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Friday, 10 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog

By Sharon Betton - Business Development Officer, NorthWest Landlords Association

There are a number of recent changes that landlords in the area need to be aware of, as they may have an impact upon their business.

Universal Credit – Universal Credit has been a cause of great concern in the run-up to its national introduction from October 2013. Its stated intention is to pay the major benefits (including housing and council tax benefit) in one lump to the tenants.  Many landlords  help those dependent on benefits, or have tenants that unfortunately come out of work. They know their tenants and are on the front-line, unlike the officials who propose these changes. They know their tenants will fall into rent arrears, not because their tenants don’t want to pay, or don’t care about their landlords, but because times are hard.  Managing money is hard and benefits are very limited.

Under the current system, landlords can ask for the rent to go direct to them, if:  the tenant is vulnerable; has a proven history of rent arrears; or falls 8 weeks into rent arrears.
Up until now, nothing concrete has been announced about safeguards for landlords, when arrears start to build up.
Representations to Government, from the British Property Federation, housing associations, consultative groups as well as individual landlords, now seem to be softening the stance on payments to tenants.  The Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, has said the Department for Work and Pensions will be able to pay landlords direct from the start of the scheme.

Further details are awaited, so join NWLA, attend our meetings (next in August and our AGM in October) to make sure you know exactly what is happening and how.

Squatting - Squatting has, until now, only been classed as a Civil offence, so penalties were hard to enforce and it was a lengthy and expensive process to recover the property.  Government has taken on-board representations from various landlord associations and from 1st September 2012, squatting will become a criminal offence.  This means squatters will face a six month prison sentence and a £5,000 fine.  Despite this, Landlords should do what they can to avoid squatting: have a good security system and keep void periods as short as possible.

Contractor Deaths - Two recent cases should ring alarm bells, though neither of them in the NorthWest, fortunately.  In two separate cases, fatalities have occurred to people undertaking roofing work for landlords.  In one, a 79 year old contractor was undertaking repairs to the gutter and carport of a property.  He fell through a roof panel and he fell approximately 7 feet to the ground, which resulted in his death.

In the other, a self-employed builder was replacing a roof.  It is not known whether he had experience in this type of work, but the three people assisting him did not.   Tragically, he fell just as the work was finished.  No scaffolding had been erected.

In both cases, the persons held responsible, with fines and costs imposed, were the landlord/agents, who had commissioned the work.  Landlords must ensure that when they have work done, the contractor is qualified, has exercised a duty of care and is competent to do the work.  In the second case, most basic common sense would say that roofing work cannot be undertaken safely without scaffolding and the costs should have been included in the quote.  The fact it did not,  should have alerted the agent that the quote was far too low  and withdrawn from the contract.    

Training NWLA works closely with the accreditation schemes in the NorthWest.  Accreditation is the voluntary scheme favoured by the Government, for raising standards in the private sector.  Being a member of the NWLA proves you are a responsible landlord; being an accredited landlord, or a landlord with accredited properties, can only add to this and allows access to the many benefits that the accreditation schemes can offer.

Selective Licensing - Newham local authority has decided to impose selective licensing on all private rented property.  Once the conditions for licensing were relaxed, which left it to the local authorities themselves, it could be foreseen that some authorities would take the opportunity to introduce wider-scale licensing as a means of revenue raising. 

Although some authorities in the North West had planned quite wide-spread licensing, none so far have announced anything as far reaching as Newham. There seems to be a shortage of private sector property in the area so residents are being encouraged to move out to areas with a greater availability of property.


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