Most of the news this week has been about the snow – but we are going to look at some housing legal news. What shall we look at first?
A housing court?
It looks as if the government could be seriously considering the proposal to have a new housing court. According to an article in the Law Society Gazette:
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government told the Gazette this week that it is working with the justice ministry to understand issues with the current system, and court and tribunal users’ experiences, including the time it takes for cases to be completed. The government will work ‘very closely’ with the judiciary, which will be consulted on potential changes.
So what would this new housing court look like? Another Gazette article – this time from RLA Policy Director and Landlord Law Conference speaker David Smith who set out his ideas for the court here.
Basically, he favours using the Tribunal system. Read the article to find out more.
A minimum fine for rogue landlords
In the meantime, the Local Government Association is calling for a change in the level of fines awarded by Magistrates courts.
… there are no common sentencing guidelines for Magistrates when it comes to housing offences. They base their decisions on how much a landlord says they can afford rather than the seriousness of the offence.
The Local Government Association (LGA) says the most serious cases, such as fire safety breaches, should lead to fines that at least match the highest level of a civil penalty.
This will raise standards and provide consistency across the courts
Let us license!
The LGA also criticise the government for making it harder for Local Authorities to introduce licensing schemes which it says is hampering their efforts to deal with rogue landlords and raise standards
This interesting article includes a list of successful Local Authority licensing schemes. For example
Newham has recovered more than £3.1 million in council tax since the introduction of its licensing scheme. The council, police and HMRC officers have carried out 483 multi-agency operations, supporting 1,225 prosecutions and 28 bans which have been brought against rogue landlords. Its recent application for a borough-wide scheme was however blocked by the Government.
Although they got it in the end.
Invest in your Locality
Here is a great story coming out of Headingley Leeds which is launching
what is thought to be the UK’s first local investment fund, offering investors a higher return on their money than most savings accounts.
… anyone with at least £200 can buy shares in a fund set up to improve Headingley, a student-heavy neighbourhood two miles north-west of Leeds city centre.
Investors are told to expect a 2% annual return on their investment as early as next year – double the rate offered by most banks on tax-free Isas.
The money will be invested in a range of local projects, including a much-loved community centre and an initiative to buy up local houses to rent out at below-market rates.
It sounds like a good investment – the article states that they have not missed a loan payment and the trust has produced a surplus for seven out of the past 10 years.
Good news (maybe) for ‘DSS’ tenants
Another great story (for tenants) is this story about single mother Rosie Keogh who was so fed up with letting agents and landlords refusing to even consider her application just because she was on benefit (in fact she has not missed a payment in 11 years) that she brought a claim for discrimination.
The claim was that a blanket ban is a discrimination against women, especially single women, because they are proportionately more likely to be claiming housing benefit than single men, according to official figures.
After getting a bit of help from Shelter and the Bar Pro Bono Unit Ms Keogh was able to settle the case and get compensation. So this case is not a legal precedent but no doubt now she has shown the way others will follow.
Mind you I don’t think it likely that ALL refusals to deal with DSS claimants will be found unlawful. Being on benefit is not a ”protected characteristic’ under the discrimination laws. Ms Keogh’s argument will not help claimants who are men for example. Plus often the reason the landlords or agents don’t want to take benefit tenants is down to problems with the Local Authorities, not the tenants.
But landlords and agents operating a blanket ban should think again about how they treat applicants on benefits and perhaps adopt a different approach.
You will find a good report about the case on Property Industry Eye.
- An agent hit with a PI claim just a couple of months before the limitation period expires, by a man who had fallen during a property viewing, has written about the vulnerability of agents to this type of claim and calling for an industry-wide modus operandi of best practice to give agents some protection.
- The BBC reports on the depressing news that more than 70% of council tenants in London on Universal Credit are in rent arrears
- The government has confirmed that the HMO licensing rules are set to be extended from October. We will be writing about this nearer the time but in the meantime see this RLA newspost.
- Finally, in England, we may be closing Courts down, but in Toronto Canada, they are building shiny new ones. Take a look here.
Newsround will be back next week.