As rules surrounding tenant deposits change dramatically this month, private landlords are warned that the new laws could see them end up in court.
With sweeping changes being introduced later in April, a Solicitor in Yeovil is encouraging property investors across the UK to ensure they lodge tenant deposits in a government backed scheme before the changes take place. According to Ceri Stephens, a senior associate at a practice in the Somerset town, unless landlords follow the letter of the law completely they may find themselves facing a massive fine.
She was quoted saying: “The fundamental principle stays the same – that tenants are guaranteed their deposits back at the end of the tenancy, if they have met the terms of their agreement and do not damage the property. It is a legal requirement for a landlord to use an authorised deposit protection scheme. What is new is that courts will accept no excuse for non-compliance, whereas before they could exercise discretion, and landlords will face financial sanctions. Non-compliance also means that you cannot serve a valid notice seeking possession of the property, and a tenant will be able to bring proceedings against you even if the tenancy has come to an end.”
The new rules will affect all private landlords and will be yet another piece of legislation they must comply with along with their health and safety certification and property insurance. The question of tenant deposits, and the return of them, has been a vexed issue for many in the private sector for a long time. With an estimated 10% of housing now controlled by the private sector the new laws will affect millions of people and has been broadly welcomed on all sides.
Tenants in a block of flats in Waltham forest, London have successfully managed to bring a rogue landlord to heel after suffering years of hassle.
Jeanette Eccles and Silvia Nicoleascu both lived in the same apartment block and both suffered due to changes made by the landlord to optimise her profits. Miss Eccles’ ground floor flat was constantly flooded with leaks from the flat above and Mrs Nicoleascu, who lived above Miss Eccles, was paying the gas bill and council tax bill for a one bedroomed apartment that the landlord had divided into two. The confined space had 5 people living there but without appropriate facilities. It is not known whether the landlord had purchased property insurance but she certainly hadn’t received planning permission to re-arrange the apartments.
Once the tenants had plucked up courage to approach their local council, enforcement officers took the matter in hand. Councillor Clyde Loakes said: “I hope that the enforcement action that we are pursuing in this case will make any landlords think twice before they imagine they can ride roughshod over our planning policy and carve up their properties into flats. The landlord would have been refused permission, the fact that they didn’t even bother and simply went ahead with the conversion regardless is now going to cost them a pretty penny as the enforcement notice requires the flats be restored to the original configuration, removing all dividing walls, kitchen and bathroom facilities.”
The sad fact of course is that once again one bad landlord gives the rest a bad name, and respectable landlords in the area will now have their work cut out persuading prospective tenants they are in good hands and can be trusted to treat them fairly.
Tenants in privately rented accommodation are being asked to report any safety fears they may have after an appearance in court by a landlord who allowed a tenant to stay in a three storey property which had no fire escape.
Any tenant living in houses of multiple occupation (HMO) has been urged to contact the housing department of York Council if they have any worries about safety issues of the room they are renting.
In November 2009 the council closed down landlord Mehmet Altin’s renting operation because he was renting five rooms located above his kebab and pizza business which had no fire escape. It was not just housing officers who had concerns as fire-fighters were also worried for the safety of tenants living in the rooms. Mr Altin also did not have a landlord’s licence. This is something that angered local landlords who pride themselves on having a landlords licence and landlord insurance.
Five months later a housing officer made a return visit to the three-storey premises where he found Mr Altin had defied the prohibition order and allowed someone to sleep in one of the rooms for a night.
Mr Altin, 36, pleaded guilty to breaching the order along with failing to ensure the safety of his tenant and running a HMO without having a licence. He was fined £3,015, a government-imposed victim surcharge and prosecution costs by York magistrates.
Ruth Abbott, the council’s housing standards and adaptations manager, said “People in the building could have been trapped in the event of a fire. We are here to ensure the safety of tenants and other people who live in HMOs and we want to know if people who live in HMO are concerned about their health or safety.”
The council works with landlords to make sure the properties are safe, but it can take extreme measures as it did in this case. Mr Altin could have purchased a HMO landlord licence for five years which would have cost him £550.
Landlord Michael Billings was sentenced to jail last month after contravening fire and Health and Safety regulations. It was revealed that the landlord, who is estimated to own around 600 properties nationwide with many being in Norfolk, had been convicted twice earlier of breaking the same laws. In all Billings pleaded guilty to 14 serious breaches of fire and health and safety regulations.
The case centred around a fire at one of the properties owned by the defendant in April 2009 with one victim suffering 80% burns to her body and three other people having to escape the inferno through windows. The badly burned victim, Miss Scalli amazed surgeons by making a recovery as her survival chances were put at 1% after she had been rescued from the blaze by the Fire Brigade, whose inspectors have still been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire. Health and Safety officials described Billings as a “slum landlord with Health and Safety Executive inspector John Claxton describing the case as “The most horrific case I have dealt with in 31 years in the job”
When passing down sentence Judge Downes told the defendant “You have been stupid and neglectful in the extreme. The effect on all of the victims must have been terrifying. What this case proves is that fire regulations are of the greatest importance. The regulations are designed to prevent what happened in this case”
The case illustrates once more the onus of responsibility that falls on a landlord in keeping his properties up to the standard demanded by law and that it is simply not a case of acquiring landlord insurance, finding a tenant and collecting the rent. Responsible landlords will once more feel let down by the rogue element in their ranks.