Thursday, June 28, 2007

Housing more important now

An interesting snippet from the afternoon press briefing from No 10 for 28 June:

"On the role of the Minister for Housing, whilst the breadth of her responsibilities would stay the same, clearly the fact that she was in Cabinet sent a very clear message about the much greater importance of the Housing Minister and the role of Housing more generally in the Government's agenda."

It will be interesting to see how that works out. It will also be interesting to see if the new government takes up the Rented Homes Bill so carefully drafted by the Law Commission and published in May 2006.

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A top property blog!

Did you know, dear reader, that The Times have included this as one of their 25 top property blogs in their Friday Life and Style section?? I am very honoured. Their comments:

"Low on entertainment, but high on enlightenment. All buy-to-let landlords should make this a regular read."

That does rather sound as if they think I am a touch boring, which is a bit of a blow, but then I suppose I am a lawyer and therefore boring by definition. Still the rest of it is very flattering. Thank you . I will try to continue the enlightenment and perhaps sneak in a bit of entertainment along the way.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

County court possession order error

I had a very odd court order come though the post today. It was in respect of a hearing two days ago (which surprised me to start with!). It had the correct heading, but then said that the hearing took place in on 15 June in the Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court, whereas in fact it was in Norwich County Court on 25 June. It said that the defendant did not attend when he did, although they got his name right. They got the name of the Judge wrong though, and the judgement sum was incorrect, etc, etc.

It looks as if two separate cases have got confused. Perhaps there is a Clerkenwell case where the parties are going to receive an order with my case details in it! So much for the new central system.

The moral of the story – always check your court orders!

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Two things

A busy time recently. For my sins I am the Hon Secretary of the Norfolk and Norwich Law Society, and I have been very busy dealing with the launch of our new web-site, which went live on Monday. The site not only has more information for the public and members than our old site, but also includes the membership database, so we can use if for subs admin. Hopefully it will eventually save us time. However it is certainly taking up a lot of my time now as I try to get the database in order, and deal with the various glitches and problems which occur whenever a complex site goes live. However I am quite pleased with it.

The other thing is the imminent launch of my book, which my publishers have decided to call Renting: the Essential Guide to Tenants' Rights (I wanted it to be called just ‘Tenants Rights’) which has a publication date of 9 July. Place your advance orders now!! Its been about a year in the making all told so it will be nice to get it out in the shops.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Buy to let blight

There is an interesting article in the Guardian pointing out that buy to let landlords are buying up properties suitable for families in Nottingham and letting them out to students, and that this is causing major problems in the area. Students leaving the place in a mess, shops closing and pubs closing during vacation, and schools being put at risk as there are fewer children.

Emailed comments from readers at the end confirm this trend for other towns such as York and Bath and bemoan the fact that absentee buy to let landlords are being allowed multiple mortgages by landlords helping to push property prices beyond the reach of ordinary people.

It is a difficult problem. One answer is no doubt the extension of licensing suggested by the article, which points out that landlords are selling larger properties and buying two story ones to escape the current licensing regime. Any extension of licensing would be bitterly opposed by the landlording community however (many of whom are responsible and provide an excellent service), and local authorities would struggle with their present funding to deal with this additional work.

However the real problem is undoubtedly the shortage of housing generally. After all students have to live somewhere. Universities generally bring benefits to towns and cities, but you cannot have a university without students! Also many students will stay in their university town and become part of the community - at least that is very common in my own city of Norwich (my husband being one such!).

It looks as if the problem may be relieved to a certain extent in Nottingham as at least 5,000 purpose built student rooms are to be built there shortly. If other universities follow suit (and if there is profit to be obtained from student housing they probably will if they can get the investment), this will help considerably. However unless either more property is built, or there is a property crash, or wages increase substantially, it is unlikely that property will become more affordable for low income families.

But then, it was ever thus! Low income families being unable to afford to buy their own homes, although unfortunate, is hardly a new problem.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The tenant's dilemma

The tenant’s dilemma, a new report from the Citizens Advice Bureau, states that tenants are put off complaining about their landlords failure to keep their property in proper repair because their landlord might retaliate by evicting them under the section 21 ‘loophole’. Government figures indicate, they say, that nearly one million private rented homes fail the Government’s decent homes standard and therefore need repair. It asks for a change in the law to prevent landlords being able to evict under section 21 where tenants are trying to enforce their repairing rights.

Although I do not agree with landlords being able to evict in retaliation to their tenants requests to make their homes meet basic standards, we do have to be careful about interfering with the landlords right to evict under section 21. This has been one of the main reasons for the buoyant private rented sector we have today. If landlords perceive that their right to recover their property is being interfered with, this may result in many selling up or discourage potential new landlords. It is important that there is a good supply of rented accommodation if only because local authorities need to have properties available in the private sector to place people in priority need (who they have a statutory duty to house), as much of their own housing stock has been sold under the right to buy.

As the report points out, the right to evict under section 21 has already been made unavailable to those who fail to get a license for a (mostly HMO) property subject to licensing, or who fail to protect damage deposits under the new statutory tenancy deposit scheme. This could be extended to properties in disrepair, but care must be taken so that ‘devious tenants’ cannot take advantage of it.

However, if the HMO licensing regime is extended to more, or even to all rented properties (as many suspect it may be), the problem may well be solved in that way. All licensed properties need to be inspected at some stage during the 5 year license period, and if it fails to meet the statutory standards, and landlords fail to carry out the necessary work to bring the property up to those standards, licenses in future should be refused. As this will have nothing to do with the tenant, landlords will not have any reason for (or obtain any benefit from) carrying out retaliatory section 21 evictions. Indeed if they are unable to obtain a license because of the condition of the property they won’t be able to use section 21 anyway!

I think that this or something similar, is probably the best way to go. To make the request for improvement work come from the local authority rather than the tenant, so the tenant cannot be blamed for it. Also, once a property has been identified as being in poor condition, this should be noted in the local authority files, and a check kept upon it until the repair work is done. So that if it is then let to another tenant, action will be taken without the tenant having to do anything about it.

The report suggests at the end that the right to use section 21 could also be limited to landlords who are members of an accreditation scheme or other similar organisation. However I think that this would probably be a step too far. There is no point in having a strong scheme to protect tenants, if because of it few people are prepared to be landlords any more. This will benefit no-one, tenants least of all, as there will be fewer properties available for them to rent.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tenants Rights book due out soon

I have been neglecting this blog of late, for which my apologies. I have been rather caught up with work – my book is nearing completion and I was given just a few days recently by my publishers to check the proofs. This meant that I had to drop everything to get it done. A good thing I had nothing urgent on! Publication is getting very close and I was excited to see that it can already by pre-ordered on Amazon!

The book is to be called ‘Renting: the essential guide to tenants rights’. I wanted it to be called just ‘Tenants Rights’ but I suppose my publishers have their reasons. I am quite proud of it and Mr GP, a legal aid practitioner who kindly agreed to have a look at it, seems to think it is all right.

You can see it on Amazon here.

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