To sign up for the Landlord Law Newsletter (and get a free guide)>> Click Here

Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #93

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis is listening to music this week...]

I found out an interesting medical fact this week. Did you know that there are only a set number of times that a person can listen to The Green, Green Grass of Home before picking up the phone and calling the Samaritans?

Yes, Frazzy is continuing her piano lessons and has graduated from The Skye Boat Song to the Tom Jones classic.

Sitting in the corner of the living room with her keyboard, trying to get her chord changes smooth. I go to sleep with it stuck in my head.

I crept up behind her at the weekend with my iPhone playing a YouTube clip of Les Dawson doing The Entertainer on piano….she chased me around the room.

Mind you her favourite Erik Satie piece, Trois Gymnpedies is coming on nicely bless her and a lot easier on the ear.  [Have you suggested headphones? ... Ed]

Land of my Fathers

MerthyrTydfilSpent Tuesday in Merthyr Tydfil training some housing association staff for Easy Law training Ltd.

A lot going on in housing over in the land of my fathers. Scotland too as the devolved countries try out new systems for coping with their corner of the housing crisis.

Letting’s Focus’s David Lawrenson wrote a very interesting piece this week about Scotland’s landlord registration scheme  and arguing that it hasn’t been a resounding success so far.

Registration woes

He points out that although Scotland’s landlords have paid over £11 million in registration fees, only 11 people have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in 2 years.

I grant you it seems like a high figure for little result but it also points out that the registration fee for landlords is only £55 every 3 years and £11 per property. Hardly bank-breaking amounts on an individual level.

Why?Tell me Why?

But what is going on with the scheme?

Regular readers will know I champion regulation but this is a disturbing development. Regulation doesn’t appear to be resulting in any more action against criminals than in England. The article doesn’t analyse possible reasons however.

David points out that councils already have the necessary legal machinery in place and tells it like it is, when he says that councils don’t have the staff or resources to make use of it. Agreed, but employing enough staff and creating efficient systems in councils will cost a damned sight more than £11.2 million.

That the Scottish scheme doesn’t seem to be working very well isn’t in doubt, but I want to know why.

I’m not presuming that registration is by definition unworkable. Shortly after tweeting the article out I got a tweet back from a Scottish housing solicitor saying she put it down to lack of staff and resources, exactly like England.

Des Res underground

I watched a nice news clip on the BBC website  about London’s cash strapped would-be homeowners moving into converted underground toilets – you know those big old white tiled, copper-piped Victorian affairs? Who said this country is going down the pan?

(Insert your own toilet based joke here…………..)

I can’t quite decide whether this is a fantastically creative use of space or just a sign of how desperate people are getting.

Especially after reading in the Evening Standard an article on a report published by independent analysts Oxford Economics that predicts that deposits for London’s first time buyers come 2020 will be £100,000.

Now who is going to be able to save up that sort of deposit while all those wanna be homeowners are renting and paying 60% – 70% of their net income on rent? Paris Hilton? Yeah probably but she don’t live down my manor. [It depends what inflation has done to the value of money though ...  Ed]

Who’s who in the PRS?

Writing on the Guardian Housing Network, the ever, on the ball, Prof; Alex Marsh looks at the way the PRS conducts itself as a whole, arguing that the rental market is a fluid, dynamic working system, not merely a fixed, unchanging financial or legal model.

The needs of all involved in it, landlords, tenants, councils, investment, allied services is comprised of many variables that aren’t addressed by the in-line thought processes that get thrown in it’s general direction when trying to bring some sense of order and create a system that meets the needs of everybody.  Alex suggests:

“The great unanswered question is whether households can be given more security and greater affordability without undermining the economics of renting from the landlords’ perspective or further inflating the housing benefit bill.”

A very pertinent question that is at the heart of the debate.

He also talks about the changing face of the PRS in terms of tenant need, in a climate where more families are renting privately and so need more long term security so their kids can maintain continuity of schooling and benefit from a stable home life.

As you know many landlords are happy to have long term decent tenants but their mortgage lending covenants often deny them this.

Mortgage lenders go to the heart of the problem …

I have long argued that the Council for Mortgage Lenders needs bringing into this debate to deal with that problem, but this week they stepped in uninvited as reported in an annoying and faintly disturbing article on the ARLA website.

They have responded to Labour’s call for more security of PRS tenants. They acknowledge the general problem by saying:

“We accept that the implications of longer-term tenancies need to be explored,”

But then go on to add in a haughty and entirely self-pitying tone:

“Were longer-term tenancies to lead to the build-up of higher mortgage arrears over time, they would become more difficult to manage, not least because a lender’s ability to obtain vacant possession would be impeded”.

So forget community sustainment, family security, financial stability for the landlord – the argument rests solely on how difficult longer tenancies might make a finance house’s lot much less of a happy one. My heart fairly bleeds.

Prof Marsh and the CML both agree, as do I, that a system needs creating that meets the needs of all but the CML’s vision of the future derives from a non-negotiable position that longer tenancies are simply bad for their business.

That old chestnut …

Finally, what makes me want to grab someone from the CML….anyone will do, and give them a slap, is the tired, hoary, reactive old statement:

“For many groups of private tenants, the shorter and more flexible terms associated with existing six- and 12-month tenancies are likely to remain the preferred option.”

Now I’ve worked in housing almost my entire working life. I have met thousand upon thousand of tenants and I have maybe encountered a tiny handful, usually working away from home for short periods, whose preferred option is a short let, but trust me, the same tenancies, with an automatic right of eviction at the end is not the preferred option for most tenants.

In fact, forget the slapping and let me tell you about my ‘preferred option’; to pin whoever made those trite, self-interested statements to the floor, bind their arms, stick headphones on them and let Frazzy practice away at the Green, green grass of home for 5 hours, using the ‘Pop organ’ setting on her keyboard, the one that sounds like cross between a Theremin and a bumble bee.

I’ll soon having them begging for “A guard and a sad old padre” and let them all “Walk arm in arm at daybreak”.

Ben Reeve Lewis

Merthy Tydfil picture by Robin Drayton

About the author

Ben Reeve-Lewis Ben is a TRO for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes regularly 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.

Buffer
If you have a landlord and tenant related question please do not ask it here but use our
>> Blog Clinic.

Comments close after three months.

Please >> click here to read our comments policy

Page 1 of 11

11 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #93

  1. Rentergirl says:

    I think the Scottish scheme might not be catching bad landlords as many tenants don’t know it exists. After bad experience, they will have been given retaliatory notice, moving forlornly on rather than going ‘to court’ as they see it. People are scared of most official processes.

  2. Ben Reeve Lewis says:

    Thats what I mean Penny it isnt enough to simply say regulation isnt working in Scotland. We need the breakdown. I’m sure there will be a combination of factors. Tenant ignorance will I’m sure be one of them, as will staff shortages and the sheer unwieldiness of prosecution systems as it is in England.

    The constant point I keep banging on about with regulation/licensing is the possibility it presents to enforcement officers like me to be able free the system up from cumbersome, costly, time consuming and usually fruitless criminal prosecutions and pull the plug on the bad guys easily and quickly, leaving us with time and resources to work with the decent ones, who are after all in the majority….although I know you wont agree with that last bit :)

  3. I suspect that the bad landlord element appears larger than it is because good landlords are not that visible.

    Their tenants will know when they are well off and will never leave, or they will get new tenants by word of mouth, so they will need to advertise less for new tenants (and the good landlord properties will therefore be harder for new tenants to find).

    And the tenant organisations will never know about them as there will never be any complaints.

  4. Ben Reeve Lewis says:

    Absolutely Tessa. The vast majority of landlords are fine and so are their tenants. Even in urban areas like the one I work in the bad guys are small in number and even the ones that tenants complain about can often be much maligned compared to the reasonable person you meet in the flesh.

    I once had a woman call me up saying her landlord was intimidating her. It took me a full 20 minutes of questioning to try and get to the bottom of what he was actually doing, which turned out to be, she had asked him to carry out a repair and he had turned up at the property with a handyman and done the job. I asked how this was intimidating and she replied “Well he is a really big guy and I find him intimidating”.

    To be honest, even many illegal eviction I get involved with are done out of desperation more than anything else. Most of the time when the tenant stops paying the rent and wont answer the phone or just talk to the landlord about it. The landlords often say to me “Of course I’ll let them back in, I was just trying to get them to talk to me”. Criminal offence? You betcha. Am I going to prosecute? Don’t waste my time. You can achieve far more just by sitting down and sorting it out.

  5. Rentergirl says:

    I agree! Most landlords are good to average. The misery is caused by easy notice, short tenancies and the fact that tenants are scared. ‘Rogues’ are IMHO a distraction, but awful when they happen.

  6. HB welcome says:

    registration fee for landlords is only £55

    What a bargain!

    All that pointless bureaucracy targeting good landlords and all for only 55 quid.

    Maybe thats where they’ve gone wrong -they’ve not been charging enough!

    Fellow Scot Sir Robin Wales, charges about ten times that amount for carrying out the same ‘service’ in Newham.

    Here is a clip of him describing his carrot and stick approach on licensing soft target London landlords (warning-contains strong language) :-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkWxDfACpNg

  7. HB welcome says:

    But what is going on with the scheme?
    …Regulation doesn’t appear to be resulting in any more action against criminals than in England.
    …That the Scottish scheme doesn’t seem to be working very well isn’t in doubt, but I want to know why.

    There was a Scottish Government report on it.

    It is not working because resources have been focused on the administration of the scheme, rather than investigation or enforcement activity. Enforcement is a tiny percentage of the overall budget.

    They have created a scheme for administering ‘good’ landlords.

    The criminals are amongst the 25% (estimated) of Scottish landlords who haven’t bothered registering and are relatively unaffected (not that there is anything to stop a ‘rogue’ from coughing up the £55+ and lying on the application if so inclined).

    To take a case to the Procurator Fiscal is costly for local authorities and it is difficult to obtain tenant corroboration. In most cases, there is only the tenant’s confirmation that a tenancy exists. LA’s require a paper trail that proves that rent has been paid.
    - Basically, it is still cumbersome, costly, time consuming and often fruitless (one of the 11 successful cases was only awarded a £65 fine).

    Rent Payment Notices have been used to some success but it is the threat of RPN’s rather than actual enactment that has proved effective. But this is only really of use against the non-criminals.

    Late application fees have also been effective for initial compliance (and renewals). But again, this only works on the non-criminals, if no evidence can be secured from tenants and landlords do not co-operate there is little that LA’s can do about it.

    But despite all the hype to push this through, landlord registration was never intended to specifically target criminal landlords. The intention was “to secure good management, good standards and good behaviour across the sector.” -whether this vague aim has been or ever will be achieved by registration is highly questionable.

    If anything, it has helped the criminals by shifting the focus away from them onto the ‘good’ landlords and by pushing their market further underground.

    Even according to those running the scheme, landlord registration has had little effect in removing the ‘worst’ landlords from the market.

    Throwing more money at the problem is not the solution. It’s not just the £11.2 million they have blown, they have also had £5.5 million from the Scottish Government. Give bureaucrats more resources, they will spend them on more bureaucracy -it won’t be spent on enforcement. The never ending drain caused in chasing up renewals and the new compulsory TIP’s (Tenant Information Packs) that will need even more administration being a case in point.

    The scheme has failed in Scotland, why should it work in England?

  8. Ben Reeve Lewis says:

    Sorry HBW I only just noticed your response

    “All that pointless bureaucracy targeting good landlords and all for only 55 quid”.

    You are missing the point. The aim of licensing/regulation is not to target good landlords. By definition they don’t need targeting. The point of licensing is to make it easier to attack the bad ones and take them off the board but you cant introduce a scheme whereby a council says “Right, we don’t like the look of you so you have to be licensed”.

    I would imagine that several human rights would be breached there.

    £55 is not a huge sum of money. I am presuming that you don’t disagree with that.

    I keep asserting that the problem is not with the concept but the operation of it, and it seems likely that the problems at the moment are the same as with current legislation. Enough bodies to actually do the job.

    Licensing should make it easier to deal with bad landlords and a lot cheaper than employing enough staff to pursue the current standard criminal routes that government and Shelter seem so keen on. Using what we have now also requires a complete change of mind among the criminal judiciary because at the moment their fines and penalties are a joke and no deterrent at all.

  9. HB welcome says:

    The point of licensing is to make it easier to attack the bad ones and take them off the board
    …Licensing should make it easier to deal with bad landlords

    Exactly how would it Ben?

    This has certainly not been the case in Scotland. When local authorities were asked;

    “Has Landlord Registration removed the ‘worst’ landlords and agents from the market?”
    Only 7% said that it had.
    -And that is from people who have a vested interest in claiming that it is working.

    I concede that registration has had a slight improving influence on the ‘good’ landlords but it has had no effect whatsoever on the criminals. Quite the opposite if anything.

    25% (estimated) of landlords are unregistered in Scotland. Newhams scheme looks to be about the same (26000 applications out of 35000)

    Local authorities focus on administering the ‘good’ landlords and the criminals don’t bother registering.

    Registration has failed in Scotland, how would you do it any better?

  10. As I see it, the big problem toady for any enforcement organisation is lack of training (which costs money) and resources. So the resources they have must be used in the most efficient way.

    Personally I don’t think the most efficient and cost effective way to deal with criminal and rogue landlords is a prosecution.

      IT is VERY time consuming

    • It needs staff trained in criminal procedure and the law of evidence
    • It takes a long time to come to trial
    • The witnesses are usually unavailable as they have moved on / been terrorised into staying away /or are of poor character themselves so do not make convincing witnesses
    • When a conviction is obtained the penalties are fairly derisory and not such that will deter a millionaire slum landlord

    It is a lot easier to prove that someone has not registered their property than to run a normal prosecution.

    The fact that the scheme has not succeeded in Scotland (if it hasn’t – I don’t know much about the Scottish scheme) shows I think how dire the resources situation with Local Authorities must be.

  11. HB welcome says:

    “It is a lot easier to prove that someone has not registered their property than to run a normal prosecution.”

    It is, but that is only of use if the ‘rogues’ put their hands up and say “it’s a fair cop guv.”

    Unfortunately, they don’t.

    Taken from the Scottish report (of which I have no proof but hope you will believe me is a true and accurate account);

    The key element is in being able to gather and present evidence which will be successful in the court process. For example, if a tenant is in a property, let by an unregistered landlord and the landlord remains unregistered, the landlord commits an offence by continuing to take rent from the tenant and failing to register. However, successful prosecution of this offence is critically dependant on the tenant giving evidence to a Court. Consultees indicated that a number of Procurators Fiscal have confirmed that, without the corroborating evidence from the tenant, the chances of a successful prosecution are low (my edit- 11 so far).”

    Which is why the preferred enforcement method is to spank the easy touch ‘late payers’ and forget all about the criminals.

    It’s a scheme for administering ‘good’ landlords.

    I’ll let Shelter have the last word;
    http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/189734/Landlord_registration_3_years_on.pdf

    “We conclude that landlord registration is not yet fulfilling the expectations placed upon it; indeed, that it may not be able to do so.”




»

«


The Landlord Law Blog from Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.


Legal Services

Legal services are provided via Tessa's online service Landlord Law. Some advice services are provided by Tessa, other legal services are provided by specialist housing firm Anthony Gold.


Disclaimer

The purpose of this blog is to provide information, comment and discussion. Although Tessa, or guest bloggers, may from time to time, give helpful comments to readers' questions, these can only be based on the information given by the reader in his or her comment, which may not contain all material facts. Any comments or suggestions provided by Tessa or any guest bloggers should not therefore be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified lawyer regarding any actual legal issue or dispute.


Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice or perceived as creating a solicitor-client relationship (apart from the Fast Track block clinic service - so far as the questioners only are concerned).


Guest bloggers

Please note that any opinion expressed by a guest blogger is his or hers alone, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tessa Shepperson, or the other writers on this blog.


Other websites from Tessa

Lodger Landlord | School for Landlords | Google+ | Your Law Store | Google | Landlord Law facebook page | Tenancy Agreements Manual | How to Evict Your Tenant website | the Which Tenancy Agreement Guide | Landlords Tips | Tenants Tips