Thursday, October 26, 2006

Licensing lemmings

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.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Doing the Q&A

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!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

My office

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 ...

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Luckless landlord meets Nearly Legal in court

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 ...

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Blawg review #78

Congratulations to Justin Patten for an excellent overview of the blawgosphere (ghastly word) in his Blawg Review. If you want to find out who is blogging on legal matters, read this.

Oh, and thanks for the mention!

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Legal aid in crisis - the Observer

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!

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Adnams Eco Brewery

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.

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