Landlord’s addresses and other matters

Its a business not a hobbyOur regular guest blogger Ben Reeve-Lewis tells us about some little known legal points.

Landlord responsibilities

The Suzy Butler case in the news at the moment highlights how little so many amateur landlords know about their legal responsibilities. The fact is even if a landlord lets out only one property, whether to travel abroad or help with finances, the minute they hand over the keys they have in effect started a business and just like any business there is tax to pay, and laws that govern the running of that business.

Believe it or not, even a sole landlord with a tiny 1 bedroom studio flat that they have let out are in exactly the same position as an entire local council acting as landlord of a housing stock consisting of thousands of properties. Largely the same rules and regulations apply.

Most landlords are at the very least on nodding terms with the requirement to serve notices, obtain possession orders etc but what of some of the more obscure bits of legislation that are just as binding and that landlord’s can fall foul of without knowing?

Section 48 Address

Under a piece of legislation known as the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 a landlord must provide an address for themselves where the tenant could serve documents if they needed to, for instance where a tenant wants to take their landlord to court for failing to carry out repairs. The address doesn’t have to be the landlord’s actual home address but an address must be supplied.

If the landlord doesn’t supply what is called a Section 48 address then the law states they are not entitled to receive any rent until they do. Section 48 of the LTA actually says this…..

Where a landlord of any such premises fails to comply with subsection (1), any rent or service charge otherwise due from the tenant to the landlord shall (subject to subsection (3)) be treated for all purposes as not being due from the tenant to the landlord at any time before the landlord does comply with that subsection.

Many landlords I deal with come a cropper with this requirement, including on one occasion a local council in the Northwest of England who realised that their tenants got letters from different sections based in different offices around their borough so a tenant could not determine which of them was the Section 48 Address and as a consequence weren’t entitled to receive rent from their thousands of tenants. Needless to say they corrected that one very quickly.

Most modern tenancy agreements have a section on them specifically for that purpose but older agreements or where there is no written agreement can lead to problems if the tenant is advised about this.

Request for the landlord’s address

In addition to the section 48 address we looked at above, there is also a legal requirement for the landlord to provide their address, (not simply an address for service of documents). Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 states that if a tenant puts a request in writing to the landlord asking for their address the landlord has to respond, also in writing and within 21 days giving their address.

Section 48 might make it difficult for a landlord to receive rent until they comply but the penalty for breaching this one is far more severe. The Act says…..

A person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with subsection (1) commits a summary offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

The bit about a “Summary Offence”, means it is a criminal offence prosecuted in the magistrates court… A level 4 fine is currently about £2,500….…Not very nice huh?

Show me the money

Many landlords whose tenant’s owe them rent will think it reasonable to contact the tenant to ask them to pay them, and it is….up to a point. The thing is, at what point does the asking for rent become unreasonable? And if it is deemed unreasonable guess what? It can be criminal offence.

Section 40 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 states……

A person commits an offence if………….harasses the other with demands for payment which by their frequency, or manner or occasion of their making , or any accompanying threat or publicity are calculated to subject him or his family or his household to alarm, distress or humiliation

I once prosecuted a landlord under this legislation. He was a baker who rented out a flat above his shop. When the tenant owed him rent he placed a poster in the shop window telling all local cake fans that his tenant owed him money.

One of the most common complaints made about landlords by tenants is being harassed for missing rent payments. This is an outrage you may say…..what’s the world coming to?…….That’s as may be, but it is still a law, binding on the landlord, and complaining about its lack of fairness will get you nowhere.

Providing a rent book

It is always in a landlord’s interest to provide a rent book or to otherwise receipt for it. If a tenant ends up in arrears and the landlord wants to go for possession on that then they will have to prove their case. If there is no record of payments then how does a landlord prove it? I am amazed at how many tenants I meet who never ask for receipts even though they have been paying rent for years.

Section 4 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is an interesting little oddity. It requires the landlord to provide a rent book or similar document but strictly speaking only when it is a weekly tenancy. The law states this……

Where a tenant has a right to occupy premises as a residence in consideration of a rent payable weekly, the landlord shall provide a rent book or other similar document for use in respect of the premises

So in the absence of saying anything else about the period of the rent it can be taken that if a tenant pays weekly or monthly there is no requirement for the landlord to provide a rent book at all, only if it is a weekly tenancy.

Tax duties for landlords living abroad

Rent is an income and as such landlords are supposed to be paying tax on it. If a landlord is resident in the UK then tax is paid in the usual way, but what if the landlord is sunning themselves in a Spanish idyll while their rental property back in the UK is paying for the Sangria?

The tax rules are that the tenant, who is paying more than £100 a week in rent, or their managing agent (with no lower rent limit) is supposed to be deducting the tax element and paying it to the tax man on the landlord’s behalf.

Landlord wanting to avoid this must apply for a thing called the Charities, Assets and Residency (CAR) Personal Tax International certificate. This will allow the landlord to receive all rent monies and submit quarterly accounts to the tax office.

Failure to arrange either of these things will result in the tax man getting very bolshie, looking into their affairs and generally spoiling their day.

These are just some of the weird and strange little known areas of laws relating to landlords and their tenants. There are others. A would be landlord would expect the professional letting agent to make sure they don’t fall foul of these, that’s why they are paying them after all, but the problem is, most of the time the agents don’t know about them either………housing advisers and lawyers do though.

I have said elsewhere in my ramblings that there is good money to be earned in property, as long as the landlord follows the rules and does a bit of homework before they get into the game. Landlords have a choice, keep everything above board and get on with it or sit and moan about the unfairness of landlord/tenant law

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben ReeveAbout Ben Reeve-Lewis: Ben was the Tenancy Relations Officer for Lewisham Council for 11 years, prosecuting landlords for harassment and illegal eviction. Now he is a freelance housing law training consultant with a more balanced approach, delivering housing law courses for the Chartered Institute Of Housing, Shelter etc. His aim now is to help the housing world work as a interdependent system that benefits all.

Have you had problems with any of these matters?  Or do you have any other small legal points to share which are often overlooked?

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9 Responses to Landlord’s addresses and other matters

  1. A very informative article but how are these requirements actually enforced?

    We used both pieces of legislation to try to get our former freehold landlord to provide an address (rather then the PO box numbers being used at the time) but he ignored us.

    And what about tenants who don’t have English as their first language and have letting agents who don’t operate professionally?

    My borough of Waltham Forest is a very multi-cultural borough and within my own block a number of tenants will not have English as their first language.

    I have been approached by tenants with problems on more than on occasion where their letting agents are either ignoring them or carrying out botched jobs.

    On asking if they have contacted their landlord, I have more often than not been told they don’t know his name or his whereabouts.

    I therefore never ceased to be amazed about how little attention is paid to the problems experienced outside of the landlord trade bodies. These organisations fail to recognise that another world exists outside of their own rosy garden where all landlords are professional and know their stuff.

    Landlords not being compelled to provide information from the outset is one of the main reasons I have been pushing for landlord licencing as per the Rugg Review recommendations.

    However, these powerful bodies continue to lobby for things that make life easier for them but burden the world that the majority of landlords and tenants occupy.

    Legislation is all very well but when you can’t compel landlords to provide information outside of quoting a piece of legislation at them (which in my experience they ignore) then something is fundamentally wrong.

    Kind Regards
    Miss Sharon Crossland AIRPM
    Leasehold Life

  2. Hi Sharon, thanks for commenting.

    So far as s48 is concerned, the tenant is legally entitled to withhold rent until the address is provided.

    Where there is a criminal penalty, it is down to the local authorities to deal. I will let Ben (as a TRO) to answer that!

    Incidentally, if a tenant is having problems finding out who the landlord is, he can always do a search at HM Land Registry. It only costs about £4. True the owner may not be his landlord, but in many cases it will be.

  3. Blimey Sharon, there’s enough there for an entire article in response. In respect of S48 breaches as Tessa says the tenant just withholds rent, or if they are on housing benefit I often just notify them and they stop payments.

    The Section 1 breach is done in the magistrate’s court and can be taken out by the tenant but if the local authority is involved they may do it on the tenant’s behalf.

    On the matter of people with poor English they do get a bum deal I’m afraid, it’s a fact of life. We have the same in my South East London Borough where 92 different languages are spoken. Interpreters are frighteningly expensive (Pearl Linguistics who we use for phone work I think cost £15 a minute) and from an evidence point of view if we take a case to court then the same interpreter has to be used in witness as the one who dealt with the original statement and the logistics of that are nigh on impossible to control.

    Friends and family interpreting is a nightmare because you can’t prevent them getting emotionally involved and you never know if what you are getting is an impartial translation so that is useless in a criminal case.

    I dealt with a Chinese guy last month unlawfully evicted by his landlord for the second time this year but he had learning difficulties as well as no English so the interpreters we used couldn’t understand him either and he didn’t grasp what was going on for him so there was nothing we could do to right the wrong.

    On tracking landlords down, we often use Experian with whom we have an account that shows up alias’s and other addresses used and if we have bank account details we can also serve a particular notice on the bank asking for the address so a call to your friendly neighbourhood TRO may help.

    Failing that you would be surprised at how useful and revealing Facebook can be too. Never ignore the obvious!!!!!!!!!
    Letting agents ignoring requests? This is an eternal problem. If the council is investigating allegations of a criminal nature, such as harassment and illegal eviction they have the power to serve a notice on the agent under Section 7 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 ordering them to come up with the landlord’s details straightaway or face a £1,500 fine. I have had some success with this in the past but also some notable failures too as you have to be very careful with how you put your case to the judge and choose your words carefully ha-ha.

    I too was disappointed that the Government abandoned Rugg. I do think that the regulations may have deterred investment in the PRS but it would also curtail much of the depressing actions I witness daily – this week alone I have picked up a tenant whose landlord changed the locks and when she called police the attending officers made her sign a letter terminating her lawful tenancy in 2 week’s time to satisfy the landlord and also a tenant whose landlord broke 2 of his fingers when he tried to call police to protect him.

    And agents???????????? Don’t get me started on them. In my borough there are 29 firms and all but 2 of them I would describe at best as bumbling (not even well meaning) incompetents and at worst, outright gangsters. I have become so appalled by their lack of knowledge in all areas of landlord and tenant law and seeing them rip off both landlords and tenants at the same time to line their nests that I am seriously considering starting up my own agency with the unique selling point of being an agent who actually knows what they are doing and who will ensure that the tenants pay their rent and the landlord has gas safe certificates and follows proper procedures. An ethical accommodation agent……….now there’s a first!

    Sorry for the length of this one Tessa and for ending on a world weary and cynical note……of course there are decent agents out there too……………………..somewhere!!!!!!…………I’m sure…………no honestly…..

  4. Hi Tessa,
    Thanks for your response.

    It’s very useful to know that tenants can withold their rent if they do not have any contact details for their landlord.

    Whilst I also note that you suggest contacting the Land Registry for landlord details, I tried this route myself
    a few years back to try and get support for collective enfranchisement, RTM ect, but many of the landlords simply had the sublet flat at Wellington Mansions on the Registry as their address.

    I had to get the information piecemeal, as there are other ways and means but I remain concerned at the lack of enforcement measures in place at the outset for when landlords do not provide information at the outset, despite the legislation saying that they must.

    The professional landlords no doubt supply this as a matter of course but unfortunately there are far too many who flout the legislation because they recognise that the onus to get them to comply with any element of it is on the tenant or leaseholder.

    Having said all this, we now have all the addresses of our leasehold landlords. My partner is the Director of the company which now owns the freehold so I have two questions.

    1) if I were to get tenants approaching me in the future with problems concerning their letting agents and no landlord details would I be able to advise them to withhold their rent or would I be creating a problem for myself?
    2) Can I pass on the leaseholder’s details to the tenants if they request it?

    I myself am not a member of the freehold company but I have full permission from the Directors to act in their name but I obviously would want to be sure of my ground.

    Many Thanks
    Kind Regards
    Sharon

  5. Hi Sharon

    I think it is probably best if I do not give specific advice on your situation – my insurers would be unhappy if I got it wrong, and I could well do that as I do not know all the circumstances. Probably best if you speak to your own lawyer.

    Your second question is really a data protection question and I am not a data protection lawyer. You will find guidance on the website of the Information Commissioner: http://www.ico.gov.uk/

  6. Hi Ben,
    Thank you very much for providing such a detailed response to my queries. It is much appreciated.

    I like the idea of using Facebook and Experian and when I was researching our freehold landlord I used checksure.com which yielded loads of other companies opened by him and his family and in various stages of being dissolved and with a number of CCJs against them.

    I know landlords are not generally in favour of licencing but it’s always been my view that visibility is the issue here which is what Rugg endorsed in her review.

    My own experience shows how easy it is for unscrupulous landlords to hide in sectors where there is absolutely no entry criteria to meet and where joining trade associations and gaining accreditation remains entirely voluntary.

    As I tweeted earlier, a minority of rogue landlords can be any number up to 49%!

    Again, many thanks for the informative and humurous response.

    Kind Regards
    Sharon

  7. Hi Tessa,
    Thanks for replying to my queries. I wasn’t sure if you would be able to supply firm answers but I thought it was worth asking just in case.

    Kind Regards
    Sharon

  8. I am in a situation where I am trying to pursue a former landlord for monies owed but this is difficult to achieve because they have refused to provide their address, which I requested when they served notice, and they now ignore correspondence to the address given – which was property that we were renting.

    I have raised this with the local authority but they said (a) this would be a problem legally because they were no longer my landlord and the 21 days expired after the tenancy had ended, even though the request had been made while I was the tenant, and this was a grey area in law and (b) following the cuts, they do not have the resources to mount prosecutions and have essentially given up even trying to enforce housing law in our borough.

    This gives rise to three questions, if you’re able to answer them…

    1. Is it acceptable for a landlord to provide the address of the property that they are renting out and claim that satisfies Section 1 because they own the property and it is therefore their address even if they reside elsewhere?

    2. If the 21 days expires after the tenant is evicted, is that an effective get-out clause from enforcing Section 1 because at that point the landlord is no longer the landlord?

    3. Ben mentions that a tenant can bring a prosecution for this. Can I do that as an ex tenant if the local authority is unable to act? And if so, where would I start?!




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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.



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