Regulating renting proposals

I’m just in the process of marking what feels like thousands of coursework essays on proprietary estoppel and constructive trusts.  The thing that gets me – time for a rant – is that my very clever three As students can’t actually write a proper sentence, and split infinitives willy nilly.  It just winds me up.  So I turned to the much pre-publicised DCLoG response to the Rugg review of private renting which was published today. You can rely on DCLoG civil servants, or so I thought, but what lingers with me after reading it is that it could have been written by one of those very same students because it’s been incredibly badly put together and edited.

I focus on that in a way because the general view (or at least a straw poll of some of my policy nerd friends) is that the content is just a load of old flannel.  There’s not much there that we didn’t know about already – a light touch landlord registration scheme, regulation of letting and managing agents, written tenancy agreements, a kind of attempt at dealing with retaliatory eviction (about which we really don’t know anything but the policy focus on this is down to the amazing, saintly work of Debbie Crew and the CABx), promotion of local authority-landlord schemes to assist the vulnerable (ie shove all homeless households into private renting as “choice”), and sundry other items.  The Law Commission stuff is largely sidelined on the basis that this isn’t the right time for such an upheaval and because of the additional regulatory burdens – bla bla, I’m afraid I just think that’s just a load of old guff written by people who should know better (and who are responsible as a result for the mess we’re in, or potentially in, on Ground 8 and the HRA).  There’s nothing there really about tenancy deposits either – given the current uncertainty in the law as we have reported on several occasions and appears to be the stuff of much blogging -apart from a self-laudatory comment about the amount of deposits which have been protected through the 2004 Act schemes.

Three further rants:

(a) It annoys me that local authorities and landlords are now regarded as partners and accreditors etc, rather than local authorities as regulators and prosecutors.  I strongly recommend that DCLoG civil servants read the meticulous work of Keith Hawkins and indeed their own research on harassment/unlawful eviction from 1999 to appreciate the way prosecution is not used against the worst offenders.

(b) My co-researcher keeps on going on about the way government sidles up to the landlord community always saying that we know that there are many good landlords out there.  But, we don’t know that, nor do we know what we mean by “good” in this context, nor whether sometimes the good might also be bad. 

(c) I read this document from start to finish so I could write this.  They repaid me with the comment in their concluding section: “We see consultation on these proposals as the start of a long conversation with all who have an interest in the private rented sector and the proposals in this response”.  In other words, don’t expect any action on these proposals beyond meek, mediocre, unpoliced self-regulation.

Ah well, I feel better after those rants – back to proprietary estoppel and constructive trusts and the madness of marking.

Posted in Assured Shorthold tenancy, Housing law - All, Regulation and planning and tagged , , , , , .

5 Comments

  1. Are you seriously proposing that your gut feeling is that there are not many good landlords doing a good job out there?

    There are 3.3 million households in the private-rented sector in the UK and your view is that most are guilty of ‘forcing’ tenants to live in squalor.

    If this was the case, do you not think successive governments would have done something about it sooner?

    From the NLA’s point of view, it doesn’t feel like Government has “sidled up” to us on this one I can assure you.

    I

  2. It isn’t a question of landlords doing a “good job” – they’re not doing a “job” at all. They’re offering a service in a market place, for profit. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but we shouldn’t think that landlords are acting out of the goodness of their hearts. The market – like any market – needs to be properly regulated.

    That there is a need for regulation can hardly be in doubt. Unlawful eviction, harassment, disrepair – these are all depressingly common and, much as I (and the rest of the NL team) might enjoy our jobs, we all recognise that it’s far better to prevent such problems arising in the first place, rather than merely to punish afterwards and that can only be achieved through regulation.

  3. @Steve: My point is that we need a more nuanced understanding of landlord (and tenant) behaviour than a simple good:bad binary which keeps on being trotted out by policy-makers. The 1999 DETR research on harassment and unlawful eviction demonstrated that so-called good landlords involved in local accreditation schemes might also be involved in behavours which might call for some form of sanction. Our problem, in my view, is that we have a system where the cops don’t prosecute and may well facilitate unlawful evictions; local authorities have conflicting roles (policing/promoting/funding – a bit like the now defunct Housing Corporation); and, as a result, some landlords themselves are able to construct their own behaviours as reasonable because there is no sanction. Retaliatory eviction may well be the new “winkling”, the lawful Rachmanite practice.

    I accept that when a tenant doesn’t pay the rent or affects other occupiers (eg in an HMO), then that is really annoying. No doubt, you will employ proper due process in those circumstances; some otherwise good landlords use baseball bats; others, and this is the most common excuse, just don’t know what they’re doing and consequently commit various offences. They don’t quite have the MPs’ excuses that their behaviour was within the spirit of the rules, but are they really bad? But, don’t worry, Steve, all of this is going to be quietly forgotten anyway.

  4. If you read my blog item here you will see that they do not appear to want much dialogue with the public, despite what they say.

    I offered to put up an online answer form (which I have done before for the Law Commission) to facilitate responses from the public, and was treated as if I had made an offer in dubious taste. Seldom have I spoken to someone more overtly hostile.

    I am minded to do an answer form anyway but whether they will actually read responses coming from a tainted source such as myself is anyones guess!

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