Director of policy and practice Chris Norris on how the NLA is influencing the latest regulation and consultations this month.
- The issue
Renewing gas safety checks
All landlords must carry out annual gas safety checks; however, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get the tenant’s permission to access the property on the renewal date. Tenants would either say no or that they weren’t available, which meant that checks were being delayed. Rather than risk a criminal offence, landlords were bringing the date further and further forward, so we would often see landlords scheduling in their next safety check up to two months early. This meant that over a five-year period, landlords could actually find themselves paying for six checks.
The NLA has lobbied the Health and Safety Executive to implement a minor change to the regulation to allow landlords to preserve the renewal date. We liken it to a car MOT; if you have an MOT carried out up to a month before it expires, you retain the renewal date. Now landlords can carry out safety checks two months before the last check expires and they won’t lose out. I think it’s going to have a really positive impact for our members.
- The issue
Price caps on building work to meet MEES
From this April, it is no longer possible to establish a new tenancy for a property if it doesn’t have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E or above. Regulation around Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) on rented properties has been rumbling on for years, without ever really finding a satisfactory solution. The idea was that the Green Deal – one of the government’s flagship energy policies – would pay to bring properties up to the correct standard through the energy savings made – allowing landlords to carry out work without incurring big upfront costs. In practice, the policy ended up collapsing, but the regulation remained, leaving landlords with new obligations but no effective means to mitigate the cost.
As there are no longer grants or government funding widely available, the government looked set to leave landlords on the hook for the potentially unlimited costs of bringing inefficient properties up to the new standards. We have lobbied the government to set a cap on the amount a landlord has to spend on a property to meet the required EPC rating. The government has been lobbied by other stakeholders, and even political parties, to make landlords pay for the necessary work themselves; however, we are of the position that if landlords can’t afford to do this, it will mean rent goes up or will push some landlords out of the sector, as their properties are no longer viable.
It has now been agreed that there will be a £2,500 cap on the amount spent on a property to either get an E rating or as close to an E rating as possible. We were quite successful in getting the cap brought down; the original proposal was £5,000 and while £2,500 is still a lot of money to spend on a property, it’s more achievable than the higher cap. We expect this to come into force from April 2019.
- The issue
New regulation for letting agents
In the past few weeks, the government has made a number of announcements on regulation for letting agents. It has confirmed that it will make client protection insurance mandatory; it is going to introduce a new standard of training and a minimum qualification for agents; and, finally, it is going to create an overriding regulator for letting agents. It is a fairly comprehensive package of regulation, which the NLA has been calling on for a number of years to protect landlords who, unfortunately far too often, are dealing with inconsistent service and find themselves at risk of quite significant financial loss and legal liability.
The NLA called for the government to replicate what letting agent bodies were already doing and look at the code of practice that their members abide by. Around 60% of letting agents are members of one of the leading bodies, and they commit to training and have various anti-fraud protections in place. We are pleased that the government has finally listened to the industry. There is a slight concern that once you start regulating one end of the sector, there is a temptation for it to creep, and we are mindful that we don’t want to see this inappropriately extended to landlords.
By and large, however, the regulation is welcome. Lots of landlords have been affected by bad letting agent practice. If you look at the NLA’s Advice Line, about 15% of calls are related to letting agents. It’s not necessarily always complaints, but rather questions on the inconsistency of their service, as the standard of management really varies. Assuming the regulation is done in a way that works and won’t drive up costs, it should be welcomed by landlords and is certainly welcomed by the NLA.
And one more thing… GDPR
The NLA is putting together a comprehensive package of resources for members to help them comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force on 25 May 2018. At present, landlords often rely solely on a clause in a tenancy agreement to document their permission to use tenants’ data. But from 25 May this is unlikely to be sufficient. We have produced a basic guide to GDPR, specifically tailored for landlords on what they need to know about it; a learning module through our online library; and a template fair processing notice to help them show tenants that they comply with the regulation. As we near the implementation date we will publish more resources to help with the practicalities of GDPR compliance, so please check landlords.org.uk for more information.
The NLA has also been busy working with the media on a number of stories. Here’s our latest media briefing.
Do you need advice on any safety issues or regulation? The NLA’s Telephone Advice Line is staffed by our team of experienced landlords, who have a wealth of knowledge on landlord-related questions and issues.
The Advice Line is free for members. Associates can either upgrade to full membership or buy call credits to use the service. Find out more at www.landlords.org.uk/advice-line