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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #90

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis starts the year…]

It’s 2013!!!!!! How did that happen?

As the song “16 Tons” goes “You load 16 tons and whaddya get? Another day older and deeper in debt” Well that’s certainly what 2013 holds for many of the citizens of this green and pleasant land.

Frazzles and I had a forward looking Christmas. I bought her a Kindle fire to re-kindle (pun intended) her interest in books which she says she lost after doing her degree, where book reading was compulsory and destroyed her passion for reading.

She bought me a juicer to re-kindle my passion for a 32 inch waist. Go girl…..God loves an optimist I am told.

The spirit of Christmas

The festive season did little for the good people of my borough.

I dealt with an illegal eviction on Christmas Eve if you please, how ‘Nativity-esque is that????? and New Year’s Eve brought me a domestic violence victim whose nutbag partner had thrown her out of his sole council tenancy and proceeded to murder the first born of all residents in the borough………Oh hang on…..I think I’m getting a bit confused. The illegal eviction happened though.

And a happy New Year to one and all!

Universal credit beckons

2013 is the year that Universal Credit comes in, plus the 30th percentile cap on housing benefit, bedroom tax and housing benefit increases linked to the consumer price index instead of the retail price index, in a sterling attempt to massage the figures for the Daily Mail.

I have an insider’s tip for you, (Tapping the side of my nose and winking a lot). Invest your shares in cardboard box companies…..No….trust me, this is where many people are going to end up this year.

Alan Ward - Chairman of the RLAAlan Ward is worried

Don’t take my tired, world weary opinion on it. Listen to Alan Ward, head of the Residential Landlords Association quoted on Housing Excellence where he says;

“Already before this measure is introduced, Shelter has reported that 1.4 million people are falling behind with payments on their rents or mortgages. The Government’s reforms will serve only to increase the number of families struggling to cope.”

Alan goes on to say:-

“It is clear that the housing benefit changes are having a severe impact on those in desperate need of housing.”

Bear in mind this isn’t ‘Bleeding heart’ me saying this, but a landlord industry insider.

But some people are trying to get ahead of the game and, if not exactly averting disaster, at least attempting to wrap a few cotton wool balls around it.

Some technology solutions

I came across Allpay on 24 Dash  who are using technology to do what they can to alleviate the oncoming, slow-motion car crash and issuing cards and drip feed payments, monitoring where grant monies are going.

The report says:-

“Some organisations are experimenting with using new technology to reduce bureaucracy in grant-giving. It cites a partnership where The Big Lottery Fund is working with payment specialist’s allpay to pay out grants with a prepaid card.

This, says the report, “enables the donor to then monitor where the money is spent online and in real time, rather than through a retrospective, paper-based system”.

Perhaps the light in all this is the tried and trusted principle that people get more creative when restrictions are imposed upon them, than when they have free budgets and carte blanche to do what they will.

It’s a weird inverse principle and I think many people and organisations are going to be taking advantage of it this year. Human alchemy, turning lead into gold.

Licensing in Liverpool

Inside Housing carried an interesting story last week  about how Liverpool City Council plans to introduce mandatory licensing for all their landlords.

However the article is light on detail so I can’t figure out what they mean by licensing.

Many people equate licensing with HMO licensing, which isn’t the same as the Welsh White Paper or what seems to be driving Liverpool in this, so I can’t report accurately.

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of the Welsh licensing proposal. It would make my job as an enforcement officer 100 times easier but landlords seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to the very name, mainly it seems because they merely think of Newham and what they are trying to achieve there. But the Welsh model isn’t the same animal at all.

Councils have many powers but they can’t exceed those powers. To do so is known in law as ‘Ultra Vires’….going beyond their powers. On that basis I wonder what Liverpool are up to and I haven’t yet found anything that can clarify that for me.

Watch Liverpool though. It will either be a wonderful example of tilting at windmills, worthy of St Jude himself, or they may have just found a loophole, and if they do, watch the other councils following suit.

Rent capping?

Meanwhile, over at the Telegraph, hardly the champion of tenants’ rights, they ran an article last week saying that renting doesn’t work for tenants.  Calling the British rental system:-

“The most dysfunctional rental market in the Western world”.

Mention rent capping to today’s landlords and they immediately, automaton-like, point to the rental market of the late 1980s, where it is held that too much rent control destroyed investment in the private rental sector.  But the article’s author, Matt Hill says:-

“The system is no longer fit for purpose”.

Matt ends his article saying:-

“Like a neglectful landlord, we have trouble understanding that a rented house should still be a home. The private rental market is falling into disrepair: it’s time to carry out some essential maintenance work.”

I get fed up being pilloried by landlords for simply writing about what I see on a daily basis and being accused, as one landlord did on twitter this week, of not living in the real world, simply because I didn’t accept his arguments.

So it heartens me when Alan Ward of the RLA and journalists from the Telegraph also start to point to the Emperor’s new clothes and say the un-utterable, that the UK PRS rental market is a broken system that is dragging landlords and tenants down with it.

Its a new world now

The only arguments put forward in its defence are tired, 25 year old ones. Its 2013 folks and the people who make up the rental market are not the same ones as a quarter of a century ago. We need new systems to reflect what we are facing, not depressing, knee-jerk reactionary conversation killers about licensing or controls disincentivising investment.

We are not our parents and we need solutions that accurately reflect the world of today’s landlords and tenants if we are not to drag on with this god-awful shitty mess.

I don’t pretend to have the answers but I am willing to enter into proper 2 way debates in an attempt to find them. My hope for 2013 is that I will find more landlords willing to ditch the old arguments and have open discussions to find a system that works for landlords and tenants in the world we live in now.

Well, that and my perhaps futile search for a 32 inch waist. Don’t tell Frazzy though. She has spent 3 years just getting me to put the toilet seat down. One step at a time.

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7 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #90

  1. I think comparisons with the rent controlled 70s are misleading: it was also to do with homes cheaper and easier to buy, and less renting, perhaps? I think when Herod says ‘Save The Babies’ change is going to happen.

  2. That is my point Penny. I was working in housing and homelessness in the late 1980s and the world of renting was a different animal entirely. The right to buy had yet to really bite so we had loads of social housing.

    In 1987 I was a homelessness case worker and we used to give applicants 3 offers to choose from and before that I worked in night shelters, where we used to re-settle the guys in council and housing association flats all over the place. The pool of properties was not under threat and single people who had grown up in a district would get a council place.

    I remember an old friend who at 21 left home and moved into a council flat off the waiting list.

    The argument put forward about disincentivising investment fails to take into account that huge pool of social housing we had back then

  3. “the UK PRS rental market is a broken system”

    Most landlords and tenants are satisfied with it. Admittedly it’s not perfect for either party but for the majority, it is far from being broken.

    Not that I’m for a moment suggesting you don’t live in the real world. More like your world is a lot realer than for most people, giving you a somewhat jaundiced view of the system as a whole.

    I believe the focus should be on fixing the part that is broken.

    Am I right in thinking the vast majority of problems are at the bottom end? Say the lowest 30th percentile?

    In which case most renters in that bracket are receiving some benefits. As it will soon be universal credit, a lot of that benefit will be spent on housing. It seems fair that any taxpayers money should be spent only on suitable accommodation provided by a fit and proper person. Indeed, local authorities discharging their homelessness duty on the private sector are already required to check this. It seems reasonable to expand this to include all property let to people receiving benefits for housing (including the public sector).

    As for rent capping, what exactly are you proposing? Back to the old days of rent officers setting rents? Capping house prices as well? How will you prevent landlords from cherry picking ‘good’ tenants and further disadvantaging ‘bad’ tenants?

    Or do you just mean some form of rent control written into AST’s that annual increases are to be in line with CPI as per Shelter’s suggestion?

    Regards, HB Welcome.

  4. Council requirements before disharging their homelessness duty onto the PRS (for anyone interested);

    3. For the purposes of a private rented sector offer under section 193(7F) of the Housing Act
    1996, accommodation shall not be regarded as suitable where one or more of the following apply–
    (a) the local housing authority are of the view that the accommodation is not in a reasonable
    physical condition;
    (b) the local housing authority are of the view that any electrical equipment supplied with the
    accommodation does not meet the requirements of regulations 5 and 7 of the Electrical
    Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994(a);
    (c) the local housing authority are of the view that the landlord has not taken reasonable fire
    safety precautions with the accommodation and any furnishings supplied with it;
    (d) the local housing authority are of the view that the landlord has not taken reasonable
    precautions to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning in the
    (e) the local housing authority are of the view that the landlord is not a fit and proper person
    to act in the capacity of landlord, having considered if the person has:
    (i) committed any offence involving fraud or other dishonesty, or violence or illegal
    drugs, or any offence listed in Schedule 3 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003(b)
    (offences attracting notification requirements);
    (ii) practised unlawful discrimination on grounds of sex, race, age, disability, marriage
    or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, religion or belief, sexual orientation,
    gender identity or gender reassignment in, or in connection with, the carrying on of
    any business;
    (iii) contravened any provision of the law relating to housing (including landlord or
    tenant law); or
    (iv) acted otherwise than in accordance with any applicable code of practice for the
    management of a house in multiple occupation, approved under section 233 of the
    Housing Act 2004(c);
    (f) the accommodation is a house in multiple occupation subject to licensing under section
    55 of the Housing Act 2004 and is not licensed;
    (g) the accommodation is a house in multiple occupation subject to additional licensing under
    section 56 of the Housing Act 2004 and is not licensed;
    (h) the accommodation is or forms part of residential property which does not have a valid
    energy performance certificate as required by the Energy Performance of Buildings
    (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007(d);
    (i) the accommodation is or forms part of relevant premises which do not have a current gas
    safety record in accordance with regulation 36 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use)
    Regulations 1998(e); or
    (j) the landlord has not provided to the local housing authority a written tenancy agreement,
    which the landlord proposes to use for the purposes of a private rented sector offer, and
    which the local housing authority considers to be adequate.

  5. Thanks for your comments HB. Not sure I understand the purpose of the second one on the new suitability order though.

    You are right to mention the effects of doing my job on my views of the landlord/tenant arena. I do a rough job in one of the roughest areas of London and deal everyday with the bottom feeders and parasites on both sides of the fence. Yes its true that most of my clients, landlords and tenants alike aren’t in the main group. It’s a small percentage of the overall picture, but sheer weight of numbers does wear me down to be honest.

    What saves me from becoming terminally cynical is that I also meet lovely landlords being ripped off by dreadful scamming tenants, which is 50% of the picture. So I’m not as jaded as you would understandably think. I have faith that most landlords want to do things properly and are sensitive to a tenant’s need for a home, rather than just 4 walls that they cant put pictures on.

    I do think the system is broken and I don’t agree that most landlords and tenants are happy however. Short term tenancies (which I know are largely imposed through lender covenants in buy to let mortgages) creates a constant sense of unease in the tenant community. They never know when they are going to have to move again.

    And in London rent levels are draining the life from so many people, not just those on benefits or even what is becoming known as the ‘Working poor’, but people on reasonable incomes. It really does irk me when I see landlord websites proclaiming that the market is buoyant and rents will continue to rise. It isn’t a political thing for me, I gave that all up a long time ago but speaking for myself I couldn’t feel comfortable in my skin if I thought that my standard of living was at the expense of the happiness of others.

    I do think rent control is essential in the capital but I also understand the notion of disincentivisation. The old Rent Act controls are ludicrous and unrealistic. I don’t think any sensible person would point back to that but there are different models of rent control that work very well. Personally I think rents should be capped but PRS landlords should be given grants and tax breaks to underpin them.

    The government aren’t friendly to either suggestion so it isn’t going to happen, but in the meantime, rent arrears and repossessions are up 28% in the past year and as every landlord will say, you never really get the money back in a rent arrears claim, so what is the point of hiking up rents, to create debts that you will never recover?

  6. Sorry about the rather bizzare legislation posting, it wasn’t aimed at you Ben (I wouldn’t dare!), I know you’re fully aware of it. Just thought it might inform others of the standards required, as I had mentioned it in my earlier post.

    I didn’t say landlords and tenants were happy, I said satisfied, and that is taken from the surveys I’ve seen- the latest being Boris Johnson’s London one (68% of tenants satisfied or very satisfied). However, I think most tenants in the lowest 30th percentile of rents would be dissatisfied. Which is where I think things should be targetted.

    I agree about the effects of short term tenancies. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that if you offer the choice of going periodic or a new 2 year tenancy, then tenants invariably prefer the flexibility of periodic- even those with children settled in local schools intending to stay long term. Doesn’t make sense to me!

    Section 21’s aren’t helping tenants feeling of unease, but you can’t water them down unless you restore the effectiveness of the other grounds. In particular, re-granting possessions for non payment of rent.

    I agree about rent controls during tenancies but not about rent caps. I don’t know of any reputable organisation advocating them either.

    This recent survey is a bit more upbeat about rent arrears;

    But maybe its just the calm before the storm.

  7. Happy v. Satisfied? Hmmm where’s a cognitive linguist when you need him? Ha

    Just before Christmas I was invited to go to City Hall and be cross examined by the entire London Assembly about Boris’s plans (I thought it was going to be a sit-down chat between a handful of people, not a 3 hour grilling by 25 politicians) His toothless plans for London’s PRS are being constructed on a very carefully laid set of questions, designed to lead the participant towards a conclusion that is pre-determined by the questions themselves. This is always the same with any surveys to be honest.

    But you are right. Tenants in the hinterland of renting are the worst affected.

    There are other reasons why a tenant prefers to remain on a periodic tenancy and not sign a further AST. I know, I am one of those reasonably well paid tenants and I know others like me who simply refuse to pay an agent £150 just to sign a template they have on file that takes no legal skill whatsoever.

    Believe it or not I agree about the ineffectiveness of the 17 grounds for eviction. Also the timescales involved in repossession. I actually think it takes too long.

    In my experience the length of time and the complexities of the details of possession proceedings often promotes harassment and illegal eviction out of frustration with the process. I don’t say that to excuse it, but to explain it.

    If it was down to me I would lose mandatory grounds for possession (council tenants don’t have them) lose S21 altogether, so there isn’t a no fault ground and simply streamline grounds for eviction on rent arrears and nuisance to make it easier for landlords to get bad tenants out.



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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