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14/08/2014

On the Naughty Step: Incredible Landlords and the buzzy DCLG

It is hard for a civil servant, with a predisposition to reticence, obfuscation and paper, to know what to do in an age where ‘amazeballs’ and ‘bedroom tax’ have entered the Oxford English Dictionary, and even the dictionary is only available online. How, the poor bewildered apparatchiks wonder, can we get a message across in a time of kitten pictures, selfies and LOLZ.

Alas, their befuzzled, fustian earnestness leaves them prey to every peak-bearded, artisanally trousered, new media guru able to crank open a MacBook Air and seduce them with talk of clickthroughs, heat maps and the ecstasies of virality. Things Buzz, things that they do not understand, but yearn for. They wish to Buzz.

Thusly the DCLG and Is your Landlord Actually Incredible?. On Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed

It is meant to be funny. There is no getting around that. The images cling with a grim formalism to the appearance of internet humour, but without the content. They are the output of a person who does not understand the concept of jokes being chained in front of ICanHazCheezburger, being told this is what funny looks like and to get on with it. It is the blind men and the elephant approach to laughter.

The writing, though it may not seem possible, is worse. It aspires, relentlessly and brutally, to a witless jauntiness. As a whole, the bathos of this thing’s Not Funniness inspires a kind of pity. Whoever produced this, one feels, is in their soul of souls a wearer of comedy ties.

But when we get to the substantive content, if I can actually use those words, it becomes clear just how poor an opinion the DCLG actually has of private landlords; just how low the bar of expectation is set. Also, it becomes clear that this waste of pixels should never have been signed off.

“Is Your Landlord Actually Incredible?” we are asked. And helpfully, the DCLG go on to tell us how to tell if our landlord is incredible.

Private sector tenants, your landlord is actually pretty awesome (and not jeopardising your well-being/savings/sanity) if they do all the following:

There are nine indicators of incredibleness. I am on tenterhooks….

1 Keep your deposit at arm’s length
They agree for you to pay your deposit into a government approved deposit protection scheme.

While one should not have great expectations of anyone who very likely self-describes as a ‘content producer’, this manages to fail even the lowest of low hopes. Of course, protecting a deposit in a scheme is a basic legal requirement for a landlord and/or agent, not something your landlord will munificently agree to out of the goodness of their pretty awesome heart. But the clueless pixel jockeys can’t even get the basic law right. The tenant doesn’t pay the deposit in. The landlord or agent does. Or, if it is an insurance scheme, like most of them, they don’t pay it in at all, they just register it.

Next?

2 Not vanish
They give you their up-to-date contact details including a telephone number you can ring in case of an emergency.
Bonus points if they give you this when you’re renting through an agent.

Well, it is a basic legal requirement under s.47 Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 that the landlord provide their actual address on any written demand to the tenant. There is no real sanction if the landlord doesn’t, unless there are service charges – service charges aren’t due until the actual address is provided. But rent is still due. So landlords ignore s.47. Section 48 just requires an address in England and Wales for service – this can be an agent. So a landlord providing their actual address is a basic legal requirement but one that only nice landlords actually fulfill. Forgive me if I’m not feeling the incredible yet.

3 Put it in writing
They give you a written tenancy agreement that clearly sets out your rights and obligations.
Check that it excuses you from paying rent should the building become uninhabitable due to things like flooding and fire.

OK, not technically a basic legal requirement this time. There is no need for a written tenancy agreement, but given that a landlord can’t use the accelerated possession procedure without a written tenancy agreement, the presence of one makes the landlord not so much incredible as not a complete idiot.

4 Upkeep
They maintain the structure and exterior of the property.
They make sure the water, electricity and gas work and any appliances and furniture they supply are in good working order.

Yes, that is another basic, inescapable legal requirement. Complying with it is not pretty awesome on your landlord’s part, it is exactly what they are obliged to do.

5 Not get rid of you for asking for repairs
If something isn’t working and it forms part of the rental agreement they get it repaired.

Yes, you did read that right. It is truly incredibly awesome of your landlord if they don’t evict you for raising repair problems. Those low expectations? Consider them dropped to the floor. Let us hope that this will also be a basic legal right before too long.

6 Respect your privacy
They give reasonable notice of any necessary visits – the landlord cannot walk in whenever they like.
For things like repairs, the landlord should give written notice at least 24 hours before a visit.

Yes, that is a basic legal right again.

7 Share useful paperwork
Before you sign a contract they’ll give you:
A gas safety certificate – the landlord must provide one each year.
A record of any electrical inspections – all appliances must be safe and checks every 5 years are recommended.
The Energy Performance Certificate – this will affect your energy bills and the landlord must provide one.

For everything except the electrical inspection (and this needs sorting), these are basic legal requirements. Are you seeing a theme emerge about the measure of the pretty awesome landlord?

8 Get registered
Whether you’re planning to rent directly or via a letting agent, ask about landlord accreditation. These schemes safeguard you if your landlord goes bust or spends your deposit on a three-legged racehorse.

What? This is unmitigated rubbish. Nonsense on stilts. Way past wrong and all the way out into misrepresentation. I know of no landlord accreditation scheme that offers the tenant any recompense, safeguard or recourse at all. Certainly Boris’s London Landlord Scheme doesn’t. Who in the DCLG cleared this? Because their head should be on a plate.

9 Keep you alive
When you visit a property, see if you can spot any smoke or carbon monoxide detectors – these could save your life!

A basic legal requirement for HMOs or any property built after 1992. Frankly an obvious need, rather than an act of awesomeness.

And that is it. That is the whole bowl of awesomeness; the gold star list of being incredible.

I can only believe that as the DCLG wriggled into its unaccustomed skinny jeans and considered growing a Grizzly Adams style beard (and can I just say how tired I am of London resembling a gathering of off-duty extras from a staging of Oklahoma), it lost its ability to pass on accurate information, because, well you know, viral and buzz and things.

Naught StepOr perhaps this pathetic piece of nonsense truly has revealed just how low the DCLG’s expectations of private landlords are, such that we are expected to high-five landlords, hug them, and buy them a speciality micro brewery beer for actually complying with the simple, basic legal requirements imposed on them. Yes, that is incredible. Onto the naughty step go all involved.

At least there wasn’t a Nyan cat stuck in there.

 

Update: Buzzfeed’s deputy editor wishes to dissociate his site from having any editorial relations with this car crash whatsoever. Via twitter:

@nearlylegal @nickduxbury Oh lordy. Just for the record (may be worth adding to blog?) it’s on our community section, we have no control.

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.

6 Comments

  1. muller

    with you on the skinny jeans and beards, living near shoreditch as i do.

    Reply
  2. ben

    I did all those 9 things and gave my tenants 25 quid at christmas for being good tenants and some earplugs when the flat downstairs was having some building work, does that make me some sort of uber super overlord type landlord in the DCLG’s eyes?

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      Big Gold Star. And an ‘I’m pretty awesome’ badge.

      Reply
  3. Bryan Wagner-Adair

    *Screams*
    And then the DCLG wonder why people don’t want to opt for the private rented sector and demand social housing that often doesn’t exist.

    Reply
  4. Newbie

    Oh dear. Perhaps DCLG need to run a training programme for Landlords? I can see it now.

    “This Certificate is presented to [NAME] and shows that he/she is an awesome Landlord!”

    Gold star

    Reply
  5. just saying

    Better titles would have been:

    Is you landlord actually legal?
    Does your landlord think they’re incredible?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. New Statesman | "Is Your Landlord Actually Incredible?": should the government be allowed on BuzzFeed? - […] It not only shows why government departments shouldn’t attempt this kind of humour, but also that they should check…
  2. Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #167 - […] Giles Peaker of Nearly Legal fame this week made the most entertaining reading with his review of the DCLG’s…
  3. Rightsnet discussion forum | DWP now using Buzzfeed - […] http://nearlylegal.co.uk/2014/08/naughty-step-incredible-landlords-buzzy-dclg/ […]

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