Saturday, March 31, 2007

Have you time for the Times?

I was sitting at my computer about three weeks ago, wondering how I was going to fit everything into my day, when I was rung up by a journalist from The Times.

"I’m doing a feature on online sources of information for Landlords" he said ("goody, goody" I thought) "and I would like to mention your Landlord-Law website." ("Yippee!!") " But to do the article I need to speak to one of your web-site members, today, and this really needs to be someone who would agree to have their photograph taken. I know it’s a bit short notice but could you find someone by about 4.00pm this afternoon…"

Well after a lot of ringing around I managed to find him three loyal members in the end, by lunchtime, one of whom was the nice Mr Thornton who he finally used. The article however did not appear until today, about three weeks later, when I had forgotten all about it. Typical! I will have to see if my newsagent can get me a copy.

You can see the article online here. I can’t see the photo of Mr Thornton though, although he told me it had been taken. Maybe it is in the printed edition.

Nice article though. I particularly like the 'respected solicitor and author' bit. Sometimes I feel I could do with a bit more respect, particularly from my family (fat chance). But I note that I answer the Q&A once a fortnight not once a month.

He also mentioned this blog! I had a look at the Times moneyweblog he referred to but could not find any entries on landlord matters. So you are better off sticking with the Landlord-Law Blog! Why not bookmark it now? Or better still subscribe to the RSS feed! (You can do this by scrolling right down to the bottom of the screen and clicking the subscribe to posts link).

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Something I said?

The telephone rang just now. "Hallo" said a male voice, "can I speak to your senior partner please, if he's in"

"You can speak to me", I replied, "I'm the sole practitioner"

He put the phone down.

Was it, do you think, because I am female or was it because I am a sole practitioner?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rent arrears protocol justified

Figures from the DCA show that landlord possession claims were 20% down during the last quarter. Co-incidentally this was the first quarter after the rent arrears protocol came into force. That’s the protocol which requires social sector rent officers to try to sort things out before issuing proceedings for possession.

So maybe it was a good idea.

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ASBO landlord Dickens again

My anonymous correspondent (postmark Colwyn Bay) has sent me a cutting from the Big Issue Magazine, which shows that ASBO landlord Dickens is facing yet more court appearances. He has now received a summons from the Health and Safety Executive under the gas regulations, the gas appliances in his former properties having been substandard and the flues full of rubble.

I am glad to see the HSE doing something in respect of these regulations, which after all are there to prevent people being killed by gas emissions. I am just concerned to see that the article emphasises how unusual it is for the HSE to summons offenders in this way.

The article goes on to say that the authorities are using this high profile case to send out a strong message to landlords in North Wales. If that message is that avoidance of the gas safety regulations will result in prosecution, I hope that they will bring a few more, to press the message home. There is not a lot of point in having safety regulations if they are not enforced.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Lawyers (not) in the news

There was a big lawyers demo against the legal aid 'reforms' at Parliament today, but so far as the early evening news was concerned it might just as well not have happened...

As we work from home we are able to watch the news at lunch time. I was encouraged to see a rather good report of the demo on Channel 4 news which I felt presented the problems perhaps as well as we can expect. However it seemed to have vanished off the airwaves by the evening.

I made a point of watching BBC1, ITV and the 7.00pm Channel 4, and it was not mentioned on any of them. Indeed I have not been able to find much on the internet, other than a few blog entries and this on Channel 4 (not nearly as good as their lunchtime effort).

Of course it might be reported on Newsnight later on, but I am not sure if I can face another news program. I suppose the fact that the most needy in our country are shortly going to find it difficult to enforce their rights is not considered to be a newsworthy topic by those who select the stories to cover.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tenancy deposit protection avoidance

There are a lot of landlords who are very annoyed about the tenancy deposit scheme (described in previous posts). And many are not just annoyed about it, they are determined to avoid it! Here are some of the ideas I have heard:

Letting property as an assured rather than an assured shorthold tenancy. Well they can do this if they want to, but I think they will be pretty silly if they do. The benefit of an assured shorthold, as opposed to just an assured tenancy, is that you can use the 'no fault' notice only ground for possession to evict the tenant once the fixed term has come to an end. Let the property as an assured tenancy, and they will be able to stay there forever, so long as they keep paying the rent. Mind you if the landlord once lived there, or is going to live there after he gets it back, as his only or principle home, he may be able to use ground one (the owner occupier ground) to get the tenants out if he needs to. But that is not going to help the landlord with a portfolio of several properties – he cannot live in them all!

Taking a guarantee rather than a deposit. Well this would probably work in that they won’t have to comply with the scheme. However neither will they have money to hand – if they need it they will have to extract if from the guarantor. Who may not be willing to pay just now, and may need taking to court. Less trouble than the deposit scheme? I think not.

Putting up the rent instead. Well this again might get around the problem, but it will also make their property more expensive and less attractive to tenants (although of course they will not have to find a deposit). Plus if this brings the rent to above the market rent, the tenants have the right to challenge the rent this by referring to the Rent Assessment Panel, who may decide to put it down again. If this happens the landlord will not be allowed to put the rent back up again until after the end of the fixed term. NB, putting up the rent with a 'cash back promise' to the tenants if they leave the property spick and span is probably a bit too risky. Bearing in mind that there are pretty swinging penalities for non compliance.

The Tenant Guarantee Scheme. This is an insurance solution being developed by Residential Landlord and Letcare, where the tenants will be insured, with the benefit assigned to the landlord, for (we are told) more than a the deposit would have been. This does actually sound pretty good, however if the tenant has to pay the premium, would this be treated as a deposit in disguise? Also the web-site tells us that "only tenants with exemplary credit histories and references are accepted into the Tenant Guarantee Scheme". What about those with a less than exemplary credit history? They have to live somewhere, and I doubt that there will be enough ‘exemplary’ tenants to fill up all the rented property on offer.

No deposit. Finally there is this approach taken by a builder client of mine who says that he is just not going to take a deposit any more on the basis that as he is a builder he can get any repairs done quickly and cheaply anyway, and it is less bother. Probably the least risky course of action (and one I suspect that will be popular with his tenants), but we are not all builders.

But I think that landlords will probably find, once they start using the schemes, that they get used to them, and maybe wonder what all the fuss was about. That is what happened in Victoria, Australia apparently, where they have had damage deposit protection for some eight years now. The same company, Computershare, is running the custodial scheme here, and I suspect that they will run a pretty slick operation. In fact all of the schemes are anxious to cut down on the paperwork and will prefer landlords to register and do as much as possible online. So as long as landlords have a computer and broadband they should be all right!

It is probably also worth remembering that very many tenants (not a majority but still a lot) have had their deposit unjustifiably withheld (stolen some would say) by greedy landlords, and it is only right that they should be given protection.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Stress and spotted dick

Not a good day today. Problems with my website not working properly and people not sorting it in time to let me to get things done before the weekend, problems with other people not providing me with drafts when they said they would (so I had to draft them at short notice myself), problems with other people not getting other webby things done in time, sometimes I feel I am the only one doing anything. Thank God its Friday. I can sit here tapping soothingly into my laptop listening to Gene Harris’ fingers rippling across his piano creating magic.

And we did have spotted dick and custard for pudding. Very un PC of course, but nice.

Maybe if I forget about all the work problems I will wake up on Monday and find that they have been magically sorted over the w/e. Maybe.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Music to my ears

I know it is going 'off topic' but I must just enthuse about a new jazz/blue CD I have bought - the The Best of the Concord Years by jazz pianist Gene Harris, who I first heard played on Michael Parkinsons Sunday supplement a few weeks ago. In fact if he were not sadly deceased I might be considering booking a plane to Boise, Idaho to hear him play live (Gene Harris that is, not Michael Parkinson) ...

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Tenancy Deposit Scheme Update

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to


I have now visited and done interviews with all three of the companies running the new Tenancy Deposit Protection schemes, due to come into force on 6 April, so am in a position to say a bit more about them.

The company running the Custodial scheme is Computershare Limited, a large multinational firm. They have set up a company called The Deposit Protection Service Ltd to run the scheme, which has a web-site here. Their scheme is free but involves the landlord handing over the deposit for them to hold, and their costs come out of the interest on deposits held. They have been running a similar scheme in Victoria, Australia for the past eight years, where they tell me, their custodial scheme is the only one. Apparently landlords moaned a lot when it was set up, but now take it for granted. They feel fairly sure that the same thing will happen here. I think that their web-site is pretty good and I suspect that they will run an excellent service.

There are two companies running Insurance based schemes. These are where the landlords get to keep the deposit but have to pay the scheme administrators for the privilege. They are both different, one is aimed largely at landlords and the other at agents.

The landlords scheme is run by Tenancy Deposit Solutions Limited which is sponsored by the National Landlords Association with Hamilton Fraser, and has a web-site here. Theirs is a pay as you go scheme. Landlords will have to pay a joining fee of £58.75 and then £30 per deposit. National Landlord Association members pay slightly less at £47 and £26. There is an annual renewal fee of £14.70. There are slightly different fees for agents, accredited agents paying less than non accredited agents. Note that it costs £83 to join the NLA, with a few variants.

The final scheme is run by the Dispute Service Ltd, whose web-site is here, and is aimed mainly at agents. The only fees announced at the time of writing this are for agents. These run from £521 for agents who are members of ARLA, RICS etc to £1,609.00 for unaffiliated agents, with a few variants inbetween. However once this fee (which is an annual fee) is paid, the agent can register as many deposits as he wants. So the more deposits are registered, the cheaper overall this scheme will be.

It will be interesting to see how the insurance based schemes go. I know that there is a huge amount of interest in the Dispute Service’s scheme, plus they already have an existing client base as they formerly ran a voluntary scheme for letting agents, and these firms will be passported through into the new scheme.

The National Landlords Association has, they tell me, over 12,000 members and I suspect that many of these will be using the NLA scheme. However other landlords associations appear to be boycotting it, and going for the Dispute Service scheme. I am not sure whether this is because they consider the Dispute Service will run a superior service or whether it is because they do not like the NLA. However it is likely that the NLA will do quite well out of this and will probably pick up a lot of new members, to the fury no doubt of the other landlords associations!

However I suspect that for the smaller landlord, the cheap and easy custodial scheme will be the most attractive, as it will not involve any cost. For if the property has good tenants and no recourse is needed to the deposit, then there is no need for the landlord to incur the additional expenses involved in having the deposit money in his bank account rather than the scheme administrators bank account.

Certainly the custodial scheme will be the most attractive one for tenants, as they will know where their deposit is. The NLA told me that if the landlord fails to pay the deposit over to them in the event of a dispute, the tenant will have to get a county court judgment (as opposed to going to arbitration) before they will pay anything over to them, which I suspect will not please tenants. I also suspect that this comment may not accord with the regulations, but we shall see.

However if you are a landlord, you should, fairly soon, read the information on the various scheme administrators web-sites, and register with them to receive more information. And then make your choice.

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