Well we now know the companies who are going to run the tenancy deposit protection schemes. From 6 April every landlord who takes a damage deposit will have to be a member of one of these three schemes.
The first is the general custodial scheme. This will be free of charge and open to everyone. The deposits will have to be handed over to the scheme administrators who will hold them until the end of the tenancy (the interest on the money held will pay for the scheme costs). So not very popular with landlords who like to have the deposit handy to use for repair and other work, and also to swell their own bank account. The company running it is to be Computer Investor Services PLC, a large company whose web-site gives little information about the scheme other than a pdf press release.
There are then two ‘insurance backed’ schemes. These are the schemes which will allow the landlord to hang on to the deposit money, so long as he pays an insurance premium (so the company can pay the deposit back to the tenant if the landlord fails to cough up at the end of the tenancy).
The first of these is being run by the Dispute Service Ltd. This is the same company which has been running a (very successful) trial scheme for letting agents for the past year or so. The current scheme is just for agents who are members of ARLA, the NAEA and RICS, but the statutory scheme will be open to other agents and landlords. The chief executive is Lawrence Greenberg who was also in charge of the tenancy deposit scheme trialed by the Independent Housing Ombudsman several years ago, so he is very experienced in this type of work. I note for example that this is the only one of the three companies who will be providing their own arbitration service rather than using the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. I suspect that this scheme will have the least teething problems, in view of their past experience.
Finally there is Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd, which is sponsored by the National Landlords Association and which will be administered by Hamilton Fraser Insurance. I understand that the National Landlords Associations' initiative (which will no doubt help increase their membership) has annoyed greatly some of the other landlords associations. There is a surprising amount of friction and antagonism between the various landlords associations (and sometimes even within individual associations) which is a bit of a shame really, as they all ought to pull together rather than wrangling among themselves. After all no-one else is going to look out for their interests. However it is good to see that at least one of the schemes will have a (no doubt considerable) input from landlords, who will probably ensure that it is run in a landlord friendly manner. I am sure that this scheme will be very popular among landlords.
So there you are. The delegated legislation which will set out the rules and regulations governing how precisely these schemes are to operate has not yet been published, but is expected to be laid before Parliament some time early in the new year.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Well we now know the companies who are going to run the tenancy deposit protection schemes. From 6 April every landlord who takes a damage deposit will have to be a member of one of these three schemes.
Monday, December 18, 2006
I was very pleased to see this article in the Cash section of the Observer this Sunday. Like a lot of people probably, we have been thinking of switching to a more environmentally friendly electricity company but were confused about which company would be the best.
The answer, according to the Ob, is Good Energy, which it seems is the only one to source its supply 100% from renewable sources. Sounds good to me. I expect we will be switching soon, but I just want to think about it a little bit longer …
Sunday, December 10, 2006
We are huge Doctor Who fans in our house, so when I bought some lapel mikes for my recording equipment, my son Patrick insisted that I interview him as a Dalek. Landlord and tenant law on Skaro seemed the obvious choice of topic, although purists will realise that of course this interview is impossible as Skaro was destroyed in the time war. We only thought of that afterwards.
We did not really have a script but made it up as we went along having discussed a few ideas first. It was Patrick’s idea to mention the oncoming storm (if you have watched the new series you will understand this), my husband suggested enslaving the Thals, and I was determined to escape via a ventilation shaft.
I have loaded the interview up to my web-site as a bit of Christmas fun, and you can listen to it here.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
In these days of plain English and legislation against unfair and unclear terms in consumer contracts, one can’t help wishing that there was something similar which applied to statutory instruments.
I have been trying to make sense of The Disability Discrimination (Premises) Regulations 2006 but I have to say that so far I have found them almost wholly impenetrable. Of course this may be because their general literary style is so deeply boring it is difficult to work up much interest in mentally cross referencing the necessary three or four sections so you can work out what the section you are looking at is talking about.
If this sort of thing was printed in a consumer contract it would be slated by the OFT as unfair and be unenforceable. But although this is not a contract, it is relevant to consumers, as presumably not only lawyers will need to know about disability discrimination in premises. But it is drafted in such a way that most ordinary people will never be able to understand it. Even the explanatory note at the bottom is not wholly clear. Would that treasury draftsmen were subject to the same drafting rules as the rest of us!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I was talking to someone who knows the other day, who told me that many courts are experiencing horrendous financial problems. Their funding is insufficient and they are having to make more and more cuts, which are affecting the services that they provide. For example badly paid staff, with no proper training resulting in a high staff turnover, not enough money to employ sufficient deputy district judges which means huge back logs with box work and delayed court hearings. All very bad news.
Well one answer is perhaps for the courts to become a bit more commercial and start earning some extra income. Here are a few suggestions:
A monthly newsletter. I have always thought that this would be a good idea – it could have announcements about court services, new initiatives etc, letters from readers, articles by Judges about procedures not being followed properly, Q&A sections, information about new court rules and procedures and the like. Virtually all solicitors firms and barristers chambers would no doubt subscribe. If the court charged £250 pa and got 200 subscriptions that would be £50,000 per year. It could be either paper or electronic.
Guided tours around the courts. Sounds awful but if stately homes can make money at it, why not the courts? The guide could give information about the judicial and court system, plus some juicy stories about famous trials which had taken place and the like.
A business centre, e.g. for solicitors and lawyers. For example wi fi cards for laptops, a photocopying service, hire of computers with internet access, hire of standard legal books such as the green book by the day or half day, and fax facilities.
A bookshop selling legal books, both for the general public (for example the LawPack range) and text and other books for solicitors and barristers. Plus some bodice rippers for bored advocates to read in the advocates room if they have to wait a long time for hearings to come on and don’t have any work to do or colleagues to talk to! It could also usefully stock counsels notebooks and pens.
These are just a few ideas. I am sure there are many more. Courts could ask their staff to make suggestions, with a bonus paid for the best ideas. Staff could also give suggestions for savings as well – often quite junior members of staff can come up with brilliant ideas that no-one else has ever thought of.
So there you are. No doubt there are reasons why none of these can happen, but I am sure that if they made an effort and thought in a different and more entrepreneurial way, courts could do a lot to bring in some more cash. They are obviously not going to get it from the government.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Nearing completion of my tenants book now. I have done most of the text and now need to check it and improve its readability.
I am worried however that it might be a bit weak on social tenancies. My main experience in the past 10 years or so has been with private tenancies. I know some of you lot do housing law – is there any advice you would like to pass on? What could tenants do, for example, which would make your job easier when they get around to consulting you? Is there anything in particular you think I ought to emphasise? Problems you see a lot of?
If you are a tenant - are there any sorts of problems you would particuarly want me to look at? I think I have them all covered but you never know ...
I am quite happy to credit good suggestions (so long as I know who you are).
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I have just had the dubious pleasure of watching Vera Baird QC, our legal aid minister, being questioned on Channel 4 lunchtime news about the legal aid reforms. When asked how vulnerable clients were going to manage if they have to travel up to 50 miles to get essential legal advice, she just shook her head in a patronizing manner and said that that this was simply not going to happen.
Actually, she told us, it is going to be better for everyone after the reforms come in, because (she implied) solicitors will be forced to manage their practices properly which will mean more money and work for all. In fact, those silly old solicitors are just making a fuss about nothing and will soon be grateful to the government for making them carry out these essential changes which will make their working lives so much better.
How stupid is she? Does she not know that all legal aid practices have had years of efficiency measures being imposed on them, auditing, five year plans, cost cutting exercises and the like. Does she really think that she, a government minister and barrister, knows better than the partners how to run a legal aid firm? And does she really think that solicitors are going to carry on doing legal aid work if these reforms come in, when there is other much more profitable work to be done? It is not solicitors, remember, who are going to suffer for all this, it is the clients.
So far as I can see there are two possible reasons for the governments attitude. One is that they want to kill the legal profession dead because an active legal profession is an embarrassment to them as they keep pointing out problems in their legislative program etc. The other is that they don’t have the cash and the Health Service is a more popular destination for any cash that they do have. I really hope it is the second, but sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if it is the first.
But if I had not given up legal aid work a long time ago, I would be very much tempted to give it up now and to write to Ms Baird and tell her that it was her smug patronizing attitude which had been the last straw.
If you feel as annoyed about all this as I do, support the Law Societies "What price Justice?" campagn.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I was talking to a deputy head teacher recently who told me that they had a terrible problem (as apparently do all schools) with junk mail. The problem is disposing of it, as they apparently get charged for rubbish collection. So this totally useless rubbish mail, which they do not want, is actually costing them money to dispose of.
I wonder sometimes whether we can’t do more to stop junk mail, perhaps fining companies who persistently send it out to people and organizations who don’t want it. And before you mention it, although there is a fax preference service which businesses can register with to prevent unwanted faxes, so far as I am aware there isn’t one for business’s for mail.
Something should be done about it. Money paid to schools should be used for children’s education, not for disposing of junk mail they never asked for in the first place.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Rather against my better judgment I included 'The Insider' by Piers Morgan in my last Amazon order. But to my surprise I am really enjoying it. I had no idea that editors of the Mirror had such access to the great and famous. And he is delightfully rude to people (or at least he reports himself as being). He also shows an entertainingly childish "I’m going to get you for that" attitude, which reminds me a bit of those engines in 'Thomas the Tank Engine' who were always getting at each other and having feuds.
My husband thinks it a gross error of taste to have the book in the house at all, and refuses to believe that it could possibly be worth reading. "He's a complete toerag" he splutters "I can never forgive him for what he did to the Mirror, never, a once fine paper with columnists like Pilger and Foot". Thus speaks the diehard socialist.
Well personally, I wouldn’t read the Mirror in a million years anyway (unless perhaps I found it on a train seat on a long journey when I had forgotten to bring a book) so I don’t really care what he did to it. I still think the book is an entertaining read. Although deeply worrying too, if you think about it seriously.
There is one thing about buying a book written by a journalist, it is generally quite readable. They have after all had quite a bit of practice in writing. I enjoyed Andrew Marr’s book as well, very much, although it is quite different in tone.
I have introduced some Amazon links in one of the blocks to the right, just for fun and possible financial enrichment as I am an affiliate – I get something like a squillionth of a pound for every purchase. You may have to scroll up or down to see them depending on where this item is on the page.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
I was delighted to read in the Observer today about the Energy Saving Trusts Fleet Hero awards. Mind you, I can’t find anything about it on the EST site – maybe they have just not got around to loading it up yet.
Still, on to the awards. Good stuff with Gateshead Local Authority increasing their bio fuel usage, and saving 300 tons of carbon dioxide per year and £77,000 in fuel costs by re-organizing the way it uses its fleet (green can often be cheaper!) and training their staff in ecodriving techniques. They were the overall winners. However the report also featured:
- The Bolton Alternative Fuels Co-operative which converts waste oil from local restaurants to biofuel for their members
- Goingreen which imports and sells small electric cars
- City Lawyers Tom Pakenham and Jonny Goldstone who left their jobs to start up eco taxi company greentomatocars
- Italian taxi company Bioshuttles which not only uses biofuels but also environmentally friendly detergents to wash vehicles, and
- The South West Regional Development Agency whose own staff devised their green transport policy which has resulted in 20% decrease in mileage
What are you doing?
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Thinking about the decline of legal aid while in the bath this morning (as you do), I thought "If I were in charge, what would I do?". Well here is my ‘from the bath’ solution, gratis, from someone who used to do legal aid but does it no longer.
Well, I think to start with, I would like to separate civil and criminal legal aid. From all I hear, it is the terribly expensive criminal trials which drain the legal aid funds. So if the civil stuff were separated out, it would show itself to be the inexpensive beast that it is.
Probably the best thing would be to have a fund. This could be used to underwrite legal costs, so solicitors could be certain of getting paid. Government could pay into the fund a specified amount, to cover those cases where the costs are not recovered from the other side. The fund could ‘earn money’ by taking on, once again, personal injury actions. The majority of these are successful so the insurers pay all the costs. However if the fund was the organization taking the risk, the ‘success fee’ currently paid to solicitors could be paid to the fund. No doubt insurance cover could be arranged, as now, to cover the risk of the claimant having to pay the other sides legal costs and experts fees.
So the fund could get income from the government (about the same as it pays now for civil stuff), interest from money held, success fees from civil claims which are successful, and would probably take a loss on most family cases. Housing cases – well some would be a cost but others, for example disrepair claims, could well bring in cash via the success fee. There would also have to be a statutory charge type arrangement to cover situations where a benefit is obtained but no costs are paid.
I have to say that I would prefer to see the fund administered by someone other than the Legal Services Commission – I think they are a horrendous organization (although with some very nice people working for them), realistically though I suppose we would probably get stuck with them. However as this is all imaginary anyway, let us say that the civil fund would be managed by a new organization – called something like the Civil Legal Costs Fund. Perhaps to be headed up by someone sensible from business, with a proven track record of running things efficiently.
The fund would have to be very carefully managed so its potential liability for costs (bearing in mind the proportion, statistically, of current cases which will not be a cost) did not exceed the amount of the fund. All cases would have to be assessed before being approved by the fund and strict limits applied, as with legal aid certificates.
Hopefully this system would be supported by solicitors. Although they would lose their success fee on PI cases, they would hopefully gain other work which would balance this out. And if they just did PI cases, then no doubt the option would remain to ignore the fund and carry on doing their own no win no fee agreements as now.
On reflection, and in an ideal world, I think I would prefer to see the scheme operate free of government altogether, i.e. be a private legal aid funding system. It would need a friendly multimillionaire to seed it by coughing up a few million, but it could be self funding thereafter. The advantage of being a private scheme is that it would be more likely to avoid the stultifying form filling and bureaucracy which inevitably accompanies any state funded system, and which makes them such a nightmare for all who work in them. Maybe it could start from a few firms and then gradually expand.
"But what about criminal legal aid?" I hear you ask, "You haven’t mentioned that!" Well I have never been a criminal practitioner so they will have to think up their own solution. Forcing government to think through the legal aid implications of new legislation would of course help.
However talking to a friend recently, he pointed out that government really needs the criminal practitioners because they are far, far cheaper than a state funded system would be. In a state funded system, the working time regulations would have to be followed strictly, whereas self employed solicitors can ignore them and just get on with the work. So they have the government over a barrel really. All they need to do is push this point home, which hopefully they are doing with their current go slows and strikes. Good luck to them.
So there you are. Problem sorted. What do you think?
But of course it is not really as easy as that.
While doing research recently for my book, I was distressed to see that the Department of Communities and Local Government's Decent Homes Standard, which all social housing is supposed to meet by the end of 2010, does not not include a measure of energy efficiency.
I am constantly disappointed by this governments poor record on environmental matters. It seems that despite lip service to environmental concerns, in things which could make a real difference, they just forget about it. If all social housing landlords were forced to consider energy efficiency when looking at improvement works, this could have a tremendous beneficial effect. As it is, the cash strapped social landlords are not (save for the enlightened few) going to consider improvements they are not required to make.
Yet another missed opportunity.
Friday, November 10, 2006
An interesting article in Inside Housing gives the not entirely unexpected news that Local Authorities are finding it difficult to cope with all the licensing applications they have received. Indeed it appears that some of them have not issued any licenses at all yet.
A survey of 10 Councils by Inside Housing showed that 6,380 applications had been received but only 348 licences had been issued. Of course 10 is a very small sample and I am sure that many councils are doing splendidly. However I expect the general view put forward, that Councils are finding it difficult to deal with the applications received, is a true one. Indeed I would be surprised if this were not the case, bearing in mind that so many applications have had to be made at the same time, and that councils are unlikely to take on extra staff to deal with it.
The sad thing is that due to the pressure of dealing with the licensing applications, staff are unable to be out there dealing with the bad landlords, none of whom will have submitted their applications.
Still it is not all doom and gloom. One day they will get over the bulge of work and be able to take stock of the situation. They will then know who is good and who is bad. And hopefully then, there will be the will and the power to deal with the bad landlords.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I’m writing a book. A book for tenants this time (I have already done one for Landlords - see left). Its coming along quite nicely, I have done over 40,000 words so far, but I thought having a blog I ought to use it to vent my angst from time to time, on writing niggles and so on. Otherwise why have a blog?
Mind you I am not going to tell you all about the book, I will tell you that when it is published (so it will be a nice surprise for you!). But it aims to help tenants through the minefields of residential landlord and tenant law.
I’m hoping to make it easy to understand and am trying to make my English as plain as I can. However it is difficult sometimes when you are a lawyer and legal phrases are second nature to you. I have to keep stopping myself and saying “they’ll never understand that, you will have to re-phrase that”. Which of course makes the book very wordy as most legal phrases are verbal shortcuts, so we can refer to complex concepts without having to explain them every time. Difficult.
Also I keep coming across nasty holes in the law where I cannot find the answer to questions I suspect tenants will expect to have answered. For example there is a common law implied covenant that rented properties will be fit for habitation on the first day of the tenancy, which only applies to furnished lets. But I cannot find any definition of what a furnished/unfurnished let actually is! Does 'unfurnished' mean no furniture at all? Does 'furnished' mean the furniture must be sufficient for the tenant to be able to move in and live in straightaway (for example have all necessary beds and chairs)? What about lets where only kitchen white goods are included?
I suspect there may be something on the Inland Revenue site about this and I will have to brace myself to take a look there. If you can help do leave a comment. I am sure that there must have been a case on this at some time.More on the book later ...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
On my researches on the internet I keep reading about how landlords are selling up to avoid licensing. But is this really the case? When speaking this afternoon to Dave Princeps, Operations Manager at Camden Environmental Heath Section and Chair of the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, I asked him what he thought about it.
"Its quite true" he told me. "Some landlords seem to be terrified of the licensing scheme and are selling their properties at a loss to avoid licensing. Some other landlords are making quite a killing, buying up these properties. Seems silly to me".
Silly indeed. As he pointed out, the cost of licensing (which even with the most expensive local authority works out at less than £1 per tenant per week) is probably far less than the losses which some of these landlords are taking on their properties, as they rush lemming like to sell them.
Mind you, I forgot to ask him about the washbasin problem. Schedule 3 of the Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 (section 2.2) provides for every unit of living accommodation of an HMO where there are five or more occupiers, to contain a wash hand basin. This apparently is causing some problems, as in many cases it would prove difficult and expensive to put a wash hand basin in every room as appears to be being required in the statute. Different authorities apparently are taking different attitudes to this. Some are taking a strict view, others less so.
So perhaps this is another reason why so many HMO landlords are throwing in the towel. Still maybe the purchasers of their properties will have made a sufficient profit on the deal with to enable them to get this work done should it prove necessary.
It is to be hoped however that the properties do not go out of letting altogether. As I mentioned in my earlier post accommodation is badly needed, HMO accommodation in particular.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I did my Q&A this morning. This is something I have been doing for years – ever since my very first Landlord-Law site, I have (more or less every 14 days) answered ten questions emailed to me by readers and put them online.
It is surprising how consistent the types of questions are. Some of the most common topics are (in no particular order)
- Tenants complaining about landlords coming into their property uninvited
- Tenants complaining about disrepair not knowing what to do about it
- Tenants whose landlords have not complied with the gas regulations
- Tenants complaining about landlords unreasonably withholding the damage deposit
- Tenants wanting to terminate tenancies before the end of their fixed term
- Landlords asking what they should do if tenants don’t leave after being served possession notices
- Landlords thinking that they can evict tenants without going to court (yes some landlords do still believe this)
- Landlords with technical queries about possession notices and possession claims
- Landlords with problems with their letting agents
- Tenants upset because landlords have sold the property to a less sympathetic landlord
- Tenants complaining about landlords who promise to do work to a property before it is let and then fail to do it
- Landlords who unexpectedly need the property for their own use wanting the tenants to move out early
- Problems about notice periods
There are some things I find myself saying again and again. For example it is amazing how often I find myself recommending the tenant consult the advice services of their local authority. Local authorities regulatory powers are so much wider now and they have the potential to assist tenants in many ways. In particular in unlawful eviction and harassment matters, and cases of disrepair. It is also surprising how few people seem to realise that (1) you do not need a written tenancy agreement to create a tenancy and (2) tenancies continue after the expiry of the fixed term (s5HA 1988).
The most worrying questions are those from tenants whose landlords are either threatening immediate eviction or who refuse to carry out what sound (from what the tenants have written) like essential repairs. I always try to answer the most serious ones if I can.
For some situations though there is not really a helpful answer. I always feel very sorry for tenants who find that their landlords mortgage company is going to evict them because the landlord has not paid his mortgage. I also cannot really help neighbours of noisy tenants.
For many problems there is a stock solution – speak to your Local Authority housing advisor (harassment, disrepair), speak to Trading Standards (unfair contract terms, cowboy letting agents), report to the Heath and Safety Executive (gas regulation problems) but I sometimes wonder how helpful these organisations actually are. No doubt also they vary in helpfulness across the country.
Still I enjoy doing the Q&A and it seems that people enjoy reading them. And you do sometimes get some unusual and interesting questions (perhaps one of my favorites was the person who hoped that he could get out of his tenancy because of the calling of the Iraqi war!). It is also nice to think that that the answers are of help to people. And hopefully having a regularly changing site will also help my google ratings!
Monday, October 16, 2006
Those who read my earlier post on my office re-decoration will no doubt be delighted to learn that it is now all over. The weekend-and-two-days-without-my-office was as ghastly as I thought it would be, but the decorating and carpet bit at least went as planned. However there was a bit of a delay with the blinds which had to be altered, which left me feeling as if I were sitting in a goldfish bowl when working with the lights on (my desk is in the bay window), plus my laptop refused to re-connect to the network (or was it that the network refused to connect to the laptop?) without further help from my expensive IT people.
The two final pieces fell into place today - the new office chairs arrived (weeks late because the company had been let down by the company providing the fabric we had chosen), as did my new radio controlled clock. This will self adjust (from a signal from Rugby apparently) and always be right, even after the clocks go back. (There have been a few years when some of our clocks have been wrong for a whole six months because no-one could be bothered to move them back or forward. Sometimes overcoming apathy is just too much effort.)
I can't believe how wonderful my office is, so spacious and light and airy. All I have to do now is pay for it ...
There is interesting post on the Nearly Legal web-site recently on how a tenant (with the help of Nearly Legal) fought back against a nightmare landlord. None of my landlords of course would dream of behaving like that, but there is always one. Or three. Or more.
Its nice to see that at least some tenants are able to get decent legal aid help and do something about injustice. I think Nearly Legal ought to go for damages for unlawful eviction, if only to punish the landlord and replenish the legal aid fund. But we need to be told how much they get ...
Sunday, October 08, 2006
As I have been banging on about legal aid a bit recently, feeling rather as if I were banging my head against a brick wall, I was delighted to see a report in the Observer today on Legal Aid in Crisis. Only in the business supplement of course where no-one will see it, but at least they have recognised the problem.
The trouble is, when most people think about legal aid funding cuts they tend to think this is good as it will mean less bloated fat cat lawyers getting too much money, whereas in fact what it actually means is ordinary people not being able to get help at a time when they desperately need it. No aspiring fat cat lawyer will go anywhere near legal aid work anyway - not enough money in it!
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Congratulations to Admans brewery in Southwold on their new eco distribution centre, now one of the UKs largest eco friendly industrial buildings (reported here by the BBC). It is built in a disused gravel pit and boasts the largest green sedum roof in the country, as well as solar water heaters and lime/hemp walls.
The green roof will cut down pollutants and provide excellent insulation, cutting down on refrigeration and heating costs, as will the walls made of lime mortar, hemp and quarry waste. The roof also provides a vast rainwater catchment area, with the water being used for washing vehicles and flushing toilets.
The building cost some 15% more than a traditional building but Adnams hope to make energy savings over the next 10 years of at least £500,000. I am sure that they will find other benefits as well. A recent report (the green value report which you will find linked from here) found that environmentally friendly buildings provide healthier places to live and more productive places to work, can command higher rents and prices, attract tenants more quickly, reduce tenant turnover and cost less to operate and maintain.
Adnams MD says that the building has created a huge amount of interest and that he is doing talks to other businesses about it. Let us hope that this results in a few more being built.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Following on from my post yesterday, it occurs to me that if the current trend continues, there will eventually be no legal aid solicitors left in private practice. Those unable to afford private legal fees will then have no alternative but to use the Law Centres and legal charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Shelter. In many parts of the country, the ‘legal aid deserts’, this is already a reality,
Although I have the greatest admiration for Law Centres and the legal charities, the fact is that there will be different lawyers acting for the rich and for the poor. Inevitably the solicitors and caseworkers working for the law centres and legal charities will be paid less than those in private practice, and this will mean that most of the highflyers will be snapped up by the city firms and other large private practices.
With all its faults, under the old system, at least those eligible for legal aid could chose almost any solicitors firm, and the same solicitor could have a private fee paying and a legal aid caseload (and many did). Now a two tier system is developing. Although the solicitors in the ‘social’ sector may be (and probably will be) very good, I am unhappy about the idea of there being a divide in this way.
It is another symptom of the widening rift between those who can afford to pay for private services (schooling, health care, etc) and those who cannot. It is a very worrying trend.
It is ironic that this has come to pass under a labour government.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
I can remember, quite a long time ago, it could have been as much as 10 years, I went to a presentation by the Legal Aid Board (as it was then). I can’t remember why or what it was about, but what I do remember is a tirade which one of the speakers suddenly got up and gave against solicitors. “You have all had it soft” he said (or words to that effect), waving his finger at us, "there are going to be changes and you lot are going to have to get used to it." Well we didn’t actually, what happened was that we all stopped doing legal aid.
But that is just typical of the attitude that we all get from the (as it now is) Legal Services Commission. With a few honourable exceptions. they seem to think that we are a useless overqualified mercenary lot who need teaching a lesson.
This attitude has been prevalent for years, during which pay has been frozen, administration has been hiked up to frightening proportions, and most sensible lawyers have left for more remunerative work elsewhere. The only ones still doing legal aid are those with a strong pubic service ethic who believe in working for the community. But maybe even they won’t be around for long.
A new independent report shows that hundreds of legal aid firms are likely to be forced out of business as if the new reforms come in, legal aid work is not only going to be unprofitable, it will be loss making. So effectively solicitors will have to pay to do it! Even the most public spirited solicitor is likely to baulk at that one.
So the losers will be, not the solicitors – they are educated and have a good qualification, they are not going to suffer for long - but those who need their services. Where will they go for legal help when the last legal aid firm has gone bankrupt and its partners have taken jobs elsewhere? Who will fight for their rights? Only the law centres and the charities will be left. I wish them well.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
This weekend my office is going to be re-decorated.
Put simply like that it doesn’t sound very momentous. Just a short simple sentance. But it has been and will be a major operation. It has had to be planned like a military campaign. Nothing has been done to my room for years and years so it has a huge amount of stuff in it, as like all lawyers I tend to hang on to things (particularly paperwork) in case I need it later.
Already seven bin bags have gone to the tip. Old magazines. Pre Woolf pleadings precedents. Out of date telephone directories. Off they all went. Six plastic bags of out of date legal text books and old review copies of landlord and tenant books have gone to the charity shop down the road. And still there is more. Three more bin bags have been filled. And I haven’t done the bottom shelf yet, or the space under the spare desk. Or the space under my desk.
But the space under my desk will be done the very last of all, because that is where my computer lives. And it will have to be dismantled!! I will have to be without my computer for five whole days!!! How will I survive?? Of course the laptop will help (I am typing on the laptop now) but I suspect that the broadband will have to go off so I will be without internet access. A worrying thought.
So Friday is clearing and cleaning, the weekend and Monday will be painting and decorating, and Tuesday will be getting the new carpet laid, the blinds put up, the new light fitting fixed and (thank goodness) my computer put back together. And Wednesday will (hopefully) be back to work as usual.
And then my room will be lovely! But the period in between will be hell!
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
I was thrilled and honoured today when I opened the Times legal supplement, to see that Richard Susskind had written about my web-site www.landlordlaw.co.uk and this blog in his regular column in the Times, available here on the internet.
For those who have not heard of him, Richard Susskind is an academic and expert on legal technology. He regularly advises national governments and large legal firms, and has been IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England since 1998.
He is also an author and has written widely on legal IT. His book Transforming the Law was an enormous inspiration to me at the time I was setting up my online service Landlord-Law in 2001. To find someone of Richard’s stature writing about the very same thing I was contemplating, gave me courage and underlined my belief in what I was doing.
One idea he is particularly well known for is "The Grid", a model explaining the relationships between various fundamental concepts, including knowledge management, information systems, information technology and e-commerce (you can download a power point presentation on the grid here). Landlord-Law sits squarely in the top right hand corner of the grid, possibly a rather lonely position at present, but one which will no doubt become more crowded as time goes by.
Richard is a true visionary and I am sure that most if not all of his predictions will come to pass, if not now, at least at some stage in the future. With the enormous changes brought about by the internet at the start of this new twenty-first century, it is inevitable that the provision of legal services will also have to change. In its small way, my online service Landlord-Law is following one of the paths predicted by Richard, and showing that it is possible to succeed in a new method of legal delivery (even if you are a sole practitioner!).
Monday, September 25, 2006
It looks as if the additional administration associated with HMOs is putting landlords off landlording. A survey by RICS, reported here finds that landlords are either selling up or are just letting to three or less people, in order to avoid licensing.
Which would mean that although licensing is cutting down on rogue landlords, this is at the expense of having less properties available for rent. The groups most affected are students, particularly in London, and immigrants, who make up a large percentage of the HMO market.
There are several knock on effects. One will probably be that the trend for students to stay at home (started by the loss of grant income and imposition of course fees) will increase. Another is that there will be even more pressure on local authorities to find accommodation for those vulnerable members of society in priority need.
Many landlords are also deeply angry at the lack of consistency in the way local authorities are treating HMO licensing, particularly the enormous variation in the fees (for example see my HMO license fee list), and the standards imposed, recently commented on in an article in the Observer. For example the variation in the interpretation of the regulations which apparently require larger HMOs to have a wash hand basin in every unit of living accommodation. And indeed the fact that this requirement, which if interpreted strictly will result in enormous expense being incurred by many landlords for no apparent good reason, is being imposed in the first place.
It is unfortunate that these well meaning regulations, may turn out to have a negative effect, in that much needed accommodation will no longer be available to those who most need it.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Be careful who you lodge with! Lodging with tunisian immigrant Abder-rahmen Dhaou cost Kynan Eldridge his life. The landlord stabbed him after an altercation about some rent believed to be as little as £50.
Much to Mr Eldridge's family's distress Dhaou only got a sentance of three years, but the Judge recommended that he be deported at the end of his sentance.
You can read more about it here. Mind you I suspect killer landlords are rare, but it still pays to be very careful who you share lodgings with.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I was pleased to see a report on the internet recently saying that over 100 environmentally friendly houses are to be built in Fenland.
Not only that, but the builders will be trialling different building methods so scientists can measure the environmental impact of each construction method used and the energy efficiency of each building. This information will then be used to help other developers reduce the impact of their work on the environment.
Would that there were more initiatives like this!
Monday, September 04, 2006
An interesting article in the Observer this week, discusses the upward trend in tenant demand for rented property. To summarise these comprise the following:
Immigration. This is where the biggest demand is – the government Actuaries Department estimates the average annual net immigration in coming years will be 145,000 a year, the Observer suggest the figure may be considerably higher. As most immigrants will be unable to buy their own property and are ineligible for social housing, their only option is renting in the private sector. Apparently demand from immigrants could boost the private rented sector by 55,000 homes every year.
A fall in the number of first time buyers. It seems the average age of the first time buyer is now 34 – before this most young professionals prefer to have the flexibility of rented property, plus many of them are paying off student loans and cannot afford to buy anyway. Also people are choosing to marry and start families later.
Overall this has resulted in a huge increase in the number of households. A large part of this is the demand from immigrants, but there is also more demand than formerly from the indigenous population.
The government is not willing to fund the building of more social housing, or help finance owner occupiers by re-introducing MIRAS. So there is a real need for private landlords to meet the growing demand from tenants.
It is not surprising therefore that a recent report in The Times states that the buy to let industry is now one of the UK’s ten fastest-growing industries, alongside computer services and management consultancy, and produced a £45 billion increase in income between 1992 and 2004, a rise of 120 per cent.
All good news for landlords.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
I can't help feeling that the use of the word 'respect' by the government is going a little too far.
For example I learn from the most recent issue of LAG magazine that there is not only a 'Respect committee' on the cabinet, but also a 'Respect Team', and a 'Respect Squad' (ten senior practitioners who can be 'called in' to help local agencies tackle anti social behaviour). When I first read this I did wonder if LAG were having us on, but sadly it appears not.
By the way, the respect boys are getting tough - plans have been announced to cut housing benefit for households evicted for anti social behviour who refuse to engage in rehabilitation. Pwhah!
That happened in June. On 17 August The Respect Standard for Housing Management was launched, announced here, and landlords can sign up to it here. I wonder how many have.
There is even a 'Respect' website. I suppose it is an attempt to make contact with the disaffected, which ought to be a good thing, but somehow everything this government does is tainted by spin, and nobody really believes anything any more.
But I still love the song by Aretha Franklin. Listen to Aretha here, performed by Pomme and Kelly. Respect!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Property investors get younger and younger. Now 17 year old Luke Clarke is on the brink of what looks almost certain to be a sucessful property investment career, as he prepares to complete on his first property purchase at the age of 18 - see Rosie Millard's Tales of a landlady column in The Times on August 6th.
Although if you ask me, young Clarke probably has a lot to thank his letting agent step dad, Terry Lucking (who runs the Peterborough branch of Belvoir Lettings), for. Terry not only gave him a job and the opportunity to learn the business and earn his deposit, he also bought the property on his behalf so he can convey it to Luke on his birthday. Not all step dads are bad.
But there is no doubt that in turn Luke has been, is, and will undoubtedly be an enormous asset to the Belvoir letting business. Well done Luke, and may this property be the first of many!
In some towns pigeons are such a problem that feeding them is punishable by eviction from your home! So says this report from the Norwich Evening News. ASBOs are also threatened against those anti-social tenants who persist in feeding the birds. Indeed apparently in Bristol, 63-year-old Graham Branfield was given an indefinite anti social behaviour order for feeding birds in his back garden and now faces up to five years in prison if he breaches the order by feeding pigeons or any other animals.
However I very much doubt whether any tenants will actually be evicted, plus any possession order made on this basis would almost certainly be subject to appeal. Although the reported case in the Law Reports would make very interesting reading, and the tenant would achieve lasting fame by having his case cited in almost all property law text books.
Monday, August 14, 2006
A report in the Observer indicates that the Community Legal Service's telephone advice service may have a more sinister objective than just to help people solve their legal problems on the phone.
The service is one whereby callers who qualify for legal aid can call a national helpline for up to half an hours free telephone advice. Sounds good. But the Ob article reports that some people, among them Roger Smith, director of the human rights group Justice, who took part in a 'mystery shopper' exercise for a recent issue of Independent Lawyer magazine, are concerned that the CLS advisers seem reluctant to refer callers on for face-to-face help.
Over the last 12 months, 73,500 problems were dealt with by the helpline, but there was a referral rate of only 13%. This seems suspiciously low. Although the CLS report customer 'satisfaction ratings' of 93 per cent of callers happy with the telephone service, callers whose reason for ringing is that they don't know the answer to their problem are not really the best people to judge whether they have been properly advised or not.
'It isn't possible to give issue-specific advice to tenants without reviewing paperwork,' the Observer quotes from Pierce Glynn partner Steven Pierce, another solicitor who took part in the mystery shopper exercise. 'OK, you can give accurate general advice, but you can't determine whether or not somebody has a defence by talking on a phone.' Well I would certainly agree with that.
Telephone advice can be great, but it can also be dangerous. For example the caller may only have a vague idea of the paperwork involved and may give a wholly incorrect description of it, resulting in incorrect advice being given. In a situation where someone is at risk of losing their home, I would always recommend getting advice on the paperwork as this is an area where paperwork is critical. Lawyers who know what they are doing can usually see at a glance what the true situation is from the papers, whereas the client, who knows nothing of these matters, in a telephone call may not even mention the most critical items, and instead concentrate on telling you something which is actually irrelevant.
Notwithstanding this, the CLS expects to increase spending on the service from £15m to £25m next year and £28m in 2008. However Russell Conway, a member of the Law Society's access to justice committee, who also took part in the test, and who described the referral rate of 13 per cent as 'bizarre' commented 'There are only so many issues that can be resolved over the phone. If consumers are being put off taking proper legal steps, it does more harm than good.' But giving advice by telephone is much cheaper than paying for the client to consult a solicitor for face to face advice.
John Sirodcar, the head of direct services at the Legal Services Commission, denied (says the Observer)that advisers were reluctant to refer clients on to face-to-face services where appropriate. He also said that he had not received any client details. 'Give me the evidence and I will check it out,' he added.
But how will the clients know that they should have been referred on? As mentioned above the whole reason for their call in the first place is that they are ignorant of the law. They may never find out that the advice was wrong or misconceived, in which case they will never complain. Of course this could be said about all legal services, however given the full information most lawyers will come to the correct conclusion. The problem with the telephone advice service is that the lawyers advice may be based on an incomplete picture.
Failure to refer on (and thus save money) and the trumpeting of meaningless 'satisfaction surveys' are some of the problems of a system driven by cost cutting and statistics.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
My anonymous correspondent has sent me a further cutting in the story of ASBO landlord Steven Dickens. You can see my previous post here. It seems that the charming Mr Dickens will be facing fraud charges totaling some £7 million. You can read about it in the North Wales Pioneer - do a search on Steven Dickens - the entry is dated 1 August 2006.
However I should assure readers that very few landlords behave in this way. Although it is comforting to know that dishonest landlords are now being prosecuted and brought to book. It is a pity that this did not happen more in the past. Bad landlords are bad news for good landlords as they taint peoples' view of landlords in general.
Meanwhile it will be interesting to see what happens during Mr Dickens trial, whether he gets convicted, and if so, what his sentence will be.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
It has now been officially confirmed that the introduction of the tenancy deposit scheme has been put back to April 2007. One of the reasons apparently is that during consultation the landlords organizations complained that the way the scheme was set up, if the tenant did a runner leaving rent arrears, the scheme would not release the deposit to the landlord who would have to go to court to get a CCJ first!
I sometimes wonder what the people in charge of things nowadays use for brains. Surely it must have been obvious that this is unfair? Why was it necessary for the landlords organisations to have to point this out?
Another backtrack that has taken place recently is the decision to remove the home condition reports from HIPS (or at least not make them mandatory). Conveyancing is not my subject but colleagues who specialize in this work have been saying for months that the system is misconceived, was designed to solve a problem that did not really exist, and that it would probably prove to be unworkable. Now the government are looking silly. Why don’t they listen to advice?
Another own goal is their attempt to destroy the legal profession by threatening their independence, which as reported in The Times today is the subject of severe criticism by a parliamentary committee. Indeed the new President of the Law Society has said that the new wide and "unnecessary" powers taken by the Lord Chancellor will allow him to intervene in law firms - or even dictate that "every solicitor should have a blue-screen saver", if he wanted. Already foreign bars, for example Germany, have warned that if other proposed ‘reforms’ to allow firms to be owned by businesses go ahead they will not be willing to deal with them. The legal profession, particularly in the city, brings in huge sums to this country and is widely respected – why should the government wish to threaten this? What good will it do? Apart from removing the possibility that a vigorous legal profession might undermine half baked government initiatives, that is.
One reason for all of the above may be the desire to appease the consumers organisations (who support all these initiatives) at all costs, and accepting what they say without question. I have no quarrel with ensuring a fair deal for consumers, but the consumer organisations do appear to be unnecessarily skewed against landlords and the legal profession. But it will be dangerous to undermine either as this country needs landlords (to house those who cannot afford to buy) and an independent legal profession.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The new HMO licensing regulations are now effective and the three month 'grace period' has now ended. Landlords who have failed to obtain a license face fines of up to £20,000, plus risk tenants applying for rent repayment orders while being unable to evict them via the section 21 procedure. But have the government played fair with landlords?
In a recent press release the British Property Federation accused government of deliberately making the regime more complex by allowing local discretion as opposed to following a standardised approach across the country.
For example there is a huge variation in license fees, which run from under £100 to over £1,000 per property (for example see the HMO license fee list I am developing). This variation is massively unfair on the landlords in the expensive boroughs, particularly those with a large portfolio, who will see their colleagues with similar properties paying a fraction of the fees they are having to pay. Tenants will suffer also as rents will no doubt rise to cover this additional expense. It appears that the governing legislation (the Housing Act 2004) allows capping but for reasons best known to themselves government preferred to allow the current uneven playing field.
The BPA also criticise the government for its delay in its preparations which meant that local authorities were not up to speed in April when the regulations first came in.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
I think it was an article in the excellent Internet Newsletter, from Delia Venables which first gave me the idea to put sound files on Landlord-Law. I was also inspired by the podcasts on the i-legal.info site from solicitors Fisher Jones Greenwood, plus of course the pioneering work done by Justin Patten (although irritatingly I never seem to be able to access his blog site).
But would these solutions be right for Landlord-Law? How could I best use sound files to help members and prospective members? One obvious use (it seemed to me) was to provide answers to the questions which people thinking of joining often ring me up to ask. Explanatory pods (as I originally called them) scattered around the site with help and information. Perhaps people would be more likely to listen to these, than to read the information which is already there and which the people who ring me up (irritatingly) never seem to have looked at. Plus, maybe it would make them more likely to want to join. (!!)
What about our members? How could sound files help them? Well I know that many people do not like reading. This seems strange to me as I seem to have spent most of my life reading one thing or another, and can’t imagine not reading, but I am told that this is the case. And, some of the Landlord-Law articles are a bit long. Perhaps it would help the non readers if they could listen to them instead. Plus some people with busy lives do not have time for much reading. It might be helpful for them if they could download sound files and listen to them on the move.
But how to do it? My experience is only with word files. I needed to learn about sound. I am enormously indebted here to Claire Sandbrook, the CEO of Shergroup who very kindly invited me to a brilliant training day being done for her company by Karen Ainley of Mosaic Publicity. This gave me that initial injection of information and confidence which I needed to start. I bought the equipment recommended by Karen (basically a Marantz PMD 660 solid state recorder and mike), three books on podcasting (reading again!), and got going.
It is actually much more work than you would think doing sound files. First you have to write the scripts (I tried doing it 'off the cuff' but kept forgetting what I needed to say). Then you have to record it. This is also harder than you would think, plus you have to find somewhere to record where there is no background noise (my office was no good – too much traffic outside). Then you have to edit the sound file, and cut out all the coughs, clicks, sniffs and gurgles that always creep in and sound ghastly, as well as all the places where you get it wrong!. Then you listen to it and decide that it is not good enough and needs to be done again ...
So I had sound files. Professional sound engineers will probably wince if they listen to them, but they are at least fairly clear and you can hear what I am saying. (And I will learn more and get better over time!) Gill, my web-designer had once again come up trumps with some fabulous new icons, and sorted out the site so it could take mp3 files. By this time I had decided to call the files 'audios'. 'Pods' sounded silly, and the files are not podcasts in the normal sense.
So there you have it. We have audio. I hope you enjoy them and do not get too fed up with the sound of my voice. Why not go to the Landlord-Law site and have a listen now?
Monday, July 10, 2006
When a South Tynside landlord tried to evict his tenants rather than get an HMO license he was asking for trouble. And he got it.
When one of his tenants applied for re-housing the Council realised his landlord was acting in breach of the law. The Homelessness Team alerted the Environmental Health Service who tried to contact the landlord. However as this proved impossible, they swiftly took control of the house under an Interim Management Order - introduced under the new Housing Act 2004. This allows them to manage the property until the problems have been resolved, after which it is handed back to the owner.
South Tynside believe that they are the first authority to use these powers. Good for them! I bet they won't be the last though.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
A recent report published by the Smith Institute (a 'think tank') covered in an article in The Times today (4 July) indicates that research has shown that social housing is a bad thing and that it is sustaining rather than reducing dependency and poverty.
"A social housing tenancy should no longer be regarded as a positive outcome", the report says, "because there is scant evidence that it improves a person’s life chances."
This may well be the case, but I can't help wondering whether this is an attempt to justify in retrospect the selling off of so much of our housing stock under Mrs Thatcher’s 'right to buy'. There is certainly still a huge demand for social housing, which is why Local Authorities are often unable to re-house homeless families until the bailiff is at the door.
The massive lack of social housing is also why so many local authorities are courting private landlords, desperately hoping that they will agree to lease them some of their properties, so they will have somewhere to put all these homeless families which they are obliged to house under their statutory re-housing duties.
It is very difficult for Local Authorities, as the (subsidised) price obtained for a council house sale is not nearly enough to build or buy a replacement. Deciding that social housing is a bad idea anyway and should be phased out is certainly a more convenient answer.
Friday, June 30, 2006
The government has announced details of the energy efficiency certificates that will need to be included in Home Information Packs ("HIPS"). It is believed that private residential landlords will in due course be required to provide tenants with a similar certificate. See this page regarding this (you will need to scroll down to the bottom).
An interesting opinion report dated 24 June 2006 on the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes website states that the training and qualification for surveyors falls short of the standards required. There is clearly quite a lot of work to be done on the whole energy efficiency front before scheme is in a satisfactory format.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Local Authorities are shortly to get new powers to take over empty properties and rent them out to homeless families. Some press reports have greeted this with outrage, as the regulations apparently state that properties in good condition which have only been lying empty for six months can be repossessed.
For example a report in the Telegraph on 17 June points out that bereaved families may be at risk if family homes are not sold within six months, which may be a bit difficult as it can sometimes take much longer than this to sort out probate and the administration of a deceased persons estate. A more alarmist report in the Daily Mail has the headline "Homes of the dead to be seized by the state". Tory housing spokesman Michael Gove is even claiming (according to the Mail) that it could be "a stealthy new form of inheritance tax".
However in fact it is most unlikely that the bereaved will visit their family home seven months after father died, to find the local authority has broken in and let it to homeless families – a scenario implied by the various reports in the press. Indeed the Telegraph report itself states towards the bottom "A spokesman for Ms Kelly denied that the powers would be used to seize homes inherited by relatives. If the issue was not resolved in discussion with the council, he said, it would go to a tribunal".
But is the local authority taking over a property really such a bad thing for property owners? For example in Tower Hamlets, they are handing out grants in an effort to bring substandard empty properties back into use. In Walthamstow some flats have already been offered to tenants on the Councils waiting list after refurbishment funded largely by the authority.
Some people I have spoken to consider that the new rules will not be much used, as Local Authorities will not want the expense and hassle of taking over and running someone else’s property. Clearly though not all Local Authorities will think this way, as can be seen from another report from Swindon, Wiltshire.
We shall have to wait and see whether the regulations turn out to be a threat to bereaved families or a blessing to impecunious property owners.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I wish government departments would make up their mind what they want to call themselves. Until Mr Prescott’s shenanigans with his secretary, the department with responsibility for housing was the department of the Office Deputy Prime Minister – odpm for short. And the web-site where we found all the stuff was www.odpm.gov.uk.
However now its Ruth Kelly, so the department (or the bit of it that she is in charge of) has changed its name to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the web-site changed to www.dclg.gov.uk. So, all references to this on my web-site had to be changed so people following them were not at risk of getting the dreaded ‘page not found’ page. Which took a while, because I have a lot of links (many of them only put in quite recently, when I updated the HMO section). However, now I look at the site and see that they have another new website url, www.communities.gov.uk.
Why can’t they just stick to the one name and the one web-address? Its such a lot of bother for us all keeping up with it. And I dread to think how many man hours have been and will be wasted at the dear old DCLG itself, dealing with these changes, and how much stationary will be redundant because it has the wrong name on it. Such a lot of waste and bother. So unnecessary. So annoying. So typical of government.
Monday, June 12, 2006
All those English landlords moaning about licensing should be grateful that they are not in Scotland. All Scottish landlords now need to register both as a landlord and per property (£55 and £11 per property for a three year period).
A report in Residential Landlord states that some 57,000 have registered over 105,000 properties netting over £2.7 million registration fees.
If you are a Scottish landlord and have not yet registered, you can do so here
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Continuing the theme of my earlier entry, there seems to be a contradiction between the conclusions of the Green Value report, which found that the increased costs of green buildings was not as significant as was generally thought, and the conclusions in an article in The Times on Barratts EcoSmart show village in Chorley, Lancashire, where Barratts are trying out environmentally friendly features in normal style houses to see whether they really are worthwhile – the conclusion the article reaches in that they are probably a bit too expensive to be cost effective.
Looking in a bit more detail at the Green Value report (which is worth reading, or at least skimming – to see the full report follow the pdf link in the box at the top right of the green value page linked above) most of the case studies are larger developments, mostly for commercial rather than residential use. There are just two residential developments – one is a large residential apartment development in New York (in fact adjoining the site of the former World Trade Centre) and the other is a owner occupied housing co-operative in British Columbia. However the New York apartments apparently have proved very popular, the indoor air quality in particular proving to be a big marketing plus.
Indeed the general view in the report, is that you cannot just look at strict financial benefits of building green – there are other benefits which are perhaps more difficult to quantify. The commercial developments all reported that the green buildings were pleasanter to work in and resulted in greater worker productivity. Plus a company whose buildings are environmentally friendly has a marketing edge, as it is perceived more favourably by the public.
Going back to the Barratts scheme, I see that none of the houses are actually going to be lived in (at least during the 18 months testing period), which is a shame. The scientists will be analyzing the merits and drawbacks of the various technologies used in the properties on the basis of the general public visiting them. Presumably after this though they will be put up for sale. It will be interesting to see how quickly they are sold, and whether people really will be willing to pay that bit extra for the green features. I suspect that many people will, perhaps more than Barratt and their accountants imagine.
I read an interesting article by Karen Dugdale in the Ob today (sadly it is not online so I cannot link to it), about energy efficiency for rented properties. The conventional view is that it is not worth a landlord bothering to make a property eco friendly, as tenants will get all the benefit and landlords will not be able to recover their investment. However apparently a recent independent study, Green Value , has found that environmental enhancements can add significant value to rental properties by reducing operating and maintenance costs, attracting tenants quickly and reducing turnover while commanding higher rents. AND saving the planet!
Most UK landlords though still feel that the financial incentives are not sufficient, despite the Landlords Energy Saving Allowance having been extended in the recent budget.
However, Urban Splash who specialize in environmentally friendly brownfield developments, told Karen Dugdale that they have found green rentals to be very popular. Having had enquires about their properties from people who could not afford to buy them, they decided to hold some back for rentals, and have found this so popular that they are considering adding more.
If you are interested in environmentally friendly property, website Green Moves which specializes in advertising green properties for sale may be able to assist. Advice can also be obtained from the Bioregional Development Group.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Rummaging in Google's news pages recently I came upon an interesting report which indicates that landlords are so worried about the pending tenancy deposit scheme (being introduced under the Housing Act 2004) that they have decided to continue to pay letting agents to manage their properties for them, rather than go it alone. The article concludes that this is an unforseen effect of the new law, and suggests that the increasing regulation and bureaucracy may result in landlords leaving the private rented sector altogether. Not something I suspect that the government will want.
Of course this trend might also be because landlords think that they will have to use an agent. A recent questioner to my Q&A page on my website seemed to think that she would only be able to comply with the new laws by using an agency. I am sure that this is a view which many agents would like to encourage! However it is not correct - the new schemes will have to be available for both landlords letting in person and those letting via agents.
In fact a little bird has told me that this might be causing problems, in that none of the companies who have tendered to run the scheme have satisfied the government's requirements in this respect, which means that it is possible that they may not be able to introduce the scheme in October, as intended, after all. However 1 October is still clearly given as the start date on the ODPM website, so we will have to see what happens.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to www.landlordlawblog.co.uk.
For a long time housing law has been bedeviled by a concept known as 'the tolerated trespasser' which occurs when a tenant who has had a suspended possession order made against him, breaches the terms of the order but is allowed to stay in occupation.
A suspended possession order is where a possession order is made but the landlord is not allowed to send in the bailiffs to recover physical possession of the property so long as the tenant complies with conditions set out in the court order - normally relating to the payment of the rent arrears by instalments. Often the terms of the order are breached by something which was not the tenants fault, such a failure to pay rent which is solely due to non payment of housing benefit. He then becomes a 'tolerated trespasser'.
This 'tolerated trespasser' situation has caused problems, as many tenants (generally tenants of registered social landlords such as council tenants) have continued to live in the properties months and years after the order was made, but because their tenancy officially been ended when the order was breached they are no longer proper tenants. This means for example that they cannot enforce repairing covenants against their landlords.
However in a recent case, the Court of Appeal has suggested a new form of court order to solve this problem. In this new form of order, it will state that a possession order has been made but will provide for the date for possession to be fixed by the court at a later stage, upon application by the claimant if the defendant breaches the terms of the order. In the meantime the defendant keeps his tenancy, and the 'tolerated trespasser' problems will not arise.
Its nice to see the Court of Appeal sorting things out. Let us hope that the new order is taken up as they suggest, and that it works.
The case (which is actually two cases heard together) is reported on BAILII and is called Bristol City Council v. Hassan/Bristol City Council v. Glastonbury.
Friday, May 19, 2006
I have received in the post a copy of an article about ASBO landlord Steven Dickens, mentioned in my earlier post, who it appears is in more trouble. Fresh charges are mentioned in the article, which all appear to involve obtaining property by deception from the Department of Work and Pensions and the Conwy Council Borough Council. The sum mentioned is £45,931.48.
It looks like a family business as his parents and partner are to be charged also.
Mr Dickens asked the court if he could have his passport back (handed to police as part of his bail conditions) so he could have a family holiday abroad, but this was refused.
The full trial is due to be heard next year. No doubt I will be kept informed by my Welsh correspondent, to which many thanks.
In the meantime, from another online article here it looks as if Mr Dickens (or rather his court appointed receiver) is selling his property stock. Sale proceeds are in the region of two million pounds, which will be nice for Mr Dickens' creditors. No doubt the DWP and Conwy Council will be looking to the sale proceeds for recompense, should the claims against Dickens be proved.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I have just recieved a delivery of six individual envelopes all with advertising literature from a well known legal training organisation. It was some sort of special delivery as a little man came in a van to deliver them to me. All of the six envelopes and their contents have gone straight into the bin.
This is such a waste of resources. I can't help feeling that, with the availability of electronic communication which wastes less trees, there should be some sort of limit on this sort of paper advertising.
For those who are interested in such things, the Department of Constitutional Affairs have published the stats for possession proceedings which can be viewed here.
To see the figures you have to scroll right down to the end of the page. The stats are divided into mortgage claims and landlord possession claims, the latter including both social and private landlords.
The figues for this quarter are slightly up on last year, but less than the previous years. It looks as if the trend over all is downwards, as the total figures for 2001 claims made was 175,908 whereas the total claims for last year were 144,674. For some reason the number of claims always seems to be higher in the first quarter of the year. It seems fairly constant that only about 67% of claims get converted into possession orders (including suspended orders).
Saturday, May 13, 2006
I met a friend the other day, who was absolutely incandescent about the fact that her (new) solicitors had asked her to provide proof of her identity. "What about my opponent?" she kept asking, "They don’t ask her to prove who she is!"
I explained to her that most solicitors are obliged to do this now, we don’t particularly want to (all that extra administration) but if we innocently act for a client who is not who he says he is, and who is involved in money laundering, we can be jailed along with the client. She was unmoved by the prospect of innocent solicitors being jailed because of the shenanigans of their clients, but exclaimed "Oh what an untrusting world it is nowadays!". Well that’s true enough.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I did an advice today for a lady who had brought proceedings for possession (acting in person) on the basis of over £12,000 in arrears of rent. However the Judge put back the date for possession for over seven weeks (during which periode of time it is virtually certain that the tenant will pay no rent) because the daughter of the tenant was due to take her 'O' levels and he did not want her to be disturbed.
I have seen a lot of unreasonable decisions, but I have to say that this takes the biscuit! Why should my client be responsible (effectively) for the cost of housing her tenants daugher during her 'O' levels? Bearing in mind that even once the date for possession arrives, it will then take up to six weeks or more to actually obtain a bailiffs appointment.
No wonder the Law Commission in their Renting Homes consultation (see last post) received so many complaints from landlords about Judges use of their discretion in possession claims!
They propose to solve the problem, by the way, by making the exercise of a Judge's discretion statutorily structured. This means that the Judge will have a checklist of questions they must answer before coming to a decision. Let us hope (if it happens) that it helps them come to more sensible decisions.
Mind you, if my lady had used our repossession service instead of going alone, we would have made sure that the claim form was drafted properly, which would have ensured that the very most time the Judge could have given would have been six weeks - and I expect my barrister would have made sure that the period was actually much less than this. But if landlords will act in person ....
For the past four years, the Law Commission has been working on a project called 'Renting Homes' which is looking at housing law in England and Wales with a view to making it less complex.
Two consultation papers (with over 400 responses) and over 70 public visits later, they have now produced a final report and draft 'Renting Homes' bill. So what does it say?
Here are some of their recommendations:
- Replacing the 13 or so types of agreement with just two - one for social landlords and one for private landlords
- Making tenancy agreements (or rather occupation agreements as they will be used for licenses as well as tenancies) more comprehensive, including all relevant law. They will be much longer than most current agreements, and most of their content will be prescribed (ie will be compulsory)
- Landlords will be under a legal duty to to provide an agreement in the proper form - if they don't occupiers will be legally entitled to withhold up to two months rent, plus landlords will not be able to evict them for six months after the agreement is finally provided.
- It will be possible to add a new occupier to an agreement without having to draft up a new one
- One of joint occupiers will be able to end their liability under an agreement without affecting the other occupiers
- There will be a new procedure landlords will be able to use if they think tenants have abandoned the property, to recover possession without having to get a court order
If the draft bill becomes law it will be a major piece of legislation affecting millions of people - some 1/3 of all property in England and Wales is rented, approximatly 10% being with private landlords.
The only current types of tenancy which (as the bill is currently drafted) will not be affected, will be protected/secure tenants under the Rent Act 1977 and tenancies under the Rent (Agriculture) Act.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Further to my earlier post on tbe Law Commission's issues paper and consultation on housing dispute resolution, I have now placed an answerform online to allow members of the public to respond easily.
So rather than having to read a ginormous paper, and then painfully draft your anwers with paper and pen, all you need to do it go to www.law-reform.co.uk, and read and answer the form online. If you want to check what the issues paper says about one of the questions, the form helpfully gives the relevant section numbers so you can look it up. Needless to say you will find the issues paper online both on my web-site and on the Law Commission's web-site.
If you are at all unhappy about the way housing disputes are currently dealt with in this country, do use the form and let your views be known. The Law Commission cannot take you views into account if they do not know what they are. This is democrary in action - use it!
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
We have recently had a fairly sensible case on section 21 notices, where the Court of Appeal has squashed an attempt by a tenant to wriggle out of getting evicted by claiming that the notice was defective.
This was a situation where the fixed term of the tenancy had expired and the landlord was having to rely on section 21(4) of the Housing Act 1988. The notice used the words "Possession is required of the premises which you hold as tenant(s) at the end of the period of your tenancy which will end after expiry of two months from the service upon you of this notice.". Section 21(4) contains the following wording:
"that the landlord or, in the case of joint landlords, at least one of them has given to the tenant a notice stating that, after a date specified in the notice, being the last day of a period of the tenancy and not earlier than two months after the date the notice was given, possession of the dwelling-house is required by virtue of this section".
At first instance an order for possession was made, but the tenant then sought legal advice and decided to run the argument that the wording in the notice did not comply with the notice in the statute, claiming that the possession order should therefore be set aside. The argument went that the phrase "at the end of the tenancy" meant "on the last day" so that the notice did not satisfy section 21.
Happily however (for the landlord) the Court of Appeal did not agree and found that the notice did comply sufficiently. The court held that the judge had been entitled to conclude that the notice complied with section 21(4)(a) since it was clear that, applying a normal use of language, the phrase "at the end of a tenancy" in a notice under section 21 meant "after the end of the tenancy". It did not mean at the split second after the tenancy came to an end, but any time thereafter.
This follows other Court of Appeal decisions in the past on notices, where so long as the sense of the notice is clear, the court have not allowed the notice to be defeated by minor technical quibbles. For those who are interested in such things, the name of the case is Nottingham Hill Housing Trust v. Roomus. I have not been able to find a report of this online so am unable to give a link.