A Renters’ Rights Bill was given a second reading in the House of Lords Yesterday. Under the proposals presented as a Private Member’s Bill by the Liberal Democrat Baroness Grender, local authorities would be required to give tenants access to a database of rogue landlords and property agents. Also included are proposed amendments to the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 which would abolish a large number of letting agency fees currently paid by a large number of renters in England such as: These include:
inventory check fees
reference check fees
tenancy extension or renewal fee
The Baroness also proposes that persons deemed suitable for inclusion on a database of rogue landlords would preclude one the right of obtaining a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) license.
Baroness Grender claims that the short-term nature of many modern tenancy agreements, with around one in four renters moving home in 2013-14 makes the abolition of agency fees significant. The Baroness claims that in London, the median anount that a renter must pay before moving is £1,500 with some renters forced to use loans or cut down on food and heating to cover up-front moving costs.
Contributing to the debate was the Conservative Viscount of Younger who commended Baroness Grender for introducing the Bill but expressed the Government’s reservations about the bill. The Viscount claimed that the banning of letting agent fees would not make renting any cheaper for tenants and Tenants would still end up paying through higher rents.
Aside for reservations however due to the the definitions of rogue landlords and letting agents and the best manner of regulating letting agent fees, the Bill enjoyed broad support and is scheduled to be considered by a House of Lords committee later in the year.
Cherie Blair has spoken at an event organized by Landlord and letting agent groups seeking to overturn Chancellor George Osborne’s planned changes to mortgage interest relief for landlords. The Chancellor’s proposals, introduced in the 2015 Budget and Autumn statements, are intended to eliminate tax exemptions which the Treasury claims are not enjoyed by investors in other asset classes such as shares. Under the proposals, landlords operating as sole traders will be less able to deduct mortgage interest payments when calculating their tax liabilities.
Mrs Blair spoke at the event as council to a legal challenge brought against the Treasury proposals following the failure of a formal Parliamentary petition. The motion started by the Residential Landlord’s Association fell more than thirty-one thousand signatures short of the required hundred thousand to merit debate in Parliament. The failure to exert pressure on the Government using petitions led to a crowdfunding campaign by landlords to finance a legal challenge to overturn the Chancellor’s measures.
Acting as legal council to the complainants through Omnia Strategy, the law firm she founded and chaired, Mrs Blair claims that the Chancellor’s proposed changes warrant a judicial review since they discriminate against landlords according to the European Convention on Human rights. This gives one the right to hold one’s property in a way without unfair taxation. Mrs Blair also purports that the tax changes go against European Union competition laws by favoring large institutions over small individual investors.
Also speaking at the event was the Conservative Life Peer and former member of Parliament Lord Howard Flight who had written a letter to the Government “Why the Government is wrong to attack Buy-to-Let.”
The conference, titled the “Tenant Tax Summit” was held on 9th June at the ILEC Conference Center in Earl’s Court. Sponsorship was provided by various property investors and landlord’s organizations including Platinum Property Partners, Velvoir, the Humber Landlord’s Association and the Residential Landlord’s Association among others.
The Conservative MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield, secured an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons to discuss the Government’s actions in relation to letting agent fee capping.
Miss Caulfield reported that research from Seaford and Lewes Citizen’s Advice Bureaux which found that letting agent fees can range from £175 to £922 in addition to an average of a six-week rent deposit.
Also participating in the debate was Kevin Hollinrake, co-founder of Hunters Estate Agents and the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton who added that agents may choose to decline tenancies to prospective tenants with inferior credit histories if fees were scrapped rather than capped.
The Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake also contributed to the debate adding that letting agents rely on fees for their income, which would probably be obtained from higher rents or landlord’s costs if such fees were prohibited.
Letting agent fees are attracting increasing political attention as the housing crisis deepens with reports of many letting agents insisting on six month rotating tenancy agreements against the wishes of many landlords or tenants in order to charge additional contract renewal fees.
The Government considers current regulation of private sector letting and managing agents adequate according to a recently published House of Commons Research note.
According to the briefing there is “no overarching statutory regulation of private sector letting or managing agents in England or any legal requirement for them to belong to a trade association, although many letting and managing agents submit to voluntary regulation” despite the rapid growth in the private rental sector over the past two decades.
Furthermore, the Government plans to improve the quality of the rental sector by increasing the range of powers available under consumer protection legislation and has no intention of introducing regulation.
The Government does not intend to introduce regulation in the sector and has pointed instead to the existing range of available powers under consumer protection legislation. However, an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 enabled the Government to require agents to sign up to a redress.
This comes as private motions in Parliament have been heard recently in relation to regulating letting agent fees which one Conservative MP described as “an opportunity to fleece tenants”.
The research note states that the Government considers that the present legal framework strikes the right balance between landlords and tenants and that new regulations would “introduce too much additional red tape”.
Two landlords at the center of a legal challenge to Chancellor George Osborne’s tax changes announced in last year’s budget have confirmed that two government departments had provided an “acknowledgement of service”.
The legal challenge to the Treasury’s tax changes was launched by two landlords, Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper, who used a crowdfunding platform to raise sufficient capital to employ Omnia Strategy, a legal firm founded and chaired by Cherie Blair, to seek a judicial review of the Chancellor’s measures.
The legal battle over the Chancellor’s proposed changes to Mortgage Interest Relief follows the failure of a Petition launched by the Residential Landlord’s Association to attract sufficient support to warrant debate in Parliament.
The lack of resources available to local authorities to deal with housing disrepair in the private letting sector was exposed yesterday in the House of Lords.
According to the Liberal Democrat Baroness Bakewell, housing complaints totaled 62,818 in 2012-13 which resulted in only 31,634 inspections by local authorities. Astoundingly, only 1,645 improvement notices were served over the same period. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, crowding and space, falling hazards and fire. The powerlessness of many renters is exacerbated by out-of-date legislation whereby tenants can take action themselves only if their rent is less than £80 a year in London and £52 a year elsewhere.
These findings come as 11 million people now live in private rented accommodation in England, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set for further increases.
The Baroness claims that Parliamentary research indicated that 30% of private rented properties in England would fail the Government’s decent homes standard. This is almost double the 15% in the social rented sector. Also, despite having the lowest average property standards, the private rental sector is the most expensive housing option. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% of the income for those in the social rented sector.
The Baroness’ comments were made during a committee reading of the Housing and Planning Bill which would establish a database of rogue landlords and letting agents and strengthen the enforcement of pre-existing legislation in the private rental sector among other measures.
Karen Buck, the Member of Parliament for Westminster North has announced that only 14,000 of a total of 51,316 complaints made to councils about poor housing were subjected to a local authority environmental health assessment in 2014. Ms Buck, has also claimed that on average councils prosecuted only one rogue landlord each year.
The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector on February 6th during which Ms Buck asked whether the statistics provided irrefutable evident that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.
On being asked what measured the Government proposes to adopt to tackle rogue landlords, the Government’s Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, claimed that enabling councils to issue civil penalties amounting to up to £30,000 and remedy payment orders for up to 12 months proposed under the Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions.
Also participating in the debate was the Labour Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiqm who claimed that many of his constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions despite the banning of retaliatory eviction in 2015.
Omnia Strategy, the legal firm founded and chaired by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Blair, has written a formal complaint to HMRC proposing a judicial review of Chancellor George Osborne’s restrictions of deductions of finance costs related to residential property.
The new tax changes, set to be implemented in the autumn of 2017 would limit the ability of landlords operating as sole traders to offset mortgage interest payments from their tax liabilities.
The decision to seek a legal challenge to the Chancellor’s tax changes comes as a formal petition set up by the Residential Landlord’s Association failed to reach the required number of 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate in Parliament.
The legal challenge to the Chancellor’s proposed tax measures was brought by Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper who raised £50,000 in crowd-funding from landlords’ associations to initiate a legal challenge to George Osborne’s tax changes.
Mr Bolton owns around 20 residential and commercial properties is also the founder and owner of Platinum Property Partners, a buy-to-let specialist with a portfolio worth a total of £200million. Mr Cooper is a part-time landlord who is using buy-to-let as part of his pension.
The letter to HMRC lists Miss Blair as one of two legal advisers for the claimants and bases the challenge on several purported breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. The letter claims that the Chancellor’s measures infringe on one’s right to hold one’s property in a way without unfair taxation and may also go against European Union competition laws by favoring large institutions over small individual investors.
In it’s official response to the petition, the Government has claimed that the tax changes remove tax advantages enjoyed by property investors which are not available to those investing in other asset classes.
A move by a landlord’s organization, the Residential Landlord’s Association to overturn Chancellor George Osborne’s changes to landlord tax exemptions suffered a serious blow as its Parliament petition failed to attract sufficient support.
The petition, “Reverse the planned tax relief restriction on ‘individual landlords’” expired today without reaching the required number of 100,000 signatures necessary to be considered for debate in Parliament closing with only 60,894 signatures.
Begun six months ago, the motion sought to challenge Chancellor George Osborne’s reduction of Mortgage Interest Relief announced in his 2015 Summer Budget and Autumn Statement. However, enough support was obtained to warrant an official statement on the topic whereby the Government rejected claims that the proposed tax changes were unfair. In it’s response the Government added that the tax amendments were partly intended to reduce the tax advantages offered to property investors which were not shared by investors in other assets such as shares. The Government also claimed that only 18 percent of landlords are expected to be affected by the changes which are to be introduced gradually over four years beginning in 2017.
The petition’s sponsors, the Residential Landlord’s Association claimed that the tax changes were unfair and likely to result in higher rents for tenants as landlords seek to offset higher costs by increasing rents.
It is understood that some landlord groups are now seeking a judicial review of the Chancellor’s tax changes.
Two property developers, Steve Bolton, Chairman of Platinum Property Partners, and Chris Cooper are have raised £50,000 through a Twitter crowdfunding campaign to challenge Chancellor George Osborne’s planned tax changes for landlords. Under the Chancellor’s proposals, landlords operating as sole traders would no longer to be able to claim Mortgage Interest Relief when calculating their taxes.
Bolton and Cooper began fundraising towards the end of a Parliamentary Petition launched by the Residential Landlords Association titled: “Reverse the planned tax relief restriction on ‘individual landlords’ which argued that the Chancellor’s plans were unfair to private landlords and may result in higher tenant rents.
The Residential Landlord’s Association petition attracted 60,894 signatures, well short of the required 100,000 necessary for the motion to be considered for debate in Parliament which may leave Court action the only option to challenge the proposed tax changes. The motion did however receive enough support to merit an official response from the Government reiterating the Treasury’s support for implementation of the Chancellor’s measures. In its response the Government claimed that the tax changes were fair and merely removed tax exemptions for property investors which are not enjoyed by those in other asset classes.
Speaking about the Chancellor’s plans, Bolton stated “It’s not clear why the government has chosen to just launch an attack on buy-to-let owner-operators with mortgages. It’s a tax from Alice in Wonderland – truly absurd and divorced from real life. Not only is this tax grab unfair, undemocratic and underhanded, but we believe that it could also be unlawful.”
It is believed that the pair have sought legal advice matter from Omnia Strategy, a legal firm founded and chaired by Cherie Blair.