Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A rant against government stupidity

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.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

An uneven playing field for landlords

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.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Putting audio files on Landlord-Law

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?

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Monday, July 10, 2006

South Tynside Council gets tough on rogue landlord

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.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Social housing - a bad thing?

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.

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