Tag Archives: housing regulation

Average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Eviction Notice

An average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Speaking in a debate about the Housing and Planning Bill, the Labour MP Karen Buck claimed that over the last eight years only 2,000 landlords have been prosecuted for housing disrepair across the whole of the UK. The low number of landlord prosecutions stands in sharp contrast with the estimated 700,000 privately rented properties which have a category one hazard which include faulty electrics, damp and broken boilers.

The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector in February. During the session, Ms Buck asked the Government’s Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, whether the low number of landlord prosecutions provided irrefutable evidence that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.

Mr Lewis was also asked whether laws should be passed to allow tenants to take civil action against rogue landlords when their properties are unfit for human habitation. In response Mr Lewis claimed that the proposed Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions. It was also stated that councils would be permitted to issue civil penalties against landlords of up to £30,000 and issue rent payment orders for up to 12 months’ rent.

Also participating in the debate was the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq who asserted that many of her constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions. This comes despite the practice being made illegal for rental agreements signed since 1st October 2015.

Revenge evictions still a problem

Revenge or retaliatory eviction is where a landlord threatens to evict a tenant for requesting repairs or complaining about conditions in their home. It often this affects private tenants with assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreements since they are the easiest to evict. ASTs are currently the most common type of tenancy agreement in the UK and is usually the default contract type for private sector renters.

Despite the new revenge eviction laws, many private tenants are worried that if they complain too much they will be evicted. Furthermore, figures gathered by Radio 1 Newsbeat through Freedom of Information requests show that more than half of local councils across England have not used their new powers under the revenge eviction law. Tightening of council budgets is also claimed to be a further impediment to investigating housing complaints. The Housing Law Practitioners Association is also concerned that the way the law is designed is too complicated.

The extent of the housing crisis comes as data show that private sector rented housing is the most expensive and has the lowest standards of any housing type.  According to Parliament reports, private renters now spend an average of 49% of their income on rent despite nearly one-in-three privately rented houses failing to meet minimum government housing standards.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nine out of Ten Private Renters In London Have Experienced Serious Problems While Renting

for_saleNine out of 10 of London’s private renters have experienced at least four serious problems during their tenancy, including electrical faults, incomplete repairs and lost deposits. The survey commissioned by the Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, asked 1,530 Londoners about their experiences, with nearly 70% of respondents writing in to share their stories. 

The results corroborate previous reports conducted by the Housing Charity Shelter which in 2014 found 61% of renters had experienced damp, mould, a leaking roof or window, electrical hazards, animal infestation or a gas leak in the previous twelve months.

Private renters often tolerate poor conditions due to the fear of retaliatory (also known as revenge) eviction. Many renters for example fear possible rent increases if they move or do not wish to provide their landlord with a justification for increasing the rent. In high-demand areas, landlords are able to evict tenants without reason and with just two months’ notice.

The recent law banning of revenge evictions  for tenancies starting after 1st October 2015 was hoped to give renters additional protection from eviction. However, many tenants are unaware of their rights. Moreover, the current revenge eviction legislation heavily depends on the tenant to negotiate with their landlord about disrepair before informing the council.

Very often cases are not investigated by local authorities due to lack of council funds and resources.  A recent study conducted by London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon found that the ratio of environmental health inspections to number of private rented sector homes was as high as one in ten in Greenwich, but only one in 689 in Lewisham.

Figures gathered by Radio 1 Newsbeat through Freedom of Information requests show that more than half of local councils across England haven’t used their powers to investigate revenge evictions.

The magnitude of the problems facing the private rented sector were further corroborated by the Living Home Standard report produced by the housing charity Shelter. The report which asked 1,691 adults about their homes, assessed the affordability, neighbourhood, stability and living conditions of private renters.

It concluded affordability to be the biggest issue, saying people should “thrive” in homes, not just “get by”. It also found 24% of people were unable to save after paying their rent or mortgage each month. A further 23% would struggle if their rent or mortgage costs rose. 18% said they had to regularly cut back on food or heating to meet escalating housing costs, with 20% having to sacrifice social activities to meet the bills.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nearly 30 per cent of Privately Rented Properties in Britain Fail to Meet Minimum government Housing Standards

poor housing renters alliance

Nearly thirty per cent of privately rented properties in the United Kingdom fail to meet the  British Government’s minimum property standards. Perhaps more alarmingly a research paper published last year by the House of Commons research department admitted that since 2006 there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England.

Although there are rules which govern the actions of private landlords in the UK which include repairing obligations, these are virtually impossible to police by local government housing officers. Currently the enforcement of housing standards in England and Wales is carried out using a risk-assessment based regulatory model which replaced the Housing Fitness Standard in 2006.

According to the British Parliament research report, the private rented sector has the worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing. Furthermore, the report states that since the abolition of the Housing Fitness Standard “there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Since the 1980s proportion of the UK population who are homeowners has declined steeply as new house building has failed to keep pace with population increases.  At the same time,  Britain’s private rented property sector has been largely deregulated in a process begun under the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Prior to this UK local government authorities maintained large numbers of properties which were let to the public on long-term letting contracts.  The government’s holdings of this housing stock has been reduced greatly as many properties have sold to the public leaving the property rental sector increasingly dominated by private landlords.

The seriousness of the housing crisis in the UK is often the subject of debate in the British Parliament. In February the London MP Karen Buck claimed that nearly 750,000 properties in London have a category one hazard which includes excess cold, fire hazards, asbestos and carbon monoxide among other risks. Ms Buck also added that despite the severity of poor and dangerous housing standards in the British capital, only 250 landlords had been prosecuted for poor housing per year over the last eight years across the UK.

There have been several attempts to introduce minimum housing regulations in Parliament. In late 2015 Ms Buck proposed a “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. This proposal however failed to progress past the second reading stage and was dropped from Parliament’s schedule.

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, council authorities in the UK are also struggling to deal with complaints about poor housing. Last year in the House of Lords the Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Bakewell, revealed that in 2012-13 little over half of housing complaints resulted in a council inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

Besides having the lowest property standards, privately rented properties are the most expensive housing type in the UK. 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% for those in the social rented sector. These findings come as 11 million people now rent privately in the UK, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set to increase to around 22 million by 2030.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nearly One-in-Three Private Rented Houses Would Fail Government Minimum Housing Standards

Private rented houses worst property type

Nearly one-in-three privately rented properties would fail the Government’s minimum property standards for social housing according to the the 2014/15 English Housing Survey. Even more alarmingly, a House of Commons research report published last year admitted that there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England since 2006.

Although there are statutory provisions governing private landlords’ repairing and maintenance obligations, enforcement of standards in private rented housing in England and Wales is mainly carried out through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This system is essentially a risk-assessment based regulatory model used by local authority environmental health officers. The House of Commons report states that: “since the introduction of the HHSRS in 2006, replacing the old Housing Fitness Standard, there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Overall the private rental sector in England has worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, several failed attempts have been made in Parliament to establish minimum housing criteria. Notably the MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck proposed a Private Members’ Bill which was adjourned on its second reading debate on 16th October 2015. The “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” sought to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation,

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, local authorities are also struggling to deal with housing complaints. In 2016, the Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Bakewell revealed that in 2012-13, little over half of housing complaints resulted in a Local Authority inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

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Furthermore, despite having the lowest property standards, the private renting is also the most expensive housing type. 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.

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 Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Private renting virtually impossible for benefit claimants

House to rent no dss

Increasing numbers of Housing Benefit claimants are being excluded from the private rental sector as the number of properties listed as ‘No DSS’ grows according to a House of Commons Briefing Paper. ‘No DSS’  (standing for “Department of Social Security” which was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions 16 years ago) means the landlord or agent won’t rent a property to someone on housing benefit or local housing allowance.

The House of Commons reports corroborates anecdotal evidence from the Hackney-based private renter information and campaign group Digs which found only one studio flat on the market available to Housing Benefit claimants in a survey of 50 local estate agents between December 2015 and February 2016.

Despite calls from  renters rights groups to outlaw the proscription of renters receiving state benefits on discrimination grounds, the House of Commons briefing paper stated that such restrictions on Housing Benefit claimants is “unlikely to amount to direct discrimination as income and employment status are not protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.”

The paper also highlighted other factors which may be exacerbating landlords’ reluctance to let to Housing Benefit claimants which include:

  • uncertainly around the roll-out and implications of Universal Credit
  • the payment of Housing Benefit in arrears
  • restrictions in mortgage agreements and insurance requirements
  • impending tax changes resulting in landlords focusing on “less risky” tenants.

The House of Commons report was soon followed by significant coverage of the publication of a list of banned tenant types from Britain’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson, which included tenants receiving benefits. Mr Wilson also included workers on zero-hour contracts, single parents, battered wives and plumbers on his list of undesirable tenant types.

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In addition the the reluctance of many landlords to rent to people on benefits, mortgage lenders may also be exacerbating this situation. In 2012 for example, the buy-to-let lender, The Mortgage Works, stated that no new mortgages would be advanced to landlords whose tenants received benefits. This condition was later withdrawn after significant negative press coverage. Other property letting websites also include a search filter to screen out properties which do not allow tenants on benefits.

This situation is of such importance to large numbers of renters that the housing charity Shelter has published a guide for benefit claimants to  convince a landlord to rent to them.

 

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Renters in shared housing to gain from increased protection

housing_inspection

Around a million renters living in HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) will soon benefit from extra protection from rogue landlords being planned by the government.

HMOs, familiar to many students and flat sharers, are defined as properties shared by more than one unrelated persons. Typically these may be groups of friends such as is common for student accommodation or by strangers.  Typically the house sharers will have their own bedrooms but will share communal areas such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Under the government’s proposals, tenants living in a HMO may soon benefit from:

  • minimum room size standards (6.52m2 for one person rooms and 10.32m2 for double rooms)
  • improved waste disposal facilities
  • tackling rogue landlords through the introduction of a fit and proper person test for HMO landlords

Most significant is the proposed extension of the HMO licensing regime to include small HMOs which are currently exempt from mandatory licensing.

To date only large HMOs (3 stories or more) require mandatory licensing. The government seeks to extend HMO licensing to all properties irrespective of size and will push all HMOs with five occupants or more from two different households into the mandatory HMO licensing regime (with the exception of purpose built flats).

Due to the higher risk of poor quality housing in HMOs complex licensing regimes exist which may vary significantly across the UK. The move to license all HMOs will also help reduce such  regional variation in licensing regimes and housing standards. These extra renter protections will enhance currently existing license checks for properties which currently include minimum building quality standards (gas/fire safety) and the payment of a license fee.

Currently landlords operating an unlicensed HMO which requires licensing are liable for criminal prosecution and may be subject to an unlimited fine. Under such circumstances tenants may apply for a Rent Repayment Order to receive  refund of up to 12 months’ rent on the property.

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Chancellor announces plans to ban letting agent fees in England “as soon as possible”

Letting Agent Fees
Letting Agent Fees

In his Autumn Statement today the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans to ban letting agent fees in England “as soon as possible” which may be save 4.3 million households hundreds of pounds. 

Currently many tenants face charges to draw up tenancy agreements, conduct immigration and credit reference checks  in addition to the payment of a non-refundable holding deposit paid before signing up to the deal.

The move comes as numerous reports have indicated that many tenants living in sub-standard housing are discouraged from moving out because of extra fee charges.  A report published by the English Housing Survey covering April 2014 to March 2015 found that 69% of tenants living in poor quality homes are discouraged from moving out because of agent fees.

Nonetheless, landlords groups have claimed that banning letting fees will not necessarily reduce rental costs with landlords and letting agents increasing rental values to offset loss of income. However, renters groups assert that the ban will make it easier for tenants to compare the cost of different properties and reduce the incentive for letting agents to replace tenants.

The move is a culmination of greater regulation of the letting market and will move England further in line with  Scotland where lettings agency fees to tenants have already been banned.  Since 2015 lettings and managing agents in England and Wales have legally been obliged to clearly publicize their fees.

 

 

 

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Landlords Still Issuing Licenses to Occupy to Evade Deposit Protection Rules

Deposit Protection

Since the entry into force of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme many landlords and letting agents have devised ways of evading and ignoring deposit protection rules.

One common tactic which renters should be aware of is issuing tenants with a “licence to occupy” in place of an “Assured Shorthold Tenancy”.

A licence gives the right to occupy and is typically used for bed and breakfasts, hotels, holiday lets and some HMOs.  Often tenants only discover that a license has been issued when attempting to recover their deposit at the end of their occupation. However, despite being called a license, you may still have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the eyes of the law. In this event it may be possible to use typical AST measures to recoup moneys owed.

Do I have a License or a Tenancy?

A tenancy is created automatically if someone moves in and starts paying rent. Some landlords incorrectly issue licenses, either through inexperience or design to give tenants less rights than they would usually expect with an AST. A tenancy cannot be turned into a license merely by both parties signing a piece of paper headed ‘license agreement.’  A landmark case which defined the requirements for a tenancy as opposed to a license was Street v. Mountford in 1985. This stated that one has a tenancy if one:

  • pays a rent
  • occupies the property for a term
  • enjoys exclusive possession of land / property

These conditions do not apply if one does not pay rent  or if the occupier does not enjoy exclusive possession such as in a shared room or if cleaning and meals are provided as in a hotel.

The clearest way to identify the difference between the two [license and Assured Shorthold Tenancy] is exclusivity. If a tenant has exclusive use of at least one room in the property, and that room(s) is specified, this will usually be classed as a Tenancy Agreement. If the property is shared with more than one individual, this is more likely to be a Licence.

I believe I have been incorrectly issued with a license and my landlord has not protected my deposit, what should I do?

It may therefore be possible to claim damages from your landlord if they incorrectly issued you with a licence and failed to protect your deposit. According to current deposit protection rules, your landlord must register your deposit in one of the three government-approved deposit protection schemes within 30 days of the start of your tenancy.  The penalty for non-compliance is a fine of between one and three times the deposit amount.

 

 

 

 

 

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Letting Agent MP Backs Buy-To-Let Capital Gains Tax Cut

hollinrake

The founder of the Hunters Estate agency and Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Hollinrake has backed a campaign by the  Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) to reduce Capital Gains Tax paid by landlords when selling their rented home to sitting tenants.

The proposal involves an amendment to the Finance Bill currently before Parliament. Currently Clause 72 of the Bill  seeks to reduce Capital Gains Tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent except for the sale of residential property where the rate will remain unchanged.

According to the RLA, Hollinrake is tabling an amendment to the Bill which will extend the tax cut to private landlords selling a rental property to a sitting tenant.  “Given the recent attack on the Private Rented Sector by Chancellor George Osborne…more and more landlords will want to exit the market as renting [sic] becomes financially unsustainable for them” the RLA said.

The RLA further purports that 77 per cent of private landlords would consider selling their property to tenants if the tax liability were reduced.

Hollinrake claims that the amendment will support the government’s wider home ownership agenda while at the same time offering landlords a route out of the sector minimizing their financial hit.  According to the RLA, the amendment  includes safeguards to prevent such a tax change being abused.

 

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