the Renters Guide?
The site has only just launched so our first thing is to develop it further. In the short term, this means adding new questions and answers.
You will probably notice that the site is in two halves – private and social. The private side of the site is for people renting in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) and that is the side now live.
We decided to split the site up in this way as the law relating to social housing (tenants living in Council housing or accommodation provided by Housing Associations) tends to be different.
This, social housing, side of the site will largely be developed by Harriet who has considerably more experience in this area than I do. Harriet is also largely responsible for the items on benefit and rehousing as these are an important part of her work as a housing adviser.
It will take us some time to develop the social side, so this is unlikely to go live for a while.
How YOU can help!
We have developed the site and added questions which we think will be helpful – but what do YOU think? If you are a tenant – have we covered YOUR questions?
We have feedback forms linked from most pages, for people to request new answers and to give feedback on the usefulness of our content, so we will be reading those closely and taking people’s views on board. If you use the site please let us know what you think.
And also leave your comments below.
The Renters Guide is a bit of an experiment but Harriet and I really hope that it proves useful for people. If you visit it and like it – please let others know about it and share it on social media. And enjoy!