Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tenancy Deposit Protection - 62% failure

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to

I read a news items on the Deposit Protection Service website today which reported a survey showing that 62% of private landlords are flouting the tenancy deposit rules, and not protecting their tenants deposits.

If this report is true, and I suspect it probably is, or at least very near the truth, then this means that only letting agents and the better landlords are complying – meaning that those the scheme is really aimed at are ignoring it.

One probable reason for this is that the penalties (in particular the provision for the tenant to be awarded a 'fine' of three times the deposit money) appear in reality to be difficult to enforce. This is partly because the legislation is unclear. Upon careful reading it does not actually say that the fine is automatic if the landlord fails to protect within the time limits (although they do appear to indicate that it might be if the landlord is in breach of his schemes rules - there may be grounds for a test case there).

I am only aware of one case where the tenant succeeded. This was reported in Legal Action Magazine (June 2008) and was where the tenant had actually vacated in response to a section 21 notice served on her. Here the landlord was unable to remedy the position (ie by protecting the deposit out of time) and the Judge reluctantly made the order. However if the tenant had still been in possession, no doubt the landlord would hastily have arranged for the deposit to be protected, and the Judge would then have refused to make the order. The Legal Action report made it clear that the Judge only awarded the fine with reluctance and because the legislation gave him no alternative. (NB I would be very interested to hear of any other cases.)

[Note - since this post was written in July 2008, there have been considerably more cases reported, see the other posts on this blog on tenancy deposits to find them]

What is doubtless happening is that many landlords are taking the view that they will not protect deposits unless tenants threaten court action. However most tenants do not do this. Many will be wholly unaware of the tenancy deposit protection provisions, particularly, for example, if they have only recently come to this country and English is not their first language.

However, even if they are articulate British nationals, most people, even if they have a vague sort of idea that the landlord ought to do something about the deposit, will just assume that either he has done it or that the rules no longer apply. Ordinary people do not go around assuming that their landlords are breaking the law, or threatening court action. Generally people are unfamiliar with the courts and find the very thought of bringing a court claim scary.

One answer I suppose, is to do more to make people aware of the tenancy deposit scheme. Maybe it ought to feature in one of the soaps, there is probably a storyline in there somewhere. The other is to amend the rules to make it clear that if the landlord has not protected the deposit within the time limits, he cannot prevent the tenants succeeding, in a claim for the 'fine', by protecting the deposit out of time.

NB Tenants wanting to bring a claim, should note that there is a do-it-yourself kit (Kit 2) available via my web-site

[Note - there a many questions from landlords and tenants in the comments, most of which I have answered (although COMMENTS ON THIS POST ARE NOW CLOSED and no more will be added or answered). Please bear in mind that new cases (and interpretations of the rules) have come along since my answers were given. Note that there are many other more recent posts also on tenancy deposits which you can read via this link.]

[Note 2 - see my post here one year on : Tenancy deposit protction - now only 30% failure]

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Solicitor sues the court!

There is an interesting news article in the Law Society Gazette today about a solicitor who is so fed up by the appalling service provided by the Central London County court (CLCC) that he is bringing a claim in the High Court! The claim is for a judicial review to force the CLCC to list a landlord and tenant claim for hearing. The writ claims that "neither letters to the court, nor telephone calls, nor even a letter written under the Judicial Review pre-action protocol copied to the Official Solicitor .. have produced any action."

Of course if you know the court system, you will know that sending a letter is often worse than useless. As things are dealt with in strict rotation, you will receive a reply to your letter of complaint, several weeks after the original problem has been resolved, telling you that it has been resolved (which of course you already knew!). The only way to find anything out is to ring the court, where normally (and invariably for the London Courts) you will have to wait in a queue for hours. Most solicitors do not have time for this.

In the Gazette article, the courts service is quoted as saying that the number of complaints to the courts are down. The reason for this is probably that most people, in the legal profession anyway, have given up complaining as they know it will be no use.

The real reason for all the problems in the courts is of course chronic underfunding. Some courts, I understand, cannot afford to use Deputy District Judges at all, which is why cases are taking so long to be dealt with. They cannot afford to pay good wages to their staff, which is why all the good staff are leaving or have left, and those who take their place are mostly unqualified and untrained. Dealing with the listing of cases is a nightmare anyway, what with having to deal with witness availability on both sides, and it becomes impossible where there are not enough Judges to hear the claims. I feel very sorry for County Court managers and am devoutly glad that it is not me having to do it!

Incidentally, I did give some suggestions for county court fundraising in an earlier post.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thank goodness for Geograph

When I upgraded up web-site recently I left reviewing the Local Authority Directory for a later date. This is a very large section of the site, which covers all local authorities giving the LA web-site and contact details for housing related information. As there are now so many pictures in the rest of the site, I decided it would be nice to put a picture for every page showing an aspect of the LA concerned. However there is one problem here. I have not visited every borough in the country.

Having got the upgrade out of the way, the directory needed to be tackled. But what to do about the pictures? It would be a bit expensive to buy them in, and I was unhappy about just lifting them from the internet. However, I did a trawl via Google images to see what I could find. What I found, was Geograph.

This is an amazing site, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey. Its aim is to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometer of Great Britain and Ireland. The pictures are donated by ordinary people who load them up to the site, where they can be viewed online. What is more, they can be reproduced under the creative commons license on web-sites! Voila, my problem solved!

I have decided that, in accordance with the spirit of the Geograph site, I will only use their images in my 'open access' Local Authority Directory, and will rely on my own and purchased images for the commercial part of the site. There is a fantastic selection of pictures to use, many of them of superb quality! Mind you, artistically speaking, there are also a lot of rubbish quality photos, but good show all the same. It has made the otherwise tedious business of reviewing and updating my directory, fascinating.

So, after doing a few amendments to my template (some of you may have noticed that the amended entries have the H1 orange heading, and the unamended entries still have the blue H3 heading), and checking the housing information from the LA web-site, I can then turn to the more interesting business of looking for a suitable picture on Geograph. This of course has the added bonus that I get to find out where the local authority actually is. This may sound silly, but many authorities have names which give no indication (to the average person) of their location. I now know for example that Allerdale is Cumbria, Broxtowe is in Nottinghamshire, and Calderdale is around Halifax.

It is interesting to see what pictures have been loaded up on geograph. It is clear that many of the photographers are keen railway buffs, as there are a lot of rail tracks, steam engines and the like (I have used one of them for Bury). There are also a lot of very nice pictures of canals and canal boats (eg Charnwood), and of course castles, and countryside.

Some of the pictures I have chosen for the site are city scenes, such as Brent and Bromley, others are of special buildings, such as in Cambridge and Canterbury, or show a well known scene in different weather conditions - Looe in winter, and Exmouth beach before a storm, plus a nice sunset for Brighton. There are also a few statutes, such as in Cannock Chase and (my favourite) Cheltenham. Some, such as Dover and Ely could only have one subject. As you can see, it has been fun.

A condition of using the photos under the creative commons license is that the photographer must be credited, and the fact that it is published under the creative commons license must be acknowledged. I have done this in the alt text, which you can see by hovering your mouse over the image, as well as mentioning it in the notes which will go (eventually) on every directory page.

At the time of writing this blog entry I am part way through the E’s so I have quite a lot of work still to do! Mind you, not all the LA Directory pictures are geograph ones, but most of them are.

As a grateful user of Geograph images, I have loaded up some of my own pictures to the site, and will continue to do so, so I can give back as well as take. I hope that some of you readers will also visit Geograph and find it as interesting as I have.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tesco Law in action

A few weeks ago, I was (initially) somewhat flattered to receive an invitation from a financial organisation (who will remain unnamed) regarding the delivery of a new possession proceedings service.

"I am aware of your expertise in the field of residential landlord and tenant law" ran the letter, "and am writing to you to explore whether we can work in partnership together". Happy to know that at least one person is aware of my expertise, I rang to find out more. However after speaking to the gentleman, my interest diminished considerably, in fact down to zero. The situation was this.

The company wants to offer a cheap and cheerful possession service to the public. However as they are not a firm of solicitors they cannot (as yet) issue the proceedings themselves. They therefore need a firm of solicitors to do this for them. "We will draft all the paperwork" said my correspondent, "all you have to do is issue the proceedings and then, if necessary, instruct the bailiffs".

Sounds good? Well not really. The claims would be issued under my firms name. So if there was anything wrong with them and a negligence claim followed, it would be my professional indemnity insurance which would be on the line. Therefore I would have to check all the paperwork before issue to make sure that it was correct. So there would really be the same amount of work as if I were drafting it up myself. And they were offering to pay me £50.

When I first heard him say £50 I found it difficult to believe that I had heard him correctly. For that I would have to receive the paperwork, open a file, check it was correct, send it off to court, log the details on receipt, instruct the agent to attend the hearing, and then deal with their report. That would be for the straightforward cases where there is no defence filed. As gently as I could, I told him that it was not something I was really interested in.

I don’t know if he will find a firm prepared to work for him. I suspect not. In fact I would hope that no solicitors firm will be prepared to issue proceedings which have not been drafted by a partner or member of staff. And although the company were offering to ‘work in partnership’ I feel pretty sure that if there were any Tesco law type rule changes which allowed them to issue the claims themselves, the 'partnership' would be fairly swiftly ended.

But is this the future I ask myself? Large financial organisations mopping up all the customers and using solicitors at knock down rates, to do the grunt work? Well hopefully not in my firm.

But it would be interesting to know if any other firms have had similar approaches.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

NLA / NFRL merger challenge

The big news in landlord world at the moment is the recent announcement of the merger of the two big landlords associations, the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the National Federation of Residential Landlords (NFRL).

However I am sure many landlords will be frustrated to read that there appears to be a question mark over this happening, due to wrangling at NFRL director level. This report states that two of the directors, who were apparently not present at a crucial meeting or party to the merger statement, are thinking of challenging the its validity.

I have to say that I am not really surprised. The world of landlord associations seems to be riven with strife and argument. A few years ago the main organisation was the NFRL. At that time this was an umbrella organisation which most local organisations belonged to, including the NLA (then called the Small Landlords Association). This seemed a very sensible idea as it allowed local organisations to keep their own identity but to work together at national level.

However then, due to various arguments, various large associations left the NFRL to go it alone, including the then Small Landlords Association, and the NFRL as a result became less representative. This was bad news for landlords in general, as smaller organisations carry less clout when lobbying government. (Although the Small Landlords/NLA then went from strength to strength, becoming very large (hence the name change) and they now manage one of the three government authorised tenancy deposit protection schemes.)

Every now and again I received reports (from my landlord association mole) about what was going on, mainly in the NFRL, and it was generally depressing news about director level tiffs and spats. Which I felt was an enormous shame, as landlords need a unified body to speak for them at government level.

So I really hope that this time they will be able to over come their differences (whatever they are – and I am sure that the majority of landlords do not really care what they are) and start to work together for the good of ordinary landlords. Which after all is what they are there for.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

The future is orange

If you visit Landlord-Law today, particularly if you have not been there for a while, you will find that it has become rather, well, bright! We have had a bit of an upgrade.

After a rather depressing start to the year (for various reasons) I decided that things needed a bit of a shake up and commissioned my web-designer, Gill, to do me a radical new web-site design. "Nothing is sacrosanct", I told her, "well, apart from the logo of course". Naturally therefore a new logo was one of the first things she did.

It’s a bit different, the new site design. But after all there is no law which says that legal web-sites should be boring, and it is certainly not that. I told Gill that I wanted bright colours ("proper colours") and put an absolute ban on all pastels. Bless her, she did a stonking design.

"What do you think about having a few pictures?" she asked hesitatingly, one day (Landlord-Law 1 being almost entirely text based). "Yes", I said, "why not? Perhaps a few". Which is why you now see at least one photograph on every page, together with Wils cartoons, which I decided to use more lavishly (after all I do have about 6 years worth!)

The use of photos grew like Topsy. After uploading a couple, I was so stuck by how nice they looked, that I decided to use a few more … It was then quite a job to find sufficient. All of our holiday photos have been raided, and in additional I took quite a lot of pictures locally – luckily Norwich has a wide variety of housing types, so I could do the full range, from modern flats to (only one so far) a thatched cottage, plus endless terraced houses.

Most of the photos are by me, the majority taken within about 20 minutes walk from where I live, the rest having been taken on holidays and on the way home from a recent trip to Manchester. My husband took a few, and there are a few purchased photographs from I intend to change the photos from time to time and upload new ones as and when I take them – a new interest in life!

Another new feature of the site, is that it incorporates this blog! If you have not accessed the blog from the site, take a look – it is here.

Of course it is only when I have to check it over that I realise what a very large web-site Landlord-Law has become. I seem to have been working night and day on it for weeks on end (well about three I suppose) so it will be nice to step back a bit, and have a break. Although there are quite a few new things I want to do for the site, and my publisher is talking about a new book …

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