Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tenancy deposit scheme contractors named

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.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Going green electric

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 …

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

I interview Dalek Sec

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.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

One rule for treasury draftsmen ...

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!

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Financing the courts

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.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tenants book - any suggestions?

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).

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