Monday, May 19, 2008

Stand your ground on damage deposit claims

In my last post I talked about the case of my poor clients, evicted by their landlords’ mortgagee. In fact the situation was worse that I let on, as not only were they evicted, they also didn’t get their deposit back!

My advice to them was (inter alia) to threaten the agents with an application under the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme regulations for the return of the deposit and three times the deposit sum ‘fine’ provided for under the regs. The deposit after all had been paid to the agents. In my view the fact that they had passed it on to the landlord (which turned out to be a dodgy company - almost certainly without assets) did not excuse them from their responsibility to protect the deposit. Otherwise this would be driving the proverbial coach and horses through the regulations. My letting agent client had told me that they would never pass a deposit on to a landlord unless they were 100% certain that it was going to be protected.

Initially the agents tried the brush off – “nothing to do with us, we just found the tenants, you need to claim the deposit from the landlord”. My client then spoke to the Deposit Protection Service, who told him that the agents were right, and that they could not claim the deposit from them.

Thankfully, although initially knocked back by this, my client decided to send a stiff letter to the agents, threatening court proceedings, and claiming the deposit, the 3 x fine, all his expenses (including an item I had privately told him was not really recoverable), and substantial compensation. The agents consulted their solicitors and their insurers, and, to my clients surprise and delight, agreed to everything except the compensation!

So a happy ending and champagne all round! But what a good thing my client took no notice of the DPS and decided to send the letter anyway. Otherwise they would now be several thousand pounds poorer.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Agents letting property subject to a re-possession order

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to


There is quite a lot of discussion about tenants evicted unfairly by landlords in retaliation for something that they have done, such as complain about repairs. However there is another type of unfair eviction where tenants do not even get the benefit of the two months notice under section 21 which tenants receive in a retaliatory eviction. I am talking about tenants who get evicted by the landlords mortgage company when the landlord fails to meet his mortgage payments.

I was consulted by tenants on one of these cases recently. They had rented what they believed to be their dream home, only to find two months later, the bailiffs at the door. It was a complete surprise to them because the possession order had been obtained before the property had been let to them!

Yes, amazing though it seems, the possession order was made several weeks before the tenancy was granted, and the date for possession in the order had actually expired the day before my clients tenancy started (by the way they know I writing this and have given their consent). Therefore the notice which mortgagees are required to serve on occupiers of properties did not help them, as it had been served over six months ago!

The property was rented via an agency and the question comes to mind – what is the agents obligation here? Under agency law an agent is generally not liable for the acts or omissions of its principal. However what if the property they are presenting to the public as a suitable home, is one which is vulnerable to repossession from the moment the ink dries on the tenancy agreement?

I had a word with one of my letting agent clients about the sort of checks that are generally done in the business against their landlord clients and the properties they take on. It seems that the answer is ‘not much’ Apparently landlords are sometimes asked to sign a form saying that they are authorised to let the property and that there are no legal problems or other problems with it. Well that’s not much good is it? A dishonest landlord is going to sign that without a qualm.

I can’t help feeling that there should be some sort of obligation on agents to check this sort of thing. After all in this case the agent was offering to let through its business, a property which had a substantial defect – i.e. it was vulnerable to repossession at any moment. It seems wrong for the agent to be able to pocket its commission (taken from my clients rent) and then say “sorry gov, nothing to do with me”. Which is in effect what they are doing.

What do other people think?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Inside track bubble bursts

I was amused to read that Inside Track, the company that charged thousands of pounds for courses promising to teach people how to be property millionaires, has now itself gone into administration.

I am not a property investor myself, neither am I a millionaire (I wish!) but I would have thought that if people want to make money from property, something along the following lines would be necessary:

  • To be clever (particularly to understand numbers and finance) and to have a large chunk of common sense
  • To read around the subject (for example some of the books here) and attend talks and lectures (no need to spend thousands, for example there are free talks at property events such as the Landlord and Buy to Let Shows, and David Lawrenson runs modestly priced property seminars in London)
  • To study the property market very, very carefully in a specific area of the country, ideally not too far from where you live, so you know it really well and can buy sensibly
  • Capital
I suspect that good people skills and contacts in the building industry would also be important.

Belief in getting easy money by attending an overpriced course pumped up by extravagant claims, would, I suspect be a negative factor.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

The problem of landlord regulation

A recent article in Inside Housing looks at how landlords are using the governments review of the private rented sector to call for a review of the HMO licensing system, which they say is not working. One organisation is asking for it to be done away with altogether, allowing landlords to ‘self regulate’.

The main criticism of the HMO licensing scheme is the way the license fees vary across the country, with some authorities charging over £1,500 per property and others charging under £200. I have to say I have a lot of sympathy with landlords complaints here, our own Landlord-Law list of licensing fees shows a very wide variation. This cannot be right.

However in my opinion one of the best chances of dealing with poor conditions in properties and rogue landlords should be via the local authorities and the licensing scheme. The problem is though that in many cases they are not using their powers properly, most likely because of lack of resources. The Inside Housing article mentions a "substantial fine slapped on a Liverpool landlord last month" and this is quoted as showing that the regime is working. I am really pleased that at least one bad landlord has got his comeuppance under the regs, but suspect that there are many others slipping through the net. The fact that this item is newsworthy (when if the councils were doing their job, such orders would be common practice) is telling in itself.

Which is a pity, as if the local authority powers, which they already hold, were being used as they should be, then this would do a lot to solve the problems of substandard housing. It really needs an outside body to enforce standards, it is unfair to expect tenants to have to do this themselves. Not only because they are then at risk of retaliatory eviction under section 21, but also because bringing a legal action is a stressful, and (unless legal aid is available, which often it is not) expensive process which many tenants do not want to undertake.

Furthermore, why should they have to? Under the Housing Act 2004, poor standards are technically a crime and local authorities are the organisation charged with enforcement. We do not expect victims of burglaries to hunt down and prosecute the thieves. Why should victims of substandard housing have to sue their landlords in order to obtain the decent standards they are entitled to under the law? The situations are not wholly parallel, I agree, but it is a valid point of view.

As for the suggestion that landlords should regulate themselves, this is laughable. I wholly agree that many, probably a majority, of landlords are law abiding and provide decent properties which not only comply with the standards but surpass them. However how are these landlords, or indeed the landlords associations, going to do anything about the non compliant landlords? They may not approve of them, but that isn’t going to do any good! The only way that landlords could self regulate would be if membership of a landlords or similar association were made mandatory and the associations given powers to act against members who breach their standards. This is one of the options being looked at by the Law Commission in their responsible renting project. However many landlords associations do not want this role.

My preference would be for regulation of non complaint landlords to be done by an outside body, the most appropriate being the Local Authorities, as they already have powers in this respect. The main reason why this is not being done properly already, is a lack of resources. Which means under funding by the government. Over to you, Gordon.

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