Rogue landlords and the review of property conditions in the private rented sector

Rogue landlords and the review of property conditions in the private rented sector

Rogue landlords are very much in the news nowadays – even if you’re not remotely interested in the PRS, you can’t get far without hearing about landlords illegally housing their tenants in sheds, and worse.  There are plenty of schemes (existing and proposed) – mainly run by local authorities – to deal with them – except what is a rogue landlord?  Where should the line be drawn?

Is it the infamous “beds in sheds” merchants or the illegal rent 2 rent landlords subletting rooms, beds or floor space in overcrowded properties (as opposed to the legal ones who do this with their landlord’s consent and comply with HMO regulations)?

Is it an ill informed “accidental” novice who “isn’t really a landlord”; they’re just letting out their house (or even simply a room in their house)?

Is it a landlord who has problem tenants that are causing issues with neighbours?

Is it the landlord of a property that requires repair – in which case, how extensive does the disrepair have to be, and how negligent the landlord?

In other words, where a property, a tenant, the terms of a tenancy or a landlord is less than perfect, should the landlord be regarded as culpable?  A reasonable person would say that a landlord who has done everything within his power to avoid problems, and can demonstrate evidence to that effect, would not be held liable, but of course this is not always the case.

For example, we’ve all heard of S.21 notices being invalidated because of a common clerical error made with the date, when the intention of the landlord who issued it is clear.  It might be argued that such a landlord should educate himself first, and there’s no denying that there’s plenty of information and advice available for free or for a nominal fee.  I agree very strongly that anyone who wants to let any kind of property should educate themselves first – however, they can’t possibly learn all there is to know about landlord and tenant law, and there are so many eventualities to cover – not every landlord is going to experience every situation – even if they let for many years. Yes, they could go to a solicitor, but not everyone can afford this.

I had a quick look today at a forum on another landlord site where several experienced landlords, some of whom are also highly qualified in other housing related areas, were tying themselves in knots over the implications of Superstrike V Rodrigues and possible work arounds.  If landlord and tenant law can cause people such as this so much uncertainty, how is an inexperienced landlord supposed to navigate it?

The Department for Communities and Local Government recently published its “Review of property conditions in the private rented sector” which, although acknowledging the essential role of the PRS in housing provision, and also acknowledging that the majority of private landlords are good landlords, is nevertheless proposing at least one change that could leave good landlords wide open to vexatious claims by tenants:

“…a restriction could be brought in providing that a section 21 possession notice has no legal force where repairs or improvements have not been carried out to a property. Such a restriction would not have any impact on reputable landlords as they will want to keep their properties in good repair.”

So an otherwise good landlord with a rental property with a fault is automatically a bad landlord, despite doing his best to remedy the problem?  Unfortunately, fixing a property defect isn’t always straight forward.  I can cite an ongoing example with one of my own properties, which was in fact my home for 10 years before I rented it out. It never occurred to me when I bought the property that I might one day let it out, so very stupidly I didn’t get a full survey done. This would have saved me thousands and my tenants and myself a lot of hassle!

I won’t bore everyone with the full details; suffice to say that my flat has an ongoing problem with penetrating damp.  I have already paid somewhere in the region of £3,000 to put it right – but one wall continues to be a problem.  Unfortunately, the managing agent I employed when I first rented subcontracted a cowboy builder to do some of the work, charged me for it, and then did a disappearing act when I challenged the workmanship.

Cowboy builders are a well known menace to owner occupiers, but where a property is let, multiply this by a factor of 10, as it’s not your home, it’s your business, possibly even your livelihood, and someone else’s home for which you’re being paid good money to keep in tip top condition!

Unpleasant enough as penetrating damp can be when you know exactly where it’s coming from, its origin isn’t always obvious – it can soak through from another part of the building, potentially making for a long, drawn out, expensive operation to get rid of it – assuming you get someone experienced who can find the source – most builders and surveyors are likely to miss it (unless it’s raining heavily at the time).

I’ve related this to illustrate the point that sometimes, even with sufficient funds, and the best will in the world, property defects can’t always be readily remedied.

Having said this, however, I regularly visit someone who rents a flat from a landlord in South London.  He has lived in the flat for something like thirteen years.  When he first took over the tenancy, the property was in a general bad state with dirty, balding carpets, pieces of flooring in other areas missing, cracks in the plasterwork, windows that needed replacing, tired old kitchen and bathroom – in short, just about everything wrong with it that could be!  However, the rent was affordable for him and it was spacious with plenty of storage and in a good location so he decided to take it – he’s not exactly house proud anyway and his main priority was his messy antique renovation hobby.

It is only within the last few years that the landlord has gotten around to replacing the windows, putting in a new boiler, fixing some of the structural defect that caused the cracks and offering to put in a new kitchen which the tenant declined as he didn’t want the disruption and loss of cupboard space.  He has also had to put up with one or two anti social neighbours who are also tenants of the same landlord.

Hardly an example of a good landlord, is it?  Would it surprise you to learn that this landlord is in fact a social landlord – a London Borough council?  I can’t say what this particular council’s policy and attitude toward private landlords is, but the property conditions I’ve described are not unique to this authority – in fact I’ve heard of much worse – most likely in property owned by social landlords that are quick to accuse the PRS of the kind of negligence of which they, as landlords, are much more guilty.

Trudy, an LRS member, recently said:

“Having just read about 14 social landlords being downgraded by The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) for failing to meet the expectations of the regulators value for money standard (VfM) it would appear that it is social landlords that need to be addressed NOT PRIVATE LANDLORDS !!! – See more at: http://www.landlordreferencing.co.uk/forum/discuss/community-forum/review-of-property-conditions-in-the-private-rented-sector/#sthash.R3Muxfkr.dpuf

Not to mention the controversial decision made by the London Borough of Lambeth (which at one time had such an image as an ultra Socialist, happy clappy inclusive authority it was in fact a national joke) to evict long term tenants who had renovated previously derelict council properties, considerably raising their value.  The reason?  To sell the properties at auction to raise money.

I recently argued with someone on another landlord forum who was unable to get on the property ladder and partly dependent on benefits – he was a very hard working person, working part time and studying the rest of the time.  He came originally from a country in which he had apparently had land he had worked forcibly sold and had lost everything.  He had a gripe about landlords refusing to take tenants on benefits – I explained that I didn’t do it because of the risk of arrears, which I couldn’t carry.  I suggested to him that it would be the same as him being asked to give away £300 a month to a stranger – his attitude was that as the landlord, I was a privileged person and should therefore be prepared to carry someone who ran up rent arrears!

Although this opinion is something of an extreme view, there really is so much resentment (to put it mildly) about PRS landlords, and the perception that we’re all wealthy people who can and should be prepared to carry less fortunate members of society – regardless of the cost (in monetary and other terms) to ourselves and our families.

Clearly some local authority staff believe this, do members of the government think this way too?

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Previous topics from Lodgersite.com:

As landlords, we need an honest debate about the benefit system.

When is a landlord not a landlord?

When does your friend become your landlord?

Related LRS topic:Do you take DSS tenants?

Author: lodgersite.com

I rent flats in South London to young professionals seeking their first home. I have also been a live in landlord as well as being a lodger myself. Following a 10 year career in IT, I front end coded and authored - lodgersite.com. I have worked for two UK government departments, Land Registry and the Department for Work and Pensions and have a background in English Property Law.

Website: http://lodgersite.com

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