It would appear that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) didn’t get Osborne’s memo about shafting landlords to the hilt.
The Housing & Planning Bill that is currently working its way through the House of Lords actually includes some positive policies for landlords (and their tenants) as well as some tame, unobjectionable fluff for the wider PRS.
An issue that the NLA has been lobbying on for quite a while is the recovery of abandoned properties. Currently, landlords faced with a tenant scarpering will need to fork out for a costly court procedure to recover their property – a cost that is enhanced by the staggering time it takes and the long void period it creates.
However, the Housing & Planning Bill shows that the Government has finally accepted that this is a problem that merits an adequate response.
Landlords will have a greater confidence in their ability to reclaim possession of an abandoned property without the hassle and cost of going to court while mortgage payments stack up.
While only 1750 tenancies are estimated to be abandoned each year, that in no way minimises the financial hardship each case could cause the landlord. The inclusion of this new procedure in the Bill has been welcome news (especially after a similar procedure has been introduced in Wales), and we fully support it.
Just last week the Government tabled an amendment that would allow the Secretary of State to introduce the requirement for all landlords to undertake regular electrical safety checks.
Because it’s just an enabling power (allowing the Government to make regulations about it later) there is no details yet about the exact requirements. However, Ministers have set out their intention to consult with the sector before making regulations, and we’ll be there to ensure they are not too onerous on landlords.
The NLA already recommends getting an electrical safety inspection done every 5 years, with annual an annual PAT and visible wiring check on each tenancy change. There are also requirements for licensable HMO properties to inspect every 5 years already in place.
Enshrining this best practice in law, if done correctly, would not be too bad for landlords on the whole.
Standards & Enforcement
The Labour Party, in the Lords and the Commons, have made several unsuccessful attempts to include a clause in the Bill to ensure rented properties are “fit for human habitation”.
Luckily in this instance the Government recognises that creating new hoops for landlords to jump through by imposing unnecessary red tape and expensive bureaucracy will just raise the rents for tenants, especially when standards are constantly improving. Maybe someone at DCLG should express that viewpoint to the Home Office over their right-to-rent policy.
Local authorities already have substantial powers to enforce standards on landlords and punish those that let out dangerous properties. As well as extending rent repayment orders, this Bill will allow local authorities to fine “rogue” landlords up to £30,000 per infraction – a fine that local authorities get to keep in order to fund their enforcement activities.
This could hopefully mean enforcement actions will no longer be funded by the vast majority of good landlords (and their tenants) through unnecessary and expensive licensing schemes.
Overall, we’re reservedly supportive of the PRS measures in this Bill. The one main criticism we have is that a great deal of detail is not included in the Bill itself, but will come about later through regulations.
This means that we have to continue engaging the Government to introduce balanced rules for the PRS.
At the moment that’s looking at least a little promising.