Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Painsmith Blog

I have just discovered the excellent blog from Landlord and Tenant specialists Painsmith Solicitors. It has some really interesting posts, as one would expect, and I shall certainly be reading it in future. Highly recommended to anyone interested in landlord and tenant.

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Homeless hostel too comfortable says VAT man

Reading the recent issue of Roof Magazine, I came across this utterly bonkers decision by the VAT authorities.

Byker Housing Association has built a new 31 bed hostel for the homeless in Newcastle – however the VAT authorities have deemed it to be a commercial building (i.e. a hotel) rather than a residential one - because it is too comfortable! This means that it becomes liable for VAT of £315,000 – which will put Byker Bridge out of business.

Under the VAT rules, hostels should be exempt from VAT if they are for a residential use, designed as a dwelling, or used for a relevant charitable purpose. Despite this, because the VAT office does not have a workable definition of a homeless persons hostel, and because the new hostel is quite nice, they are treating it as if it were a hotel for tax purposes. Even though the building was partly developed with Housing Corporation finance which is only available for non commercial ventures!

Hopefully this decision will be set aside. Otherwise Byker Bridge will go out of business, there will be 1,500 per year more homeless on the streets of Newcastle, and it will have a knock on effect on other registered social landlords developing homeless hostels

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shelter – Charity of the Month (December 2008)

Shelter is a great force for good in this country and thousands of tenants and homeless people will be forever grateful to it for its help.

As they say on their web-site "Shelter believes everyone should have a home. We help people find and keep a home. We campaign for decent housing for all".

They offer some brilliant services. For example:

  • They have a free housing advice helpline - 0808 800 4444
  • They have numerous advice offices where you can visit for free help and advice
  • They campaign tirelessly – see here on their part in the recent assistance given to prevent repossessions
  • They publish an excellent magazine Roof (reviewed by me on Landlord-Law here)
  • And they also have many resources for professionals
If you want to donate – click here

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Convicted HMO landlord – doing the community a service?

This is the sort of attitude that Local Authorities have to put up with. Mr Bowden in Ipswich, who recently pleaded guilty convicted in the Magistrates Court to operating a house of multiple occupation without a licence (reported here), considers he has done nothing wrong. However,

- The property had 19 people living in it
- There were minimal fire precautions
- A converted attic was only accessible via an unsafe staircase
- A woman was living in a room with no natural light,

to name just a few of the problems. Yet Mr Bowden claimed "It seems a ridiculous thing to go to court about. It's something over nothing. Yes, I should've had a licence to rent a third floor, but I wasn't aware I needed one. … I've given people a roof over their heads that they otherwise couldn't get. Some people can't afford a deposit so I asked for very little. In some respects I was helping the council out but obviously they took a different view - I think I was doing the community a good service."

There is of course some force in what he says. It is generally better for the homeless person to be in an unsafe building than on the street. However an unsafe building threatens everyone around it. If there was a fire, all of the 19 occupants could have been killed, along with those living in adjacent properties. It cannot be allowed.

Mr Bowden, despite his protestations, is no doubt aware of this. Apparently when Environmental Health Officials made an appointment to view the property he made sure his tenants were out of the way.

It is good to see that there are more and more reports of Local Authorities using their powers under the Housing Act 2004, for example a report here of a landlord fined in Oxford.. I firmly believe that Local Authority action is the best way to deal with defective property, and that it should not be up to individual tenants to do this.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Landlords responsiblities for fire safety

I have been sent a press release by the Fire Brigade regarding a sucessful prosecution of a landlord who was found guilty of breaches of fire safety legislation and ordered to pay nearly £13,000 in fines and costs. The press release reads:

Uxbridge Magistrates' Court fined Armajit Singh, £5,600 for seven breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Mr. Singh did not own the premises but was managing it for his uncle and had responsibility for the property’s maintenance and repairs.

The prosecution followed a fire at the house converted into flats on Wood End Green Road, Hayes on 14 September 2007. A man and a woman were woken by the blaze and tried to escape via the staircase but it was engulfed by thick black smoke. They escaped by smashing the first floor bedroom window and jumping out. The woman broke her ankle in the fall and the man suffered deep cuts to his hands.

Fire safety inspectors visited the premises and found that there were a number of faults including no smoke alarm or fire extinguishers in the property and none of the doors were fire resistant.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force in October 2006. In a landlord and tenant context it provides for those in control of properties and responsible for the maintenance and repairs (generally this will be the landlord) to carry out a fire risk assessment (which must be kept up to date), and to implement appropriate fire safety measures to minimise the risk to life from fire.

Note that the two pictures showing the damage done by the fire are copyright of the London Fire Brigade.

Mind you, maybe Mr Singh got off lightly. In October, Mr Mehmat Parlak was sentenced to four months imprisonment and his company, Watchacre properties limited, was fined £21,000 following a similar prosecution under the Regulations. Landlords be warned!

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