John Healy saves the world*

*Not really.

The current housing minister, who holds the current record for the number of times a housing minister’s name can be mentioned in a press release, has announced forthcoming legislation, in response to the Rugg report. More details here [link to PDF]. The announced headlines are as follows, then we’ll take a look at the substance.

Funding for a new housing hotline offering free help and advice for private tenants should things go wrong.

An online word-of-mouth directory of landlords similar to tripadviser or mumsnet. Consumer Focus is currently undertaking work to establish better ways for tenants to provide and access information about landlords’ track records.

A requirement for written tenancy agreements that will strengthen the hand of tenants should they face a dispute and ensure all tenants and landlords are clear of their rights and responsibilities.

Boosting the number of tenants protected under the most commonly used tenancy agreement. An increase of the short-term rental threshold to £100,000 a year will mean that many shared households, most often those of students or seasonal workers, will have their rights strengthened and protected by legislation should they face a dispute.

A National Register for Landlords to help tenants make basic checks on their prospective landlords. Councils will be able to identify local landlords more easily, making enforcement of letting rules easier, and registered landlords will gain access to the latest advice and information on what their role entails and how best to fulfil their responsibilities

Better regulation of letting and managing agents, which will help tackle the rogue agents who can drag the reputation of the Private Rented Sector down. Full legislation will drive out the worst practices such as wrongful eviction, raise standards and provide greater protection for both tenants and landlords in cases of dispute.

Work is also currently underway with councils across England to encourage best practice in taking a more business-friendly approach to working with the best landlords and agents in their area. Creating Local Letting Agencies, where councils and good landlords work together to help local people find better-quality homes in the private rented sector will help to effectively side-line the cowboys across the country.

So, clear substance is:

  • the raising of the AST annual rent limit to £100,000 (which is well overdue)
  • a requirement for a written tenancy agreement (although how would this be enforceable?)
  • regulation of letting agents (although what this actually means will have to be seen)
  • Surprisingly, a compulsory national register of landlords (except leasehold, holiday lets and resident landlords) even with suggestions for enforcement.

The pure wind/smoke/mirrors are:

  • A mumsnet for tenants to swap tips on landlords. Why on earth is the Government proposing to do this? Governments don’t do this kind of thing well. And who ends up liable for the libel?
  • Funding for a new housing hotline to provide advice to tenants. We already have several versions of this, all more or less underfunded. If this is to be a national advice line, prospectively covering the entire rented sector (approaching 40% of households), then that is serious money. And the training of the advisors? Look, if they are going to hand out the money to actually provide such a service, I’m going to be rebranding myself as a trainer for tenant advisors. But we all know that isn’t going to happen. Instead, at best, a horde of basically trained call centre fodder will be let loose on some of the most complicated public facing law this jurisdiction can offer.
  • Local Letting Agencies, where private landlords and local authorities work together in happy harmony. Uh huh.

So, some potentially good bits, even surprisingly so, but also some airy nonsense. Now let us see whether this makes the statute books.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Assured Shorthold tenancy, Housing law - All, Regulation and planning and tagged , .

12 Comments

  1. Mumsnet for tenants is about as sensible as systems such as the ‘tenants from hell’ websites used by landlords. It is simply a licence for people to libel each other or give out their personal details in a wholly inappropriate manner.

    Tenant advice systems currently operate largely through the CAB who are enthusiastic and committed but often do more harm than good. Unless landlord and tenant law is to be simplified then a low cost advice line is doomed to failure.

    • Absolutely agree to all of this. I was adding the libel point to the post as you commented.

  2. I would presume that the mandatory written tenancy agreement would work like so: if you don’t have a written agreement it is implied that you have one with a set of standard terms prescribed for by a statutory instrument.

    • Isn’t that called an assured shorthold tenancy? Anyway, the stated goal is clear information for the tenant – a statutory default tenancy isn’t going to accomplish that.

      I’m not making any presumptions, let alone anything so sensible as your suggestion. What I’d like to see is one way enforceability, as it is the landlord’s failure, but that isn’t going to happen.

  3. There is a statutory precedent for a mandatory agreement. Under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 the park owner must provide a written statement , to include certain implied terms, and there are provisions for the park home resident applying to court if such a statement is not provided (though the government now seem likely to amend this to make it an application to the Residential Property Tribunal – where there is no ……… [fill in the blank]).However no reason why this could not apply to tenants…but, as NL says, it isn’t going to happen is it

  4. Well, optimistically, one might imagine that barring landlords from serving a valid s.21 notice could be the sanction for not providing a written agreement.

    If I’m playing fantasy law reform, I might add that something like seeking possession after a s.8 notice extinguishing all rent outstanding might make landlords sit up and take notice.

  5. The detail in all of this is far from clear. On written tenancy agreements, they know that they have models produced by the Law Commission, but the government hedges their bets wondering if they will need model agreements (Grrr). Although they say this isn’t a consultation document, they also say that there’s a lot more work to be done on practically all their proposals; ie nothing will happen until after the election when the proposals will quietly be dropped by an incoming Tory government, or, if New Labour win, there will be endless rounds of useless research which will have zero impact on actual policy-making (just like the LHA and CBL). Or am I being too cynical?

  6. The Law Commission in their Renting Homes project produced perfectly sensible proposals for mandatory tenancy agreements,and even provided a draft agreement. As they consulted very widely surely any new scheme should take their proposals as a starting point?

    Otherwise what is the point of having a Law Commission?

  7. Yes, the obvious way to enforce it (if you really want it enforced) includes a rule that its a non-shorthold if there’s no written agreement, with all that follows from that.

    There’s precedent for the requirement of writing also in employment law where there’s been a statutory obligation to supply a written statement of terms and conditions (which need not be a written contact of employment) with various penalties for non-compliance and a power to apply to a tribunal to have one decided.

    Now, my own preferred solution is something that converts all residential tenancies (i.e. of any length, periodic or not, statutory or not) into commonhold forthwith. With some statutory compensation to the landlord being a charge on the property with no power of sale or possession except where the landlord is an RSL or public body in which case no compensation would be due. Or something like that. That would deny me a lot of work, but simplify the universe.

  8. Why? Wouldn’t that leave no scope for people to rent housing? Or am I misunderstanding, and that would simply leave everyone renting from a commonhold association?

  9. Yes! That’s right. No-one would rent residential property any more. I’ve always hated living in AST’s and even now in a leasehold I feel much less secure and happy than I did in my own home. I don’t see why people who are poor should be forced into some kind of quasi-feudal status which everyone else seems happy with.

    There’s have to be rather a lot of other changes too of course (basic income, simple one-click property purchase, no transaction taxes…). But what a world. Imagine it – no letting agents! No local authority housing departments running secure tenancies. All those ALMO’s just history. More resources to spend on helping people and the ability to burn a lot of Woodfall.

    Bliss.

Leave a Reply (We can't offer advice on individual issues)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.