Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes - news and views

I have seen several news items on the internet recently (eg here) quoting a report from the My Deposits tenancy deposit scheme, which apparently says (I have not been able to find the original report) that tenants are losing out, as 12% of claims are lost by tenants not properly following the terms of their tenancy agreement.

Excuse me, but doesn’t that also mean that 88% of landlords are losing their cases?

Meaning that under this scheme (primarily used by landlords rather than agents), more landlords are found wanting than tenants. Does that not perhaps also indicate that the TDPS was, perhaps, a good thing after all? (Contrary to the squawks of the landlords associations before the schemes were set up, including the NLA which now runs the My Deposits scheme).

Looking around at the schemes web-sites for more news, I see that the Dispute Services scheme web-site states that they are finding that only 2% of cases need adjudication, a lower than anticipated figure. As we do not know the percentage of My Deposits cases which go to arbitration, it is difficult to make much comment. However one could speculate that if there are more disputes in the My Deposits scheme (which is aimed at landlords) than in the Dispute Services scheme (which is aimed at agents), then that would indicate that agents tend on the whole to deal with deposits in a more responsible way than landlords. Needless to say, agents have been saying this for years.

There is also of course the shocking statistic put forward by the DPS of 62% of landlords not protecting the deposit at all (discussed in my post here).

Even though 88% (i.e. most of) of disputes with landlords are won by tenants, I suspect that it is still mostly only the good landlords who have protected their deposits, and that the worst landlords are still getting away with it.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Saving pdf tenancy agreements and forms

The Landlord-Law tenancy agreements are all in pdf format. This has always been the case, for a number of reasons. Most people can access and use pdfs whatever sort of computer they have via the free Adobe Reader (which you can download from www.adobe.co.uk); they are easy (relatively) for me to create; and I can protect the template via the Adobe security system.

However a few landlords have complained that they cannot save the information in the fields. This is of course quite true, but it is nothing to do with me it is down to how the Adobe software works. If you complete a form with form fields using the free reader, when you close or save the document, the information on the 'fields' will be lost. You therefore have to be very careful to ensure that you have printed out sufficient copies of your document before closing.

If you have the Adobe Acrobat software this is not a problem. Acrobat saves the information in the fields, so you can open the document up again later, either to amend the information or print it out again. If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro as I have, you can even change other peoples forms (so long as they have not protected them). However this software is pretty expensive at about £3-400 plus, and most small landlords will not want to pay this. Indeed many of them will be quite happy with just printing the form out, and will not want to store it electronically. After all it is the paper copy with the tenants' signature on, which you will need in court.

However if you do want to save the wording, there is an answer. You need to 'print' the form, using special software. This software creates a new pdf document exactly the same as the document on the screen, so it will include all the information you have typed into the 'fields'. You won’t be able to change anything on this new document though, the fields won’t be there, just the wording you put in them. This could be very useful – for example if you want to email a tenancy agreement over to a tenant.

Adobe has this feature with its own Acrobat software – it used to be called the distiller although it may be called something else now (I am out of touch with what they do). I used to use it all the time (for sending court forms over to clients for them to sign), but then after I had some work done on my computer earlier this year it suddenly started producing a load of squares instead of text. I spoke to my computer people, who did not know how to fix it, but the computer man suggested that instead I use this free software called CutePDF Writer. It worked a treat and I have used it ever since.

So if you are a user of forms with form fields (preferably from the Landlord-Law website!) and want to save a copy of what you have done, but do not want to splash out on the Acrobat program, I would suggest you give it a try.

(Needless to say however, I make no warranties regarding it, and if it trashes your machine I am not liable!! But then I would say that, I am a lawyer.)

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Tenancy deposits – another happy customer

One of the tenants who posted comments to my item on tenancy deposit protection - 62% failure, subsequently bought my kit 2 and was on the point of issuing proceedings. She has now contacted me to say that her landlord has finally caved in and paid back the whole of her deposit. "Which", she said, "is all I ever wanted!"

This landlord had made a deduction for 'cleaning' despite the fact that there had been a clear inventory report, and tried to justify his failure to protect the deposit (which meant that my client could not use the free arbitration service to challenge his deductions) on the basis that his agents should have done it.

Obviously he has now taken some advice and found that his position was a bit shakier than he had thought. So it is worth tenants persisting with claims regarding tenancy deposits. Most landlords do not want to risk a court claim if it is clear that they are in the wrong.

See also my earlier post here.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Twitter twitter, tweet tweet …

I have decided to go on to twitter. For those who don’t know what this is, it is one of those social networking sites from America. You sign up and then every now and then you do a tweet. This is a short statement of what you are doing. Like 'I am having a cup of coffee' or 'I have just put the washing into the machine'. Anyone who is interested can sign up to follow your tweets, and find out what you are tweeting about. And you can sign up to follow other peoples tweets.

Put like that it all sounds a bit silly. But I suppose fun. However, there is a bit of marketing in there (being a bit of an entrepreneur I have to think of marketing, it sort of goes with the job, not that I have a job being self employed …).

For example I have discovered this thing called twitter feed. This puts notes of entries of my blog onto my twitter page. So those following my tweets will know when I have blogged. Then I can (and have, you can see it if you look to the left) put a feed from my twitter page onto my blog. So people following my blog can see what I am twittering about. All pleasingly circular and possibly futile.

I haven’t found anyone to follow yet, apart from Nearly Legal. Being of a slightly more mature generation, none of my friends really do that sort of thing. Or at least I have not found any yet, although it is early days. The Nearly Legal tweets are all feeds from the NL web-site, some of which seem to be reports of my postings on my blog. Which of course I already know about, having done them (and of course they are also reported on my twitter page). More circularity.

So what will I twitter about? I will probably use it to tell the world what I am doing on the Landlord-Law site, what new items have been loaded up and the like. I will probably also tweet about work related things I have done, such as talks, conferences etc. And I will probably from time to time just answer the question on the twitter text box, which is 'What are you doing?'. Which at the moment is writing this blog.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Guest article – a view from the United States, from Kelly Kilpatrick

The Landlord-Law blog being a British blog, generally only looks at housing in England and Wales. However, this article, kindly provided by Kelly Kilpatrick, gives a transatlantic viewpoint. Note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of Kelly and do not necessarily reflect mine. If you are outside England & Wales and would like to write something about housing in your country, please contact me.

Consistency in Policy Regarding Tenant-Landlord Relations

Over the last several years, much has been done in the United Kingdom to reform Housing regulations. First came new laws to license owners of HMOs (Houses in multiple occupation). The reasoning behind this was that the owners of these properties were able to make a great deal of money without having to adhere to any sort of standards in regard to their tenants’ conditions.

Many HMOs were seen to be in poor or shabby condition, not providing the necessary function nor were they providing the amenities that the tenants were paying hard-earned money for. Although some landlords are still unlicensed, much progress has come with these reforms, benefiting both tenant and landlord.

The benefit of licensing an HMO ensures that the property in question meets certain standards and criteria. The tenant benefits by having a place to live that meets legal criteria and is suitable for habitation, making it worth the money spent on rent. The landlord, in turn, fixes up his property to meet the criteria and increases the value of his property as well as the amount of rent he is able to charge.

How does this compare with what is done in the United States? Each state handles its dealings with housing quite differently. What’s done in New York is handled in a completely different way than it is in Texas, for example. Housing authorities exist, but deal primarily with government-subsidized housing projects for those who live beneath the poverty line.

Generally speaking, there is a whole variety of ways tenants and landlords deal with one another in the states. In Texas, for example, the landlord of a rental property can ask for references or may not. He can ask for a deposit, and does not have to prove this deposit is protected, unlike the new tenancy deposit protection laws in the UK require landlords to do. Additionally, tenant and landlord can agree upon the terms themselves or sign a leasing agreement. None of this, however, is required by law.

Conditions in housing in the States also vary quite greatly from locale to locale. Since there is no standard law to which all landlords must adhere, the system is quite flawed, filled with fraud and unsettled disputes, much like it was in the UK before these wide-sweeping reforms were put into place. It is common practice to put shabby materials in a rental property, only to be able to subtract it from a tenant’s lease at the end of the term.

Predatory leasing is not practiced out in the open, but many apartment complexes and leasing companies use the old bait and switch to get people in the door in order to lease them something different. Many times, paperwork gets “lost,” and the terms of the lease have been changed, only to be discovered by the tenant at an inopportune time.

Naturally, most people who wish to spend their money with someone who is reputable and has established guidelines for the leasing agreement, as well as terms by which the deposit is released once the rental term is up.

Although it was a tough transition for many Britons, the HMO licensing act, as well as the tenancy deposit protection legislation has provided safeguards for both tenant and landlord alike. This has ultimately changed the face of tenant-landlord relations into a market that is now more consistent than ever before.


This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of the colleges for criminal justice. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com (although please also post feedback on this blog!).

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Credit Unions and Local Housing Allowance

As I have written about before, Credit Unions can provide a useful service to tenants who want their Local Housing Allowance payments to go direct to their landlords. Many tenants prefer this, as it prevents them spending the money by mistake and thereby making themselves vulnerable to being evicted. However under the new rules payment direct to landlords will only be done now in exceptional circumstances.

However some credit unions have a service where they arrange for a special bank account to be set up to receive the payment. They will then pay it over to the landlord. As the money is ring fenced and kept separate, there is no danger of it being swallowed up by the tenants overdraft, and their homes will be safe.

I am now compiling a list of credit unions who offer this service on my web-site www.landlordlaw.co.uk which you can see here. If you know of any other credit unions which offer this can you please let me know.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Affordable housing is not affordable

It seems that 'affordable housing', a term much bandied about nowadays, is actually not really affordable at all. Generally the phrase is taken to mean that the property is available at below full market cost or rent. Much is often made of the 'affordable' element of housing in new developments. However are they really affordable for low income families?

In an article in the excellent Property People magazine (available foc to annual members of my online service www.landlordlaw.co.uk) we are told that the term 'affordable' has recently been defined in monetary terms by a team of researchers (led by Peter Ambrose, visiting professor in housing studies at the University of Brighton, working closely with the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and London Citizens).

The team calculate that the amount affordable for housing for a family of two adults and two children, living in east London, is £135 per week (at the present time). Not surprisingly the researchers also found that the only housing available at this price is local authority or registered social landlord (housing association) housing. Privately-rented housing or low cost home ownership would is completely out of the question.

So affordable is not affordable. Rather like the accelerated possession procedure is not really accelerated. Does anyone have any other similar examples of misleading phrases from government?

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Another mortgagee / tenant eviction case

I have another mortgagee evicting innocent tenant case for you. Here I was consulted by the letting agent who had been contacted by the distressed tenant. She had just found out she was being evicted, after having received the normal notice which is served on the occupier of the property in these cases. My client was furious as he felt that the landlord had deceived him, plus he was concerned that this situation would reflect badly on his agency business, although it was no fault of his. The property had apparently been owned by the landlord for some time, had been previously rented out by another agency, and there was nothing to alert him to the mortgage problems, otherwise (he told me) he would never have taken the property on.

His main concern was for the tenant however, and he attended Court where he spoke to the Judge about the case.

Apparently this was a second mortgage, and the mortgage company had not been paid since the tenancy started three months ago. The agent asked the Judge, on behalf of the tenant, if he would grant a stay or make a 56 day order, to allow the tenant to continue to live in the property until the end of her tenancy. The solicitor for the mortgagee asked for a 28 day possession order. After considering matters the Judge decided to make a 28 day order. However the tenant will have in the region of 2 months in the property before any bailiffs appointment, which will allow her time to find somewhere else to live (although apparently she had fallen in love with the property and will be sad to leave).

I suggested to the agent that he might want to review his agency terms and conditions and consider including a clause (assuming there is not one there already) specifically providing for the landlord to warrant that all mortgage payments for the property were fully paid up and would continue to be paid for the period of the tenancy. This would mean that if the landlord did default, he would be in breach of his agency agreement, which might give the agent more freedom of action. Agents might also want to consider calling for proof that the mortgage is paid up when taking on new instructions, so as to avoid a situation such as that in my previous post, where an order for possession had been made before the property was ever let to the tenant.

With the property crisis deepening, we will probably be seeing more and more of these sad cases.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

The Sheffield Case

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to www.landlordlawblog.co.uk.


The Residential Landlords Association is pretty pleased with itself, as it has successfully challenged a claim by a tenant, supported by the CAB, against a landlord who was in breach of the tenancy deposit regulations.

As regular readers of this and other housing blogs will know, the regulations appear to say that if a landlord fails to protect a deposit under one of the government authorised schemes, and serve a notice containing prescribed information on their tenant, within 14 days of receiving the deposit, they will be ordered by the court to repay the deposit (or protect it with the custodial scheme) and pay the tenant a fine of three time the amount of the deposit money.

There is a lot of confusion about these regulations, and Judges on the whole appear reluctant to enforce them. There are quite a lot of conflicting decisions coming from the courts. However these are all County Court decisions and are mostly unreported.

The Sheffield case (which you can read about in an RLA press release and in an article in the Solicitors Journal) involved a situation where the deposit had been protected, but the landlords agent had failed to serve the notice. The notice was then served out of time, but the tenant went ahead anyway and issued the proceedings. At first instance the Judge made the award in favour of the tenants. However the landlord, funded by the RLA, appealed the decision. It came before HHJ Bullimore who ruled that the landlords were not in breach and the fine was not payable.

However what was not decided at the hearing was whether the landlord would have been in breach if he had served the notice after the issue of proceedings rather than before. The RLA take the view that the it is the date of the hearing which is important, not the issue of proceedings. They base this view on the notes to the Housing Act 2004. These have this to say about proceedings relating to tenancy deposits:

"503. If at the court hearing the court is satisfied that the landlord has not complied with the initial requirements of a scheme or provided the information required by section 213 (6)(a) or that the deposit is not being safeguarded by an authorised scheme the court must either order the person holding the deposit to repay the deposit to the applicant or pay it into an authorised custodial scheme within 14 days of the order being made. The court must also order the landlord or his agent to pay the applicant an amount equivalent to three times the deposit."

The RLA take the wording 'if at the court hearing' at the start of the paragraph to mean that so long as the requirements are satisfied before the hearing takes place, the landlord will not be penalized. However this is not the only interpretation of these words – it could just be a statement of when the decision will be made by the court - it would after all be highly inappropriate for the Court to make any decision before the hearing!!

My feeling is that if the landlord can get off the hook by complying with the requirements on the day before the court hearing, this is grossly unfair. It will in effect be encouraging landlords only to protect deposits where tenants bring court actions, and will mean that it will be virtually impossible for a tenant ever to succeed in such a claim. However I agree that it is unfair to penalize landlords who act in good faith and who only fail to comply through error (as was the case in the Sheffield case, where the deposit had in fact been protected).

We should also remember, that although this was an appeal, it was not the Court of Appeal, so this decision is not binding on anyone. County Court Judges will probably take note of it, but they do not have to follow it. We really need a test case to be taken up to the Court of Appeal.

But isn’t it ridiculous that a major court case has to take place before the effect of a piece of legislation can be known. Surely there must be a better way?

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Friday, September 05, 2008

London Landlords Day 2008

Thursday was London Landlords day – this is an annual event put on by all the local authorities in London for their landlords. It is currently run on their behalf by a company called Accession.

I was doing a talk called 'Dealing with Tenants Rent Arrears'. This is a new talk, based largely on my new(ish) Rent Arrears Action Plan section on Landlord-Law. It was just going to be about what to do when tenants fall into arrears with a short section on preventative action at the beginning, but then the organizers in their wisdom sent out a flyer saying (without consulting me first) that I was going to tell everyone how to prevent rent arrears arising in the first place! I wish! Still I decided I had better add a few more slides, so that turned into quite a largish and important part of the talk (which I am now thinking of turning into an article).

I think the talk went well. It was in the auditorium which I think seats about 400. There seemed to be quite a lot of people there for my talk, although it was difficult to see much beyond the blinding lights which shone into my eyes whenever I tried to peer out in the audience.

If you were one of those people, thank you for coming along and I hope you enjoyed it. Some of you took up my invitation to let me have your business card or email address so I could send you a pdf of the presentation. These have all been sent out, apart from a few where I could not read the handwriting. So if you have not had it, that is the reason!

I also took the opportunity (while walking to and from the station) to take a few digital photos of houses and flats in the surrounding area which, being Kensington, is posh. Eagle eyed readers of Landlord-Law have probably noticed that it is now festooned with pictures of property. I now take pictures whenever I go anywhere new, much to the irritation of my family ("come on Mum …"). There are some stunning blocks of posh flats on the Kensington side of Olympia, some of which may well be rented out, although I would surprised if any of them are ASTs (where the rent must be under £25,000). Square clips of these will gradually get onto the Landlord-Law site, hopefully giving it a bit of class, and making it a bit more representative, most of the current pictures having been taken in Norwich.

Apart from a jaunt to Lambeth in a couple of weeks to speak at their Local Authority forum, and my normal slot in the CLT October property conference in October, that is it for my speaking this year. At the moment anyway.

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