Presentation by Ruth Clarke, chair of Cornwall Residential Landlords Association

Good Landlords Want To Keep Good Tenants

The Cornwall Residential Landlords Association tries to help landlords be good landlords by advising, guiding, informing and representing at both local and national levels.  We have a membership of around 400 landlords and agents in the private rented sector, we do not help social landlords as much of the legislation surrounding social lettings is at variance to that required for private lettings.

In this discussion I will try to address some of the more frequent issues which raise complaints and difficulties for our members.

Who or What is a residential landlord?

A landlord is anyone who provides accommodation in return for services or payment of any amount.   This ranges from the person who takes in a lodger through to large landlords with possibly hundreds of properties.  Many so-called ’accidental’ landlords do not understand this and I am frequently called on for help by someone who claims they are not really a landlord as they only have the one property which they are renting out until it can be sold.

What is a good landlord

Someone who knows the over 200 pieces of legislation and regulation which need to be adhered to, looks after the tenant and looks after the property.  In the last nine years there has been a 10% increase in the legislation and regulation which landlords have to comply with so it is difficult to keep up to date with what you should be doing without a great deal of research or the backing of a landlord organisation.   Cornwall Council are the enforcing body for almost all legislation affecting private landlords.

What is an uneducated landlord

There are landlords out there who intend to be good landlords and operate with the best of intentions but they just don’t know the legislation and regulations that need to be adhered to.  As a wise man once said “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

What is a rogue landlord

Unfortunately there are also landlords out there, frequently termed rogue landlords, who really don’t care about the tenant or about following their legal obligations and they are the landlords that we would like to see Cornwall Council using their vast range of enforcement powers to control.

What is a good tenant

Someone who pays the rent on time, is respectful of the landlord, the agent and the neighbours as well as the local community generally and who looks after the property.

Can the Landlord Evict Immediately?  

The claim that landlords can evict with no notice is a myth, any landlord who does so risks a criminal conviction.

If the tenant is a lodger then only ‘reasonable’ notice needs to be given, generally one month but if the tenancy is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy then the landlord needs to give a minimum of two months notice that he or she wants the property back for any reason.   This requires the service of a Section 21 Notice, so-called ‘No Fault’ as the landlord does not need to specify why they require the property.  This notice cannot be served until two months before the end of the tenancy  period, generally six months.  This is frequently used for rent arrears and anti social issues.

The Section 21 notice is only valid if all documentation has been served at the correct time, which can be prior to the start of a tenancy.  The notice will also be invalid if the tenant has complained, in writing, to the landlord of any property related issues and if Cornwall Council Private Sector Housing have become involved and served a notice for improvements.

The notice cannot be served until two months prior to the termination date of the tenancy agreement

If the tenant does not leave voluntarily at the end of the two month notice period the landlord must apply to the Court for an Order for Possession.  If this requires a court hearing there can be a delay of up to five months due to the pressures on the judicial system.  Theoretically the costs of the notice, hearing and bailiffs can be charged to the tenant although in practice many landlords do not try feeling it is spending good money chasing bad.

Tenants are only required to give one month notice if the tenancy is monthly or one week if the tenancy is weekly.

The standard advice from Citizens Advice, Shelter, Cornwall Council and Cornwall Housing is to tell the tenant not to move until court proceedings have taken place and the bailiff visits.

Anti Social Behaviour

Antisocial behaviour is defined as ‘behaviour by a person which causes, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to persons not of the same household as the person’ (Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 and Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 ).

Landlords can get complaints from neighbours if a tenant is mildly antisocial, for example late parties or television too loud.  If you are on the receiving end that is not really so mild!

The common complaint reaching my ears is that the landlord has not done anything.   The only thing a landlord can do is to talk to the tenant and explain the problems being caused and, if the tenant persists in the behaviour, serve a Section 21 notice as discussed earlier.

If the antisocial behaviour is more extreme and the police prosecute then the landlord can request an Order for Possession under Section 8 of the Housing Act giving the tenant only two weeks notice, but again the courts are over worked and it can take months to obtain the Order.

Long Term Tenancies

At a recent meeting at Cornwall Council we were pressed to agree that long-term tenancies should be put in place.  Theoretically this is a good idea and tenancies under five years in length are not uncommon.  If a tenancy is granted for a longer period then a Notice has to be entered on the Land Charges Register for that property.   There is pressure for a tenancy of, say, twenty-five years but this is not possible under the current housing acts, a lease would need to be granted involving commercial law.

In the same way that there are a minority of landlords who are rogues there are also rogue tenants.

Unfortunately some tenants move from property to property quite often leaving tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages without seeing any need to pay the rent.  A couple of examples include:

  • the tenant who moved out with the classic midnight flit, the landlord discovered this when the tenants in the flat downstairs complained about water coming through the ceiling. On checking it was discovered all of the plumbing fixtures such as taps, sink, wash basin, toilet, bath had been taken by the tenant and the water had been left running.   A relatively small bill for the insurance of £30,000 plus loss of rent for over two months whilst builders and their colleagues made good the damage.
  • the tenant who decided to grow cannabis. The police raided the cannabis farm.   Damage caused in growing plants throughout the two bed property combined with the damaged inflicted by the police breaking in led to a claim of £350,000 on the insurance.  In this case the landlord was lucky to have a policy which included cannabis farming, many policies specifically exclude this problem.

The above two examples are somewhat extreme but both left the landlord without the means to let the property to a deserving tenant for some time as well as knowing that somewhere out there there will be another landlord taking on these people without knowing the risks being taken.

The example of antisocial behaviour discussed could not be addressed without the use of the Section 21 Notice and the shorter tenancy agreement.

Rent

Where rent is not paid, think about how long would you be prepared to work without being paid?   Landlords are called on by tenants at any time of the day or night and need to be able to react to concerns raised at short notice.

How much in value of goods would supermarkets or small shops be prepared to see stolen?

We all agree that no-one is immune to temptation but if a tenant feels they are unable to pay the rent one month why can they not talk to the landlord, explain the situation and agree a repayment plan?  Many landlords have historically dropped the rent for a good tenant in difficulties, the Tenant Fees Act 2019 causes problems where a landlord wants to do this as charging a higher rent for a period which is subsequently dropped is considered to be to cover banned admin and other charges and there is a risk of prosecution of a landlord who does this.

Using the example of the supermarket, the good customer pays for the shop lifters by increased prices on goods.   Tenants are the landlord’s customers and recouping the costs of the bad tenants and the non-payers means rents are forced up.

Housing Benefit, also referred to as Local Housing Allowance or Housing Element of Universal Credit is paid to assist tenants to pay rent, in the low income economy of Cornwall this benefit is not just paid to the unemployed but is frequently paid to those in work.

When the Local Housing Allowance was introduced it was intended to pay rents up to the thirtieth percentile of the market rent meaning there were a limited number of properties where the full rent was covered without any top up by the tenant.  Unfortunately the Local Housing Allowance has been frozen for many years and now apparently only covers 10 – 12% of the properties in the private rented sector.  Crisis and other bodies concerned with tenant rights are campaigning for a review of this low payment.

Landlords with a mortgage to pay are unable to take the unrealistic amount paid to tenants as it does not cover the mortgage payment assuming the mortgage and insurance company permits these people as tenants.

Why do landlords exclude certain tenant types?

This is frequently termed ‘no DSS’ but really includes almost any vulnerable class of tenant, such as any of the following:

  • benefits recipients
  • those leaving prison or still working with probation
  • those leaving homeless hostels
  • anyone with mental health issues
  • families with young children
  • tenants wanting to keep pets
  • etc

There are landlords out there who take any of these client categories but there are many more who cannot as they may find, depending on their supplier, that they are either excluded entirely from letting to those tenants by the mortgage or insurance company or they are charged a higher rate of interest by mortgage providers or a higher premium by insurers..

Add to all of this the increasing administrative burden being experienced by the added legislation and you will appreciate that many landlords cannot afford to take the tenants they would ideally wish to support.

 

 

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