Head of Dispute Resolution, Suzy Hershman, has been busy this year attending forums throughout the country helping to educate landlords, agents, and tenants on the importance of tenancy deposit protection and effective dispute resolution.
Suzy recently attended the Landlord Forum in Croydon and discusses her experience at the event while encouraging landlords to keep up with industry news.
I recently made my way via three trains and a considerable walk to a Landlord Forum in Croydon organised by the Borough council where I was asked to talk about Tenancy Deposit Protection and disputes. It was impressively attended by some 140 landlords, many of whom are keen to manage their own properties as opposed to using a managing agent.
I had actually attended events with some of the speakers before who are, like myself, keen on keeping their audiences up-to-date and educating everyone on any changes in the sector.
The copious amount of regulation already in place, and the on-going changes for landlords to comply with residential lettings law is quite daunting. I do wonder if this practice can continue and whether the ‘self-managing’ landlord will either resort to selling their property or using an agent in the future.
Importance of carrying out checks in your property
Ian Halton from the National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT), an organisation committed to consumer electrical safety in the lettings sector, was the first to speak. His message to landlords is to carry out their own visual checks in order to safeguard both their tenants and the property.
He proceeded to show photographs of properties including some interesting finds. This included cracked and damaged plug sockets, a 10 bar extension plug servicing two rooms, a fuse box buried under clothing and bare wires. Best of all was a socket right above a cooker which had been declared ‘safe’ by an inspector. It was then discovered that this was because the sockets had been situated behind the fridge at the time of the inspection and later swapped with the cooker. I could not help think of the Grenfell tragedy, believed to be started by a faulty electrical appliance, and the lessons we must learn from this.
It seems incredulous to me that while it is mandatory for landlords to have a Gas Safety check done every 12 months, it is still only a ‘recommendation’ that Electrical Inspection Condition Report (EICR) and PAT testing are carried out at regular intervals. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is carried out at either 2 year or 5 year intervals, depending on whether the item is portable or fixed. However, some agents are recommending landlords to carry out testing once a year.
Best practice is to ensure the recommended timescales are adhered to, but surely regulation is a must. I was pleased to hear that the Government intention is for EICR to be mandatory and this should have been implemented in October 2017, but due to the general election, this was delayed like many other items on the list for the housing sector.
If landlords would like to learn more, see the guidance here.
Life of a deposit protection
Next, it was my turn to give a 20-minute whistle-stop tour on the ‘Life of a Deposit Protection’. This included an overview of how to protect a deposit, what evidence landlords should have right from the start of the tenancy and how negotiation can help avoid a formal dispute.
At the end, questions ranged from what happens if you forget to register the deposit within 30 days, the length of a deposit dispute, and what happens if the landlord discovers damage after the deposit has been refunded to the tenant. For a 45 minute slot in the session, we covered a lot of ground.
After the session, some people asked me individual questions and I was amazed when one landlord, who has been letting a property for a number of years, told me that she had not protected her tenant’s deposit because she was holding it in an ISA account. Fortunately, this landlord like all those in attendance was more than willing to be educated and expressed her immediate intention to protect the deposit straight away. It is, however, a concern that only a very small percentage of landlords attend these valuable events.
Fire safety guidance
Next to speak were the Fire Service, who discussed carrying out Fire Risk Assessments and what falls within their remit in relation to let properties and HMO’s. What I found most interesting was understanding there is sometimes a conflict between fire safety guidance and insurance companies.
The Fire Safety Order (Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in force since 2006) recommends that fire equipment is not put in common areas. This is because it is often used by untrained people at inappropriate times and therefore not functional when required. Alternatively, insurance companies will often not insure the common parts without fire equipment present, presenting another dilemma for the landlord!
Right to Rent legislation
The final speakers were representatives from the Home Office who offered us an insight on the rules behind Right to Rent legislation. This involves a landlord, authorised agent or local authority checking that a prospective tenant fulfills the criteria needed to live in this country.
The civil penalties can vary ranging from £80 per lodger for the first offence in a private house, to £500 per lodger for further offences and £1,000 per tenant for the first offence to £3,000 per tenant for further offences in rented accommodation.
The onus now falls on landlords to check tenants circumstances who have passed the initial Right to Rent checks do not change and that their right to remain in the country is renewed. A landlord who finds his tenant fails the checks will find the eviction process simple with a form giving the tenant a minimum 28-day notice to vacate the property under Section 33D(3) of the Immigration Act 2014, rather than the standard Section 8 route through the courts.
This is something of a minefield for landlords who are unsure of their responsibility. However, the aim of the day was to take a soft approach in raising awareness amongst landlords and agents present and asking anyone to come forward with any concerns, without recriminations.
Any landlords wishing to learn more can find out more on the government website here.
The take-home message
Since speaking at this event, there is considerably more consultation underway on the lettings industry in relation to landlord redress, agent regulation, rules of abandonment as well as the implementation of new EPC and abandonment rules. We still await the ‘how and when’ on the implementation of mandatory client money protection for agents, the tenant fee ban, and EICR regulation.
Most similar meetings I have addressed have a fraction of the attendees that were here and so Croydon council’s housing team should be congratulated for organising this forum. I hope they continue to run more events in the future – I am certainly more than happy to lend my support to them.
The moral of the story is that no landlord or agent should rest on their laurels. Attend events when you can, keep up with the news and read newsletters from reliable sources to stay in touch.