Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A green paper for green housing

The government published its Housing Green Paper recently, and I have now been able to have a quick flick through it. It looks pretty impressive at first glance.

A few points spring to mind. First of all, here’s hoping that they will be able find sufficient builders, bricklayers, electricians, and plumbers etc to do all the work. Second, although I am delighted that for the first time in years, funding is being put in place to allow new housing to be built by Local Authorities, I do hope that this will not then be all sold off at an undervalue to tenants, as happened to much of the previous LA stock under the right to buy.

However I am really pleased that they are looking to make all new housing environmentally friendly. Let us hope that they are able to resolve the planning problems so that on the one hand development is not thwarted by being stuck in the doldrums for years and years, and on the other hand things are not loosened up so much that inappropriate building is allowed (for example on flood plains …).

If you want to read the Green Paper you will find it here – if you want to respond note that you need to get it in by 15 October.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Responsible Renting – have your say

I have already mentioned in previous posts that the Law Commission are undertaking a massive review of housing law and practice. This started with their Renting Homes project, now completed, and continued with their project on Proportionate Dispute Resolution. The final stage is the project on Encouraging Responsible Letting.

Both the dispute resolution and the responsible letting projects currently have consultation papers out, with closing dates respectively of 28 September and 12 October. The proportionate dispute resolution consultation is the second one in the project – this one is specifically on the role of tribunals. We did an online answerform for the previous consultation on Landlord-Law but sadly got very few responses, so we have decided not to do another one this time. If you want to respond you will be able to download an answerform on the Law Commission web-site.

However the consultation on responsible letting is very relevant to the majority of users of Landlord-Law so I have once again, with the agreement of the Law Commission, set up an online form (which they have approved). As with our other online forms, this gives sufficient information to allow the reader to answer the questions without having read the full report, although if you have time this is always better. The answerform can be found at

The reasoning behind the responsible renting project is that we have a lot of law aimed at protecting tenants and ensuring that properties are in good condition. However it does not seem to be working, as so many properties do not meet the legal standards (which themselves are fairly basic). The paper also covers unlawful eviction and harassment, but the main thrust of the questions relate to ‘how can we ensure that property which is made available for renting is in a proper condition?’

The paper puts forward a number of suggestions upon which it seeks feedback, ideally from practicing landlords. The two main suggestions are:

1. That landlords should be required to join a landlords association or accreditation scheme which would take on a regulatory role, and take steps to ensure that their members comply with the relevant law, and/or
2. That landlords be required to obtain a certificate certifying that the property is in a proper condition before being allowed to rent it.

It is not as simple as that of course, and the Law Commission recognise that there are problems with both suggestions. However they also point out that the nettle of enforcing standards against landlords really needs to be grasped, as there is a substantial cost in doing nothing. Poor quality housing leads to increased illness, underachieving children, and generally less socially cohesive and problematic communities.

The cost of these problems may indeed be greater than the cost of improving the condition of the housing. So there is an incentive for government to sink some money into housing for the greater good. Thankfully we now seem to have a prime minister who is taking the issue of housing seriously so we may see some action.

However if you are a landlord or are involved in the private rented sector, I would urge you to read the consultation paper (either in the original, or in my condensed version) and submit your views to the Law Commission. They are very anxious to hear from you. This is your chance to have your voice heard and to influence policy! Do not waste it!

PS See our poll on the right - closes 27/08/07

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Runaway marriage - a better (and cheaper) option

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to


There’s been quite a bit in the news recently about on the one hand how good marriage is for family life, but on the other hand how it is getting less popular. Well there is one very good reason which may partly account for its popularity decline - it is very expensive. Or, rather it is perceived to be very expensive. £14,000 is a figure I have heard as being an average price for a wedding. A phenomenal amount of money to spend on just one day.

But you don’t really need to have all that. The church, and the wedding breakfast, and the clothes, and the reception, and the disco, and the buffet, and all the relatives you don’t really want to see ... All you need is a license and an appointment at a registry office. That’s what we did.

We decided to get married but did not want all the doings. We just wanted to be married. We got a license, booked date in a registry office in a different town (you don’t have to get married on a Saturday, and if you get married on any other day you can get an appointment really quickly), told no-one, and just want up there and got married.

It was great. We had a friend come to be one witness and got an old lady off the street to come and be the other witness (I had always through it would be really romantic to drag a stranger off the street to be a witness) – she was delighted! Then we went and had a pub lunch. We had had a combined hen and stag night the night before when we went to see Joan Armatrading who happened to be in concert that night. It was a lovely time, a time just for us. I don’t think we would have enjoyed it any more if we had had the £14,000 do, in fact I am certain we would have enjoyed it a lot less.

Then we went back and told everyone. Their faces!! It was great fun, but also very romantic.

I think all this expensive wedding day business is a mistake. A racket in fact, maintained by those with a financial interest in perpetuating it. To have a chance of a good marriage, you have to want to be married, not to have a fairytale 'day'. It is the married life that is important, years and years of it, not just one day at the start of it which is going to cost a fortune, put you in debt, and probably thereby make the rest of your married life (or at least the early years) more difficult.

Marriage is good. Your children are legitimate, which (whatever anyone says) I think is nicer for them. You are next of kin to your spouse, which means you have the right to be with them in hospital and be consulted if they are very ill or have an accident. Even if you do not make a will, your spouse will inherit all or part of your estate on death. And if you divorce there is a court who can, if needed, supervise the fair division of your possessions and make provision for the care of the children. Maybe these things do not work as well as they could all the time, but they are generally there to facilitate the family and fairness.

I think that our cheaper, alternative model for getting married should be promoted. It is just as much, if not more, fun than the expensive version. But you have more money at the end of it, and instead of spending hours and hours planning events and frocks, you can spend more time thinking about your life together. Which is after all what getting married is all about.

And maybe more people would get married if they did not feel put off by having to wait years and years for a Saturday registry office appointment and by feeling that they have no option but to pay such enormous sums of money for the wedding event.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

No smoke, no fire ...

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to


Who’d be a smoker today? First it was just a few places, then transport with the trains and busses bringing in a ban, now its banned practically everywhere! Happily I gave up quite some time ago so its not a problem for me.

It is going to be a problem for landlords though, particularly HMO landlords, as from 1 July they must not permit smoking in any of the communal areas of their properties. This includes things like shared stairways, lifts, common parts in houses converted into flats and shared kitchens, toilets and the like. Notices must be put up in entrances, and it must be made clear to tenants that slipping off to the toilet (a shared one that is) for a quick ciggie is definitely not allowed!

In point of fact, landlords should have been wary for some time of allowing any smoking in the common parts of their properties, if only because of the 2000 Court of Appeal decision in Ribee v. Norrie. This is an entertaining case with many typically British case law features – a quotation from Phillip Larkin, reference to a Lord Denning decision, Rylands and Fletcher (escape by fire), and ‘a sprightly 70 year old lady’ (with a ‘heroic’ pet spaniel) who had lived in the adjoining property all her life.

The case makes the point that landlords should take care to prevent their tenants smoking and allowing fire to escape and damage neighboring properties – Mr Norrie ended up paying a judgment debt of £5,063.02 plus a substantial interest payment and costs. One of the Judges even suggested that he should have appointed a live in manager or moved to live at the property himself.

So bear in mind landlords, that if you do not have strict no smoking rules and notices, and your tenants break the law, you are risking not only an on the spot fine but also (if fire escapes to next door) a claim for damages from your neighbours.

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