I had an interesting conversation with one of the people at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) today and so I hasten to bring you all up to date with what he told me.
Implementing Existing Legislation:
I first asked him what was happening about banning orders. After all, it is all very well having these new initiatives but what about implementing the laws we already have?
That, he told me, is well underway and scheduled to come into force on April 6 2018. They now have a draft set of regulations but these need to be approved by Parliament so it is a matter of finding a slot for this. They are hoping for a day in November. The response to the consultation should go online by the end of the month.
The Rogue Landlord Database
This also is due to come on board at the same time. The software is being developed in-house and is close to completion.
I asked him about access to the database (as after all landlords, agents and indeed letting agents all have an interest in knowing who the rogues are) but he said that they were constrained by the wording of the statute which limits access to Local Authorities.
However, they were hoping that Local Authorities will be publishing a list of banned agents in their area.
I also asked him about enforcement of the various new measures – as if they are not being enforced there is not a lot of point in having them.
He agreed that this was on their radar. Banning orders, for example, can carry a prison sentence and there are hefty civil penalties including rent repayment orders.
He also said that the feedback they were getting was that the new civil penalties were being used by Local Authorities.
Letting agent fees to tenants
This is the final issue still waiting to be implemented. Apparently, there is a draft bill which will be published shortly. We will have to wait until it is to learn the detail.
I asked specifically about the proposal to limit deposits and the effect this will have on landlord’s willingness to take on tenants with pets and was told that they were aware of the issue.
We then turned to the new proposals announced by the Minister, Sajid Javid on Sunday.
Property Redress Schemes
One of these announcements was that all landlords will be required to register with a redress scheme with an ombudsman.
I asked if they were planning to stay with the current three schemes, but it seems they have not yet got down to any details. They will need to consult before any definite plans can be made. At the moment it’s all a bit ‘high level’.
Letting Agent regulation
The minister’s statement was “we will require all letting agents to be regulated, so they meet strict minimum standards” however again none of the detail is known as yet.
I asked if it was intended to use existing agent organisations such as ARLA and RICS – again nothing is certain but this has not been ruled out.
Encouraging 12 month fixed terms
It seems that the plan here is to encourage longer fixed terms by giving landlords some sort of tax break and they will be discussing this with the Treasury.
I mentioned that landlords are seriously unhappy with the Treasury after the section 24 tax changes and he admitted that they were aware of this and also accepted that landlords were badly needed (as after all Local Authorities need to have somewhere to place those who are in priority need – with so much of their own housing having now been sold off).
So although it does not look as if they are going to change section 24 they may be open to other changes.
I pointed out that if landlords were forced to give terms of not less than 12 months this would be unpopular and could also discourage landlords from taking a chance on tenants who are considered a higher risk. He said that was not their intention – just to make longer fixed terms more attractive.
A Housing Court
The issue of landlords of taking on tenants on longer fixed terms is inevitably intertwined with the problems of recovering possession if those tenants fail to pay rent or prove unsatisfactory in some other way. Bearing in mind that the most reliable method of eviction is via section 21 which cannot be used before the fixed term comes to an end.
This, he told me, is why they are considering a housing court. Which would have the advantage of being manned by specialist housing Judges who will hopefully be able to get through their lists more quickly.
I asked where these courts were to be, bearing in mind that so many courts have now closed, and asked if it was planned for more litigation to be done online. Or will the new court be part of the Tribunal service?
Again, this is all subject to consultation and consideration but it sounds as if more online procedures may be on the cards.
So there you are. An interesting conversation albeit I was told that nothing is set in stone and everything is subject to the various things that could get in the way (principally Brexit).
However, there is no doubt that government are at long last starting to take housing more seriously – which is good to hear.
Let us hope that this also results in Housing ministers being in place for longer than a year at a time and also having a place at the cabinet table.