Tag Archives: Tenants

Right to rent checks are being rolled out – how will you be affected?

Matthew Oliver, NLA’s Parliamentary Officer, outlines what the changes will mean.

Matt Oliver, NLA Public Affairs Officer, explains the Immigration Act Landlords Scheme

Matt Oliver, NLA Public Affairs Officer, explains the Immigration Act Landlords Scheme

In a written ministerial statement, the government yesterday announced the areas where they will be piloting the Immigration Act Landlords Scheme.  This is the scheme where landlords are required to check the immigration status of tenants, as prescribed in the Immigration Act.

What do you need to know?

From 1 December 2014, landlords in these areas will need to check that someone has the right to live in the UK before letting a property to them. This includes landlords who take in lodgers or sub-let property.

Therefore, the right to rent checks will only apply to:

  • landlords in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton
  • all adults aged 18 and over living at the property (children under 18 will not need to be checked)
  • only new tenancy agreements starting on or after 1 December 2014

Landlords will need to see evidence of a person’s identity and citizenship, for example a passport or biometric residence permit. Copies of the documentation will need to be taken as evidence the checks have been carried out and retained for one year after the tenancy ends.

Importantly, if landlords let a property after 1 December to someone who doesn’t have the right to rent, then they could be fined up to £3,000.

The landlords code of practice

The Home Office have released guidance to support landlords with the changes. The Landlords Code of Practice explains:

  • if your property is affected
  • if any exemptions apply
  • how to carry out a right to rent check
  • what documents individuals can show you as evidence of their right to rent
  • when and how to request a right to rent check from the Home Office

Our thoughts

We have to take a practical approach to the issue and it would be fruitless to make any more sweeping statements about our opposition to the plans – we’re far past that point.

However, right to rent checks bring about significant changes for landlords, so we hope that the pilot roll-out provides an opportunity for the Home Office to test the changes and to understand the implications they will have on the process of securing private rented housing.

Combatting illegal immigration is important, but we’ve always been concerned that if landlords are made responsible for making initial immigration checks then the process must be simple to carry out. And on the face of it, the system for checking and verifying a tenant’s right to rent seems both practical and workable, but only where someone’s right to rent is clear cut. Where there is doubt, landlords will need to check with the Home Office which could take up to two working days.

The changes could therefore make it harder for tenants with question marks over their eligibility to rent property in the UK, regardless of their legal status to remain,; any delay to verifying the immigration status of a given individual will hinder the usually expedient process of securing a home in the private rented sector, thus making them less desirable to let to.

What’s next?

The Home Office expects to continue with the phased introduction of checks across the UK next year.  To advise the implementation and evaluation of the measures, the Government is convening a Consultative Panel, consisting of key stakeholders, including the NLA.

We trust that our presence and feedback to the panel on the first phase of the roll-out will be thoroughly evaluated and considered to ensure a smooth transition for landlords.

Are you having abandonment issues?

Lucy Regan, London Representative for the NLA advises landlords on the issue of tenant abandonment.

Abandonment isn’t something that happens often in the private rented sector but when it does it can be distressing and confusing. But how do you know if your proREGAN Lperty has been abandoned and what are the steps you need to take?

Things you need to consider

Has the property been abandoned?

First of all a landlord must decide if the property has been abandoned. If a tenant has given notice or handed back the keys this is then termed ‘surrender of tenancy’. Secondly a landlord must establish the reason: there may be a valid reason as to why a property is left unattended, for instance a hospital stay, an extended holiday or the tenant has gone to prison.

Insurance

Your insurance may not be valid if the property has been left unattended for more that the stipulated period. This could prove costly as empty properties are susceptible to squatters and vandals.

How to check that property has been abandoned

  • Contact – A landlord should first attempt to contact the tenant. If they do not respond to calls, voicemails, text messages or emails, it could be the first bit of evidence that the property has been abandoned?
  • Is the tenant still making rent payments? – When did they stop? Is that normal or have they been late with payments before?
  • Are the tenant’s possessions still at the property? If they have been removed, it could be another tick in the box of abandonment. Checking for possessions can be difficult. In some cases a landlord may be able to see through a window, but if this is not possible, they must then seek permission from the tenant to access the property. But with the suspicion of abandonment this may not be possible. However if a landlord thinks the property is in an unsafe state they may enter, but they must be cautious and make sure there is a clear reason for entering. It would also be a good idea to have a witness come along.
  • Is the tenant claiming housing benefits? If so, then a landlord can contact the Housing Department. They may even be in contact with the tenant and could shed some light on the situation.

Where do you stand legally?
A landlord needs to be aware that the tenant is legally entitled to return and take up residence again, and that the landlord is responsible for the tenant’s possessions.

If a landlord takes over the property and re-lets it, there could be serious trouble as it is a civil offence relating to the breach of the existing tenancy contract. It is also a criminal offence to prevent the continuation of the tenancy.
There have been cases where landlords have been fined up to £20,000 for re-letting their properties when then tenant is clearly not coming back.

The safest way to deal with abandonment is to get a court possession order before taking over the property.

What to do next

If a landlord has established significant evidence that the property has potentially been abandoned they should follow these steps:

  • Remember to ensure that all communications and actions are documented.
  • Make sure that there is a witness available and willing to give a statement at any time when at or dealing with the property and tenant. A local authority’s Tenant Relations Officer can help with this.
  • Serve an Abandonment Notice. This note must be placed on the tenant’s door. However, be aware that this may attract squatters, so do it as discreetly as possible. It is advisable to take a picture of this with a newspaper to show the date. To be safe, post a copy through the door. After five days, the locks may then be changed (unless already done so to secure the property or see to any present dangers).
  • Any possessions remaining in the property must be stored for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Under no circumstance must you deprive the tenant of their rights to access.
  • Inform the local authority rent officer of your actions in writing.
  • Seek expert advice: the NLA advice line is on hand for NLA members.
  • Always obtain a court possession order before taking over the property or re-letting if there is any doubt.

To avoid getting into this kind of situation it is best practice to get a thorough reference on the tenant at the start of the tenancy. Check for rent payments, and visit the property regularly. If you are on good terms with a neighbour, you could ask them to keep an eye on any suspicious movements, or provide a weekly cleaning service.

Finally, it is a good idea to build up a relationship with the tenant and make them aware that if they do go away for an extended period of time that they can let you know.

New guidance to promote successful tenancies

Make sure you know your rights as a renter

Make sure you know your rights as a renter

New guidance has been produced to help private renters in England who are looking for a house or flat to rent.

The guidance has been produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and provides a checklist of the most important and common aspects to help protect renters from problems at every stage of looking for, and moving in to, private rented property.

The guidance is for renters who are entering in to an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreement – the most commonly used tenancy agreement in the private sector – but doesn’t cover lodgers or people with licences , nor tenants where the property is not their main or only home.

What’s in it?

It provides a host of information that should enable a better understanding about the rights of the tenant, and their responsibilities so that a positive relationship with their landlord can be maintained. It contains lots of detailed information about what to consider:

  • before searching for a property –  whether through  letting agent or directly from a landlord;
  • once you’ve found a place –information about the important documentation tenants should receive from their landlord or agent;
  • during the tenancy –  including the rights and what’s expected of tenants, and how to deal with problems or issues;
  • When the tenancy is coming to an end –how to renew or extend the tenancy and how the property should be left upon tenancy expiry to ensure no issues arise.

What if problems arise?

The guidance also contains important information about tenant’s legal rights and offers further sources of information and support for renters who experience problems during the tenancy, such as:

  • financial problems
  • Concerns over the safety of the property
  • Fear of or actual harassment by the landlord/ illegal eviction.

Download the full guide now

You can download the guidance from he DCLG’s website here.

Most of it will equally apply if you are in a shared property but in certain cases your rights and responsibilities will vary.

A quick guide to residential tenancy possession in England

Chafes Solicitors explain the to go about claiming possession

As a landlord, there are often times when you will unfortunately need to seek possession of your property. For example, if your tenants are in arrears or your property has been damaged through anti-social behaviour (the top two reasons for a landlord being forced to go down this route.)

If your tenants have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), there are two options open to you. So which is the right course of action?

Well, it all depends on your circumstances of course – why and when are you seeking to repossess your property?

As a landlord, you must serve notice on your tenants in order to claim possession and there are two ways for you to do so.

  1. Section 21(S21) – known as an Accelerated Possession Procedure, or
  2. Section 8 (S8) – known as a Standard Procedure

So what do you need to know about both routes?

S21

This route gives you the right to possession at, or after, the expiry of the tenancy period provided you serve a S21 notice to your tenants two months before you wish to claim possession. Remember, you are not automatically entitled to possession upon expiry of the tenancy unless you first issue the S21 notice.

This route means that there is no need for a court hearing so it is likely to be less hassle; providing you have correctly served the S21 notice (and the court papers are in order) the court must order that you can possess your property.

However, the court does not have the power to make a money judgment under this route. So this means it cannot order your tenant to repay any rent in arrears, for example, although it is possible to issue separate legal proceedings in respect of arrears.

S8

Use an S8 notice if the terms of the tenancy have been breached. You have the right to possession on 17 different grounds – commonly rent arrears – and the length of the notice will vary upon the grounds you have sought possession.

See section 8 grounds for repossession for more information.

S8 claims also allow for a money judgment to be obtained along with an order for possession, which the S21 route does not allow.

Bear in mind however that S8 proceedings can often be lengthy as they are likely to be defended by the tenant, so the nature of the breach of tenancy will be important. For example, if your tenants are in arrears you might want to consider likelihood of recovering this money in the long term.

Where both routes apply – such as when the tenancy is ending and there are also rent in arrears – it can be advisable to use the often simpler and quicker S21 route instead as faster possession will allow you to re-let your property sooner.

Regardless of your chosen route, remember that you must have served notice on the tenant before any court proceedings can be begin.

Claiming possession of property can be concerning and stressful for all involved. The NLA can provide advice and guidance for landlords through its Online Library (FREE for NLA members) and Telephone Advice Line (Exclusive for NLA members). Visit the NLA Online Library here.

This blog has been provided by Michael Devlin of Chafes Solicitors LLP.

Deposits: Whose money is it anyway?

Faiz Rashid, NLA Local Representative for Yorkshire, explains the importance of understanding the status of tenancy deposits.

Most landlords ask new tenants to pay a month’s deposit as security in case of any damage to the property or non-payment of rent by the tenant.

It’s the only real protection available to us should things go wrong later on.

However, what happens to that money at the end of the tenancy is also one of the most heavily challenged decisions a landlord has to make.

To deal with these disputes, the Government introduced mandatory tenancy deposit protection for most tenancies in England in Wales in April 2007. This wasn’t necessarily popular with all landlords then (or even now if truth be told) but it was intended to safeguard tenants’ deposits and provide a fairer system for settling disagreements about the return of any disputed at the end of a tenancy.

There are two types of government authorised schemes currently available:

-       Custodial; where the landlord or agent pays the deposit into the scheme, where it will be kept until the end of tenancy.

-       Insurance backed; where the landlord or agent holds onto the deposit but pays insurance premiums to the scheme. This means that the deposit is insured if there is any dispute, and the scheme will repay the tenant the agreed amount directly.

Personally, I use my|deposits for my tenancy deposits. This suits me because its flexible (I can use it around the clock), easy and straightforward. I can hold the deposit myself and am able to simply return it to the tenant at first opportunity at the end of the tenancy (providing all has gone well) which isn’t always so straightforward with the custodial scheme. But the custodial scheme has its merits too, especially if you don’t want the responsibility of holding onto potentially large sums of money for the duration of the tenancy.

Despite some teething problems, largely being addressed by new legislation from next month discussed in our earlier guest blog here, the three Government backed schemes have proved largely successful.

But there is still quite a lot of confusion about the status of deposits in general.

The key point which landlords often get wrong is that the deposit belongs to tenant. It never ceases to be the tenant’s money and should be returned unless the landlord can show that he or she has suffered a financial loss as a result of the tenant’s action or inaction.

This can be frustrating for landlords because as we all know it can be difficult to remain objective when carrying out an end of tenancy checkout – especially where there is obvious damage. This is why conducting a thorough and comprehensive inventory at the beginning of every tenancy is absolutely essential. Note down everything, take photographs, video if necessary and make sure that the tenant signs their agreement.

More landlords fall foul of the dispute resolution process because they cannot prove what condition a property was in before the tenancy began than for any other reason.

Should the need arise – where an agreement can’t be established over the amount of the deposit to be returned to the tenant – at the end of the tenancy all three schemes provide access to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service gives landlord as well as tenants, the peace of mind.

Also – for all those landlords reading in Scotland, Tenancy deposit protection is coming soon! For information visit www.mydepositsscotland.co.uk for the latest news.

How do you separate a Scottish landlord from his deposits?…….Ask Alex

David Kendall, NLA National Representative for Scotland, airs his views on the creation of Tenancy Deposit Protection in Scotland.

Good old Alex Salmond has done it again. He would hate to admit it but he just loves to copy the English! ‘If England has a tenancy deposit scheme, then so must Scotland’  he said – well not in exactly those words but you get the gist.

At the end of January this year, the draft legislation for a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) Scheme was laid before the Scottish Parliament. With an election looming, the SNP rushed to make sure it was approved before they lost power. Except as we all now know, the predictions were not quite right and the SNP did what the ‘anoraks’ said was impossible and were returned with a majority.

So now landlords in Scotland are likely to be faced with a TDP scheme which will become operational sometime in 2012. However, of course Alex needed to make it a little different from England and there are some differences – which are bound to send the more unscrupulous letting agents running.

The new scheme will only be custodial. Landlords in Scotland are clearly not trustworthy enough to insure their deposits.

But it gets worse!

The scheme is also going to apply to EXISTING tenancies. Therefore, the millions of pounds which agents and landlords have spent on lavish cars, holidays, sorry I mean, put in designated accounts over the last few years, will  need to go into the scheme within a maximum of nine months of it going live.

Okay Mr Salmond, we know there will be no charge to landlords or tenants; we know the arbitration service is also free of charge; but surely you should have taken some responsibility. Who is going to publicise the scheme? Not the Scottish Government. No, the publicity must be provided by the scheme providers and reinforced by their desire to grow their market share.

Of course ignorance is no excuse for non-compliance, but relying on marketing alone to communicate the importance of protecting all new and existing deposits is bound to leave some landlords out of the loop. Which will have serious consequences.

If a landlord does not protect the deposit within 30 days of receipt the tenant can take him to court and will be awarded up to three times the value of the deposit. Alternatively, the tenant could wait until he has moved out of the property and then claim against the landlord within 30 days of leaving the property.

What this means is inventories are really going to need to be up to scratch. Detail everything in the property; the makes of appliances, model numbers, condition, everything. Make sure you take loads of photos. Most importantly, make sure the tenant signs everything when he moves in and remember all paperwork must have dates; do not preprint or write it in yourself.

In England and Wales almost all disputes which end in the tenants’ favour do so thanks to a lack of an inventory or the landlord failing to provide sufficient evidence to justify deposit deductions. So when it comes into force don’t try to ignore TDP, it won’t go away, and it is up to every landlord to make sure he protects himself from unnecessary litigation and cost.

For more information visit: http://www.mydepositsscotland.co.uk/home.aspx

Advice for landlords affected by London riots

No doubt the vast majority of people reading this blog will be appalled by the nonsensical rioting that has taken place across the country in recent days. Many commercial businesses have been affected by fire or looting, not to mention a number of residential properties above or around these premises.

Landlords affected should ensure they check their insurance policies as soon as possible. Most Landlord Insurance policies will cover for damage caused by riot, civil commotion, labour and political disturbances and strikes, but check that rioting is not a specific exclusion in your policy.

NLA Property Insurance emphasises the need for landlords to let their provider know quickly if their properties have been damaged.

Other than this, the best advice we can give is to be careful and check that your tenants are okay. Hopefully those responsible will be brought to justice swiftly and these appalling acts of violence will end.

To join the NLA and take advantage of the on-going support and up-to-date information for landlords, visit www.landlords.org.uk/membership

**UPDATE** 11.8.2011:

Homes affected by Riots – how to claim help

The Prime Minister has today announced a range of support for those affected by the riots this last week. A compensation scheme under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 has been activated and affected landlords can apply for compensation under this scheme.

Properties and business affected by riots across England will be able to apply under the Riot (Damages) Act for compensation even if they are uninsured or underinsured. The Home Office has also lengthened the period under which a claim can be lodged, from 14 to 42 days from the day of the riot which has caused the damage.