Buy to let seems to be the only sector in the housing market (and the whole economy) that is continuing to thrive. The private rental sector is however under enormous pressure to not only make up for the shorfall of housing in the social sector but also under pressure from organisations such as Shelter who continue to highight the many problems within the sector. There is also little written about the impact the PRS has on the (much larger) leaseholder sector .
THE TWO ROLES OF THE PRS LANDLORD
When a flat is purchased as a rental, buyers effectively takes on two roles: as landlords and leaseholders, essentally merging both sectors. As leaseolders they agrees to abide by their contract with the freeholder which takes the form of the lease.As landlords their tenants are bound by their own contract with them in the form of a tenancy agreement.Landlords have a duty under common law to ensure the safety of their rental properties and its contents (as do their letting agents if they use one) so that no injury or damage is caused to the occupants, neighbours or to the public. To that end they are required to not only ensure that their individual properties are safe under health and safety requirements but to also fulfil their repair obligations under the relevant legislation.They are also expected to abide by any subletting covenants contained within the lease, obtain the relevent landlord insurances and to ensure they protect the tenants deposit.They should also provide their tenants with their contact details but unfortunately many landlords fail to put them on the tenancy agreements and there is no mechanism on the Land Registry to compel the provision of an alternative contact address. Landlords are also expected to take action against anti-social behaviiour committed by their tenants (and visitors), evicting them if the situation warrants it. PREVIOUS MOVES TO CONTROL THE PRS VIA NATIONAL LANDLORD LICENCINGIn 2008 the most comprehensive review into the private rental sector in England came in the shape of the Rugg Review. It's 'light touch' approach to landlord licencing was greeted pretty positively by the landlord trade bodies and other 'stakeholders' but because the Labour Government at the time took the proposals much further, it was never implemented. Five years on and the emphasis on private sector landlords in England continues to be that they self-regulate by either gaining some form of accreditation (voluntary) or by belonging to an Ombudsman, both of which are actively supported by the RLA (Residential Landlords Association) and the NLA (National Landlords Association). The latter also consistently argues that more effective use by local authorities of existing enforcement powers is required to successfully prosecute landlords who continue to flout the regulations, and was recently backed up by the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk.PRS Largely UnprotectedCurrently there are two areas of the PRS where licencing applies: HMO's (houses in multiple occupation) and selective licencing which applies to all private rented properties within a designated area agreed by the government. However, both licencing schemes only cover a tiny number of the 1m plus landlords estimated to be in operation, with only around 13 of the 300 or so local authorities having actually deployed Selective Licencing. This means that the majority of the PRS is exposed to so-called 'rogue landlords but the use of the term has become somewhat of a 'catch-all' phrase to describe any and all PRS landlords that fail to meet certain standards, regardless of the seriousness of what those failures are. So, in the the first serious attempt to deal with landlords who are unfit to be operating as such, the London Borough of Newham now require ALL private landlords in their borough to obtain a licence. This is an extension of their selective licencing scheme in Little Ilford which was introduced on 1st March 2010. It covers some 35,000 tenancies (1 in 3 of the population) and although landlords are not too happy about it as they consider so-called 'rogue' landlords to be a minority, no one actually knows how small or large this 'minority' actually is!LANDLORD 1The definition of 'rogue' as per my Compact Oxford English Dictionary is 1: 'a dishonest or immoral man'. 2: 'a mischievous but likeable person'. The adjective is 'behaving in a faulty, unpredictable or dangerous way'. I know which describes the ones I have!Our first 'rogue' landlord was fined £8,000 by Newham Council for running one of the worst HMO's they had ever seen. He was found guilty of 5 offences of failing to carry out improvement works and 26 offences of failing to manage the property effectively. Newham found exposed electrical wiring, mouldy walls and no smoke detectors. He also owns other rental properties, one of which is a flat on my block and which is home to a seriously alcoholic tenant. Despite many letters and phone calls to the landlord asking him to either deal with his tenant or evict him, my partner and myself (as resident freeholder and residential property manager respectively) have had no choice but to deal with the down and outs that he keeps inviting to the flat. We've often found them in drunken heaps in the garden, on the stairs and in some cases, outside residents front doors! We've been subjected to verbal and physical abuse and even had a dog let loose on us!The tenant eventually hotwired the electricity meter (which ultimately lead to its removal) and although he still had gas, he was left without heat and lighting for months on end and using candle for heat and light (!). I used Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 (specifically the Housing Health & Safety Ratings System) to get the council to come to inspect the flat. Works Schedule and Prohibition OrderAfter issuing a Works Schedule to the landlord which was ignored, Environmental Health on behalf of the council placed a Prohibition Order Notice on the flat in March last year (such a notice can also be served by a Fire Officer). Prohibition Orders are formal notices saying that a property or part of a property cannot be occupied because the conditions in the building are so dangerous that there is a serious safety risk for people living in the house or flat. Anyone living in the property will be asked either to leave the building or not use part of it. If a tenant has no other place to stay, they can ask the landlord to find somewhere else whilst repairs are carried out to make the property safe before the house or flat (or the specified rooms) can again be used.A tenancy is not ended by the Prohibition Order and the tenant can normally expect to be able to return to the property once the repairs have been carried out and the property has been made safe. The flat was declared unfit for human habitation with 3 Cat 1 hazards, that of fire, cold and trips. However the landlord failed to serve the proper notices to bring the tenancy to an end and the tenant refused to accept the one and only alternative accommodation he was offered. So,the council decided to prosecute him for failure to evict. The reason for this decision was that the Housing Act only prescribes, (by way of enforcement of the Prohibition Order), either prosecution of individuals in breach, or entering premises to carry out work in default, which apparently they can't do.Landlord Prosecuted (in his absence)As usual the landlord totally ignored not only the first of his court hearings which was at the end of September 2012 (adjourned with a new date set for the end of October), but that one too, apparently due to his ill health. A “Not Guilty” plea was entered in his absence and a trial date was finally set for 21st January 2013 where LBWF Housing Standards attended court and gave evidence. Unsurprisingly he again failed to attend and they proceeded in his absence. He was found guilty of breaching the order and was fined £500, with costs of about £1500.But What About The Tenant?The continual drunken shouting and swearing emanating from a flat that is unfit for human habitation still gives us cause to keep calling the police. A really nice and decent tenant in the flat beneath was forced to move out because it often sounded like a drunken brawl was about to break out. She ended up so on edge, scared and deprived of sleep (despite reporting the disturbances to the police and the council but nothing permanent was done) that when we returned from holiday we found she had handed in her keys to one oof our neighbours anf upped sticks, preferring to sofa-surf than put up with it any longer.New tenants moved in (a young couple with a new baby) and another disturbance led to the mother knocking on our door asking for help as her husband was at work. On advising her and the friend who was with her to call the police, we went downstairs to support them until the police arrived. They hadn't actually called them by the time we got there so I spoke to them myself (English is not their first language).It transpired that the alcholic tenant had been assaulted by one of his so-called 'friends', and was taken away by ambulance, and the 'friend' arrested on a charge of GBH. The police also said they smelt gas from the flat so we called the emergency gas number and the supply was subsequently turned off. So, the only utility the tenant was left with was cold running water!Number of Attendances by the ParamedicsSince the assault there had also been a number of attendances to the flat by the paramedics. The council contacted the London Ambulance Service to establish whether such attendances were due to a) the tenant being a victim of any kind of criminal behaviour, or b) whether the LAS were being called out to deal with a health complaint of the tenant that was unrelated to crime or ASB.Not unsurprisingly, it transpired that the calls did relate back to the assault and the tenant was still suffering as a result but despite this his 'friend' has been with him each time the paramedics attended! More 'friends' came to the flat on a later date but when they got no answer and couldnt break in, they decided to break the lock on the roof access door and take shelter in there overnight, scaring half to death the tenants in the flat next door (who have now moved!). Even approaching two women (with their children) acting suspciously was full of risk although we didn't know it at the time. Nor did we know they were visiting the tenant and so when we approaced them they were not only rude and aggressive but they fabricated false charges against us for which we were both arrested, my partner at the time and me three hours later in the privacy of my own living room!Whilst there was no case for us to answer (due to the CCTV footage showing the aggressive behaviour of the women) we still have our fingerprints and DNA on the police database and our accusers don't even get arrested for wasting police time as it is not in the public interest!For the full story click here.UPDATEI have been constantly e-mailing the council to get them to focus on other elements of the Prohibition Order rather than just dealing with the on-going anti-social behaviour. Whilst they have made a number of visits to the flat and taken witness statements from other residents their actions only yielded in an invitaton to the tenant and his 'friends' to sign up to an Acceptable Behaviour Contract but why on earth would they do that as a stand-alone measure when it is an offence to allow the property to be used under such an order?
The council solicitor also even suggested that we were operating a 'hands-off' policy and implied that all we had to do was to instigate forfeiture. If it were that easy, affordable and with a guaranteed result doesn't he think we would have instigated it long ago?I have now been corresponding with my ward MP in an attempt to move this forward and it now transpires that HMRC are trying to serve a bankruptcy petition on the landlord but the court date has been extended to give them more time. So, he's following his usual practice then!LANDLORD TWOThe second landlord placed his tenants (and the block) at risk of a gas explosion through knowingly renting out the property with a faulty gas meter. This resulted in her having to call a gas engineer on the first evening of her tenancy as she smelt gas! He refused to supply a Gas Safe Certificate, and when we also pressed for one, asked where in the lease does it say he has to provide one. His solicitor asked the same question! Never mind that its a legal requirement for tenants to receive a copy of the certificate within 28 days of the safety check having been carried out or before moving in!
Anti-Social TenantThe tenant has herself caused major problems in terms of her anti-social behaviour towards the pensioner owner occupiers (in their eighties) in the flat beneath, subjecting them to a sustained campaign of harrassment. She even reported them to the police for something they did not do which resulted in them being interviewed, not just in their home but also on camera at the local police station! Both my partner and myself have sustained assaults and verbal abuse from her friends with me being carted off in an ambulance after being punched in the eye and kicked in the head! The situation has been made even worse by the landlord turning up at the flat at all hours, and the tenant reporting him for harrassing her to the council. This in turn led to her Tenancy Relations Officer writing to him to remind him of his responsibilities!To make matters even worse, the 'eviction notice' he eventually served wasn't worth the paper it was written on and whilst our extensive dealings with the police have resulted in most of her friends no longer visiting, what we had to go through to achieve this particular victory was absolutely horrendous! Anti-Social Tenant Turns Into Desperate Tenant!However, in a somewhat remarkable turn of events the tenant approached my partner in desperation when her sink overflowed during her washing machine emptying. Despite the problems she has caused, as the freeholder he went down to the flat to assist but came back seriously concerned by most of the electrical sockets. Not only were they loose on the walls and the electricity kept cutting out (which he witnessed) but the boiler was also leaking all over the work surface and had to be continually mopped up (seemingly around the cut-off valves at the base). The front door handle was completely broken (rendering the door insecure), and the washing machine soap drawer could not be opened without difficulty due to it fusing as a result of the machine overheating. The fridge had also stopped working. Tenant misuse? In some cases perhaps but she certainly didn't wire the place up! Nor can I see it having been wired by a Government Approved Competent Contractor (a Competent Person) under Part P of the Building Regulations!Knowing he would not attend, (at least not until he was put under serious pressure) I sent photographs and e-mailed the Housing Standards Team who escalated it to Environmental Health. Schedule of WorksA council inspector duly attended the flat to make a report and the landlord received a Schedule of Works which was required to be carried out within a certain amount of time, which was January 10th this year. I also requested a copy of this report on behalf of the freeholders to enable action to be taken in tandem through our company solicitors. Whilst the council thought that Data Protection would not prevent them sending me this, if it did, I would be advised of the correct procedure to follow to obtain the information under the FOI Act! After telling the council he had more or less completed the works, there was another incidence of water ingress into the flat beneath around 10 days or so after the works were supposed to have been completed. On returning to check the council found he hadn't done anything at all! I finally received an e-mail from them on the 13th February stating that the works had been done, it met their standards and the works would not require being carried out in default. Good thing otherwise the next step would have been the serving of another Prohibition Order.UPDATEThe tenant herself moved out recently and as I heard her belongings being taken down the stairs I couldn't help but feel sorry for the people living wherever she was headed.The strange thing is that new tenants who moved in recently only stayed a month or so ad the flat is again empty.LANDLORD THREEThis so-called landlord bought a repossessed flat on our block at auction a few months back and promptly had the layout altered against the terms of the lease. The kitchen was moved into the living room, the living area was split in half to accommodate the kitchen appliances and the associated kitchen plumbing is now squished through the same drain as the rainwater pipe.His agents then marketed it for rent as a 2- bed property when in fact it was only a one-bed. A 2-bed flat under Local Housing Allowance rates in my borough sets a weekly rental of £207.69 but a 1-bed sets it as £170 per week, which is the rate it should have been set at.I advised the letting agent that the freehold company required the property to be returned to its original layout and marketed correctly, a requirement which was totally ignored.By the time I dug around a bit and found out who the landlord actually was, the flat had been returned to auction as a 2-bed flat with the wrong rental yield, a sitting tenant and kitchen plumbing in entirely the wrong place! Auction House When I found out which auctioneers the flat was being sold by, I provided them with this information, something that not unsurprisingly the Special Conditions made no reference to.The flat was not pulled from the auction but an announcement was made that freeholder permission was not granted to convert a one-bed flat into a two-bed before the bidding started.Nevertheless it STILL went for £30,000 more than the landlord paid for it, probably because of the wrong rental yield and the fact that the incoming landlord would not have to pay any fees to find a tenant!The flat is now tenanted.LANDLORD THREE (second flat)The same landlord purchased another flat and has done exactly the same, this time changing a 2-bed flat to a 3-bed, although unfortunately for him a prospective tenant invited my partner to take a look. He was very concerned to note that several sections of mains cabling for lighting was run in surface-mounted plastic conduit across the ceiling and down the walls. At least one of those was not secured, instead freely hanging. Whilst the central heating was extended using plastic piping with compression joints (and is often done like this instead of using copper piping ) there are signs of poor installation practice, risking serious water leaks if the joints are knocked. There were also two windows where the latches were snapped off, making the property accessible from the outside. Also it was evident that plasterboard walls had been installed to convert the flat, with a new doorway cut into the wall and at least two other doorways boarded up. The mortice lock on the main front door was not an external lock but an internal lock and the security grill was not locked. It also looked as if it had been tampered with.Replacing Locks Due to our concerns we instructed our managing agent to replace the lock on the front door and also replace the one on the security grill. We were also concerned about the risks to an incoming tenant based on what had been found and put a notice on the door of the property advising that we required the flat to be restored to it's original condition under the terms of the lease (quoting the relevant covenant). We also quoted the right of the freeholder to inspect, again under the terms of the lease.It was a bit of a risk but it appeared to pay off becausethe keys were collected soon after and the flat was restored to its original layout and advertised accordingly! Hopefully this means that everything else that was found was corrected as the flat is again tenanted.UPDATEThis is what the flat looks like now, after only a few weeks. The tenant reported the damage as 'burglaries' to the police but I don't think even they believed him!Social WorkerA social worker also came to the premises looking for someone to speak to regarding the CCTV system and as a matter of course she was directed to us. It appears there is a child 'at risk' in the flat and the tenant won't allow her access to check on the childs welfare. The mother is apparently where the danger to the childl lies and should not be anywhere near our block. We have however seen her on a number of occasions, timings of which indicate she is actually living there. We have subsequently been providing her CCTV footage at her request. There is also a dog on the premises (against the terms of the lease) and the common areas smell of dog excrement which has also been found both on the garden and on the paths.Letting AgentI e-mailed the letting agent and advised them of the situation, giving them 7 days (or less) to respond. However in the early hours of one morning I had to call the police to attend the block due to a disturbance between the couple spilling out onto the communal areas, to which they duly attended. On further investigation into the type of tenancy the tenant has it appears that the landlord was given £2,500 pounds to house him under either the Tenancy Deposit Scheme or the Tenancy Deposit Self-Help Scheme. I escalated the matter to the Tower Hamlets Housing Procurement Officer, also copying in my local MP, the Head of Housing Standards for my borough and the Council Leader but have yet to receive a response from any of them.After pocketing the £2,500 and putting the flat into auction for £70,000 I again notified the auction house because if the new purchaser is already faced with rent arrears before the ink is even dry, he will have to take action. Not to mention having to repair the windows (and make sure they stay repaired) and ensuring the dog is removed. The flat actually went for £94,000 and whilst I've been contacted by the new owner's solicitor asking a couple of questions, I've yet to be given contact details of the new owners.However, all this paled into insignificance due to recent events.Family CourtMy partner was asked to attend family court at extremely short notice to provide a back up statement to dates and times that the mother had been seen on the premises. This was because the CCTV footage he had downloaded and provided had got stuck in the DVD player and couldn't be vewed.So off we went (me to give moral support) but nothing happened except him being asked to provide a written statement to be used the day after and for him to give evidence. He provided his statement and we went back the second time where we were kept waiting for 4 hours whilst the concerned parties kept going in and out of the courtroom. The Judge decided to carry the case over to the end of the week but my partner was to be the first person she would hear which she did but it was a far from pleasant experience for him due to the tactics used by what appeared to be an ever desperate defence team. Judge is Impressed!Later that same evening we got a phone call from the social worker saying that in her summing up the judge was extremely impressed with my artners evidence which did make him feel a bit better. However, it still wasn't over because after an interim care order had been granted, the tenant swore violently at the court and shouted he was off to Bethnal Green to get the baby. Which he did. A heavy police presence arrived at our block not long after the call as did a Crime Scene Unit. We were asked to call 999 immediately if we saw him but fortunately the police picked him and the baby up in the early hours of the morning and the baby is now safe.UPDATEWe are still waiting for the new owners of this flat to carry out the much-needed repairs to the windows and doors. They have been aware of it for some time now but have yet to respond in any way, shape or form.LANDLORD FOURWe were investigating a leak into one of the ground floor flats and after concluding it wasn't coming from the flat immediately above, we investigated further and found the exterior pipework from a diagonal flat on the floor above was a botch up job and from which water was pooling on the ground. Writing to the last known owner got no response and so we instructed our managing agent to get a contractor in to fix the pipework. Unfortunately this did not deal with the leak and we still had no idea if the last known owner was even the current owner. We had no choice but to force entry under the terms of the lease, (which allows the freeholder to inspect the property). A steady leak was coming from the plumbing under the sink which was fixed but the state of the flat in general was appalling, and not helped by water ingress caused by the lousy plumbing carried out in the flat above.UPDATEThis flat was again sold at auction and shortly after that we met the new owner who had purchased it, sight unseen. He therefore had no idea of the work required to the interior, and didn't know there was a tenant in situ (nor did we!). Fortunately the tenant disappeared shortly after under his own volition and the new landlord has easily turned out to be the best we have ever had. He stripped the flat right back and made it really lovely and although his workman did accidentally cut through the water mains pipe in the flat, on getting on one of our contractors to check the repairs that had been made as at the time we didn't know him from a bar of soap, we were advised that it was a professional job. The flat is now tenanted but due to a faulty shower installation, carried out by contractors in the flat above, the flat is suffering water ingress as a result. Which leades me to landlord five.LANDLORD FIVE (a landlady actually)
This situation is a real doozy. The tenant refuses to continue to give permission for the contractors employed by her landlady to enter her flat because the quality of the repairs done so far is sub-standard and she is not comfortable with them being in her home.Recently the landlord of the flat beneath this one advised that there was water ingress in a number of areas. The landlady had to ask the agent (who found the tenant) to send someone in to assess where the leak was coming from. It was found that the grounting was coming off and the tiles were coming away from the plasterboard false wall and leaking through it. The shower area essentially requires re-building which of course is going to be of enormous inconvenience to the tenant. All the landladys' contractors have done so far is to put more grouting over the top of the existing grouting which was confirmed by the landlord of the flat beneath!It states under s16 of the Housing Act 1988 (access for repairs) that “it shall be an implied term of every assured tenancy that the tenant shall afford to the landlord access to the dwelling-house let on the tenancy and all reasonable facilities for executing therein any repairs which the landlord is entitled to execute”. However under the circumstances if the landlord or the contractors attempted to enter without permission the tenant could launch a claim for trespass as she has the right over the premises just as an owner-occupier does.There would be no point in the landlady applying for a possession order for breach of contract under these circumstances because a) she has never even bothered to see the property and b) the repairs these contractors have been called in to do since the tenant moved in should have been carried out before she did so and are therefore being done piecemeal. This impacts on her right to 'peaceful occupation' and the repairs required to the shower are not going to make her life easier. The tenant has however agreed for me to take the step to get our own contractors in to quote, repair and bill accordingly as this means it will be done once and properly.However, I still don't have any response from the landlady as to how she intends to work with me on this issue as it is really not my fault that the standard of her contractors is not acceptable.FORFEITURE?Because the landlord is also a leaseholder, the ultimate sanction of any freeholder for breaches of the lease is that of forfeiture. In an extract taken from 'No Dogs Allowed' by Leasehold Life guest contributor Laura Severn of award-winning Brady Solicitors, if the subtenant causes a breach of the lease through anti-social behaviour then they are also likely to be in breach of their tenancy agreement. This is where we have every right to expect the landlord to act. It is they that entered into the contract with the tenant, not us. In any case, forfeiture has now been largely reduced to being used as a threat to get leaseholders to abide by the covenants contained within their leases. Whilst it may have proved effective on owner-occupiers because they are at risk of losing the home in which they live, it is useless when used as a threat against landlords such as these. They would undoubtedly defend themselves, potentially tying us up in court for years!SUMMARYOne of the most interesting things about selective licencing is the view that landlords can advertise their licensed status to prospective tenants and reduce voids. I had actually suggested to a number of landlord bodies that licencing in the wider PRS could also be used as an effective marketing tool rather than being viewed as more red tape and punishment.However, unfit and downright dangerous landlords are continuing to operate under the radar with impunity across Boroughs and there is no political will to stop them. I've been driven to ask for Selective Licencing for my block and a Premise Closure Order for one of the flats but as yet to no avail. At the invitation of a local Lib-Dem councillor I have even made a short presentation of my experiences at a full council meeting where a motion was called for a full consultation on proposals to introduce selective licencing in the borough to tackle 'rogue' landlords.Five years of working across two sectors that are badly in need of reform and seeing my block being continually used as a dumping ground by more than one council keen to simply get people 'off their books', surely it is evident that at the very least there needs to be some kind of thread between the sectors? If licencing is good enough for HMO landlords it is surely good enough for all of the PRS, even if its only a basic information licence!
While this website is constantly checked and updated for accuracy, the information and articles provided by Leasehold Life and it's guest contributors are not to be construed as legal advice.
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