Another day, another piece of legislation landlords need to be aware of. After a brief consultation over the summer (see here) the Government has published the Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently before Parliament. It contains a lot of landlord specific regulations. Although for the most part it focuses on sanctions for criminals and tightening up enforcements so shouldn’t have much impact on landlords going about their business. However it also contains a policy, which if passed, would represent a piece of good news (and dare I say a hard fought win) for landlords.
If passed the provisions of Housing and Planning Bill would introduce:
- A rogues database – Landlords and others found guilty of certain housing related offences will be placed on a private register which enforcement agencies will be able to apply for access to, to monitor for re-offenders. This will be time limited.
- Banning orders – For aggravated crimes; a local authority can apply for an order to ban landlords and letting agents for a fixed period from engaging in letting or related activity.
- Civil penalties – If a landlord fails to comply with an improvement order an EHO will be able to opt for traditional prosecution or the use of a civil penalty (up to £5,000 in the first instance.
- Extension of rent repayment orders – Rent repayment orders of up to 12 months may be applied for in relation to disrepair and/or illegal eviction in addition to other sanctions.
- A revised fit and proper person test – Where used, the test will include a requirement for a Disclosures and Barring Certificate at a cost of £25 every 5 years.
- Wider availability of tenancy deposit data – Local authorities will be able to request access to data held as a result of deposit protection to aid enforcement activity etc.
- A new abandonment process – Landlords left with an empty property which they believe to be abandoned will be able to use a streamlined process without the necessity of seeking a court order for possession in most cases.
You can find a brief summary of the Bill and a clause by clause briefing here.
We have cautiously welcomed this Bill, as it is designed to target criminal landlords. Our Chairman, Carolyn Uphill, gave oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee this week, and you can watch it here: http://www.landlords.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/nla-chair-gives-evidence-housing-bill-committee.
However, there is a very large caveat to that cautious welcome. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a lot of powers to make further regulations and secondary legislation, which if approved now, will require minimal scrutiny later on. Fresh from the farces regarding Carbon Monoxide Alarms and the Section 21 forms, we want to see the guidelines and secondary legislation published in draft and consulted on properly as soon as possible so we can get the details right and drive the criminal elements out of the sector.
What we warmly welcome is the Bill’s proposals to simplify the legal process where a landlord reclaims a property which has been abandoned by their tenant, namely by no longer needing to seek procession via the courts. The NLA has long campaigned for reforms, which will save landlords and taxpayers alike time and money by freeing up court time, and help those tenants looking for a home by getting abandoned properties back on the market in a much shorter time.
We are aware that some tenant organisations are concerned this is an erosion of tenants’ rights and could lead to increased homelessness. Crisis has written a blog post here explaining their concerns. Bluntly we think this is scaremongering as it fundamentally ignores the two stipulations the Bill insists must both be met before the landlord can reclaim possession.
The first of these is the unpaid rent condition, which stipulates that a tenant must be at least 8 full weeks in arrears before any new process can go ahead. The second is that the tenants must have not replied to two separate attempts by the landlord to get in touch beforehand (which is what any landlord would be doing anyway if they were owed monies).
Abandonment is a major concern for landlords, who not only face the prospect of going to court to regain the property, but also have to worry about the loss of valuable income at the same time as the possibility of squatters and subsequent criminal damage to the empty property.
Crucially under existing law, the landlord would be entitled under the Bill’s stipulations to claim possession anyway, under section 8 of the Housing Act. The trouble with this process if the property is abandoned is that they have to wait weeks if not months for the case to come to court.
Crisis are right to say that figures vary, as no figures for recorded abandonment are available but DCLG conservatively estimate about 1,750 abandoned tenancies are resolved through the courts each year. The NLA believe these figures will only increase in light of landlords new obligations under the ‘Right to Rent’ national roll-out.
The Bill outlines several further safeguards for tenants, in terms of notice periods, and right of appeal and any abandonment case will always have to satisfy the ‘court of public opinion’. It is also worth highlighting that the tenants possessions would always be stored under The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.
Hopefully then this part of the Bill will be one public policy ‘win’ for landlords at a time of considerable legislative change for the sector.