Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Credit crunch problems

There is a very interesting, if worrying, article on the Guardian site here about the credit crunch and the effect it is having on housing. I was shocked to read that mortgage repossessions are likely to go up to 45,000, from 8,000 in 2004.

The article also makes other telling points, such as for example the income of support charities is likely to go down as few people can afford to donate, and the value of their investments plummet.

Bad news for us all.

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The Rent Arrears Action Plan

In view of the current financial situation, I have added a new members only service to my Landlord-Law site, a Rent Arrears Action Plan. This is in five parts (the first part being preliminary information) and contains detailed guidance to landlords on what they should do from the moment their tenant first falls into arrears, up to considering court action. It contains precedent letters which can be printed off and used, the possession notices, and checklists, so landlords can keep a record of what they have done.

It is important that rent arrears are dealt with promptly, not only for the landlord but also for the tenant. If rent arrears are allowed to build up (and I have seen some horrendous rent arrears in my time) then they will get to such a state that the tenant will never be able to pay them off. Whereas if the tenant starts dealing with them at an early stage, it may be possible for an installment plan to be arranged, which will allow the tenant to stay in the property. The landlord will then not be faced with the expensive of court proceedings, a large rent arrears bill, and all the bother of having to find a new tenant. Often when people fall into debt they will pay the person or company which is shouting the loudest. So if the landlord does not do anything, this will often result in the tenant giving other debts priority.

Even if the tenant cannot afford, long term, to stay in the property, if things are dealt with promptly then it may be possible for things to be kept under control until the landlord can evict the tenant under the cheaper section 21 procedure. This will allow the tenant to apply for local authority housing which, if the tenant has a family, they will be entitled to. However if the tenant is being evicted for serious rent arrears, the tenant may also have lost the right to be re-housed if the Local Authority consider he is responsible for the eviction himself (i.e. because he did not pay rent when he should have done).

Most landlords are reasonably humane people and will want to help their tenants if they can. However, many will not know what to do when tenants fall into arrears, or understand the situation their tenants are in vis a vis Local Authority re-housing. Hopefully this new service will be of assistance.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Local authority takes action on illegal HMOs

I was pleased to read in this report that in Kings Lynn, Local Authority officials are checking up on HMOs. There is not much point in having laws to legislate HMOs, poor conditions in property, and the like if nothing is done about it.

As was pointed out by Mark P in the comment here (you need to scroll down), many Local Authorities are unable to do anything due to lack of funds, so it is good to see that are taking their responsibilities seriously.

My feeling is that the only way properties owned by the worst landlords are going to be improved for their tenants is via action from Local Authorities. Probably the most effective course of action would be for the LAs to do the repair work themselves and then re-coup the cost from the landlord. They do actually have the power to do this now, but perhaps for them to use these powers, their right to recoup the cost from the landlord should be beefed up a bit. If landlords feel that they are going to lose their rent for a few months or years, it may persuade them to put their own house in order, so as to avoid it being put in order for them.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Policing the Landlords

I have just listened to an interesting program on Radio 4 (via the listen again facility) which is on problems tenants at the lower end of the market experience. The presenter finally managed to speak to one of the landlords whose properties featured in the program, who took the view that he was spending loads of money doing up properties for ‘scumbags’, who then don’t look after them properly (leading, he implied, to the condition the presenter found them in). Hmm.

It is very sad that this sort of thing is still going on, and that some tenants are frightened to report poor conditions because they are scared of being evicted. Either legally via section 21 or by the boys coming round to evict them forcibly.

The program mentioned the current review of the private sector being undertaken at York University, and it will be interesting to see if there are any suggestions in the report on how to deal with this sort of thing.

The program pointed out that the majority of landlords are responsible and provide decent properties. No doubt they would be very happy to see the back of the criminal landlord who gives them all a bad name.

At the time of writing you can listen to the program via this link, but I am not sure how long this will stay online.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bernstein and Floyd

Readers who were interested in my earlier post on the landlord whose disabled tenant appealed against a possession order obtained under s21, will be interested in this quote from the final paragraph in the report in the recent case of S -v- Floyd (with the Equality and Human Rights Commission joined in as an interested party):

one of the members of this court has dealt recently with an application for permission to appeal from a judgment of a Circuit Judge (Bernstein v Tate, December 21, 2007) in a case involving what would normally be a mandatory order for possession under section 21 of the 1988 Act. The tenant claimed that non-payment of rent was due to various health problems including depression, as a result of which she had to stop working, and her incapacity and housing benefit was used in paying off her overdraft instead of the rent. Prior to Malcolm the District Judge made a possession order on the basis that the tenant's disability had nothing to do with the landlord's decision to seek possession. But the Circuit Judge granted a stay, set aside the original possession order and re-listed the matter for evidence of the tenant's disability and further submissions. This appears to have been on the basis that the tenant had a reasonable prospect of success in showing that she was disabled for the purposes of the 1995 Act, and that she was entitled to a stay of the mandatory possession order.

The wording of this quotation seems to imply that the CA do not entirely agree with the Circuit Judge's assessment of the tenant's prospects of success.

The Floyd case itself will bring some comfort to landlords. Here the tenant had an order for possession made against him under the mandatory possession ground 8 as he was over £7,000/123 weeks in arrears of rent. The tenant admitted this but tried, via the appeal process, to prevent the landlord obtaining possession because he suffered a mental disability, citing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However the Court of Appeal made it clear that so far as they were concerned, the DDA did not entitle tenants to get out of their legal obligations just because they are disabled:

It is not immediately obvious (a) how the 1995 Act could provide a basis for resisting a claim for possession on a statutory mandatory ground or (b) how a landlord would be unlawfully discriminating against a disabled tenant by taking steps to enforce his statutory right to a possession order for admitted non-payment of rent for 132 weeks. The 1995 Act was enacted to provide remedies for disabled people at the receiving end of unlawful discrimination. It was not aimed at protecting them from lawful litigation or at supplying them with a defence to breach of a civil law obligation. Like other anti-discrimination legislation, the 1995 Act created statutory causes of action for unlawful discrimination in many areas, such as employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services and the disposal or management of premises, but it did not create any special disability defence to the lawful claims of others, such as a landlord's claim for possession of premises for arrears of rent. The legislation is not about disability per se: it is about unlawful acts of discrimination on a prohibited ground, ie., unjustified less favourable treatment for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability.

However we are all waiting to hear what the House of Lords decide in the leading case of Malcolm, which has been discussed by me previously here. I am sure that all landlords will be hoping that this will make it clear that just because a tenant turns out to be disabled, this does not mean that the landlord will be effectively forced to house them rent free forever. Which would effectively be the case if any attempt to enforce their rights to possession (even where they are supposed to be mandatory) were blocked on the basis that they are discriminatory. Even if (as in the cases of Bernstein and Floyd) the landlord did not actually know that the tenants were disabled.

Note - if you want to read more about the technicalities of these cases, you will find detailed posts on the Nearly Legal blog. However unless you are a housing lawyer (and perhaps even then), you may find it makes your head hurt.

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