Following the recent research by Shelter / British Gas and Sarah Teather’s Eviction parliamentary bill, much has been made of the actions of a small number of rogue landlords that have evicted tenants because they complained about problems on their property that needed fixing, including mould, pest infestations and electrical hazards. These are now known as ‘Revenge Evictions’ and it’s unquestionably right that tenants should be protected from them.
It’s clear though, that the devil is in the detail with the various rental market surveys that have been performed over the last 18 months. Most importantly, a relatively small sample number of participants in these surveys are frequently being scaled to a national level and that arguably paints an inaccurate picture of the industry. Especially when you consider that only a very small percentage of respondents in Shelters research (2%) claimed that they were the victims of revenge evictions and a further 8% claimed to be too afraid to raise any problems with their landlords, in case they were evicted. This means that approximately 90 people are being scaled up to around 213,000 and even a small error either way could vastly overestimate or underestimate the real numbers here.
Other surveys have yielded results that contradict Shelter’s findings. For example, the English Housing Survey for 2012/2013 found that the total number of evictions has actually fallen by 2% year-on-year, and currently stands at 7%. Their primary reason for evicting tenants was the landlord wanting to sell or occupy the property. Ten per cent were asked to leave due to being arrears in their rent. The 2012/2013 survey also found that 84% of private renters were satisfied with their accommodation and only 10% were dissatisfied.
Another survey by the RLA found that 90% of evictions were for rent arrears, 43% for anti-social behaviour, 40% for damage to property and 20% for drug-related activity. Some of those percentages overlap for those rapidly adding up! As a rule, they found, landlords use evictions as a last resort.
While survey research is only ever as good as how representative it is of the population it is purporting to measure, we do have a concrete number of 37,739 tenants being evicted or having their homes repossessed by court bailiffs in 2013, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice. This number would be 0.4% of the total population of renters used in the Shelter report. It’s troubling mixing that number with the survey from the RLA that found 90% of evictions were for rent arrears – which would leave 10% or just 3773 evictions for all other issues, including revenge evictions. That’s less than the total number of people surveyed by Shelter and British Gas. Clearly something is going wrong with the statistics or the headlines somewhere along the line.
While rogue landlords make headlines, good landlords can protect themselves personally. A good place to start is with comprehensive landlords insurance and home emergency cover. Professional help, regular maintenance and inspections will also go a long towards keeping landlords out of court and out of the media.
Here are some of the simple steps that landlords can take to ensure they avoid the Dickensian “bad landlord” tag.
1) Inexperienced landlords should consider using a letting agent.
Letting agents can manage every aspect of the property and help ensure that all of the legal responsibilities and obligations are met. Landlords should verify that their letting agency has the ‘Safe Agent’ accreditation.
2) Landlords should thoroughly inspect the property before each new let.
Everything from the paint to the light fixtures, from the taps to the roof tiles, from the skirting boards to the wiring, and from the gutters to the flower beds should be checked. It’s important to remember to check for signs of damp, mildew and mould, as well as the basics, such as the telephone line, the boiler, the heating system, any appliances included in the tenancy agreement, windows, doors, blinds and the chimney.
All necessary repairs should be completed before the property is advertised.
3) All aspects of the property must comply with relevant legal standards and pass all relevant tests, whether they are mandatory or not.
Furniture in furnished or semi-furnished properties, especially beds, sofas, armchairs and garden furniture, must meet legal fire resistant standards.
Any appliances included in the tenancy agreement should pass the Portable Appliance Test (PAT). It’s not mandatory, but it will go a long way towards proving the safety of all electrical equipment.
A Periodic Electrical Inspection Report (PIR) is also not mandatory but strongly recommended to prove the safety of household wiring. It should be provided by an approved registered electrician and conducted every five years.
Gas systems must have an up-to-date gas safety certificate provided by a registered Gas Safe engineer. Certificates are only valid for one year, so they need to be renewed annually.
A valid Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is required. EPCs are valid for 10 years.
4) Proper safety systems must be installed.
Burglar alarms aren’t mandatory but they can make a property more appealing, especially to safety conscious tenants. Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers are also not mandatory but are recommended, especially in the kitchen. They should be checked to ensure they are in good working order.
5) Consider Emergency Insurance Protection.
A blatant plug here given that we have written this article, however, Surewise.com provided a comprehensive home emergency policy designed to meet landlords’ specific needs, such as home emergency insurance and cover for boilers, central heating, plumbing, home electrical systems, roof damage, pest infestation, rent guarantee and legal expenses. This covers many of the problems that the tenants in Shelter’s survey cited and also makes it easy to arrange for repairs with minimum delay and expense. Our landlords home emergency policy can be seen here.
Rent guarantee policies also provide protection against one of the biggest problems faced by landlords – rent arrears.
6) Protect your tenants deposit
The tenant’s deposit also needs to be protected, using an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme, for example, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme and My Deposits. Once the deposit is protected, landlords must supply tenants with the Prescribed Information as per the Housing (Tenancy Deposits) Prescribed Information Order 2007. The Prescribed Information must be signed by the landlord and the tenant.
7) Make sure you have the correct licensing.
If the property is over three storeys or there are five or more tenants who are not part of the same family, landlords will need a House in Multiple Occupation Licence (HMO). Landlords must always know exactly who is living in their property and what the relationships are to ensure that they are on the right side of the law. HMOs are subject to different legal requirements and responsibilities, so this information is vital.
Properties in selective areas also require a landlord license from the local council. It’s up to landlords to find out if their property falls in one of these areas.
8) Compose a comprehensive tenancy agreement.
The tenancy agreement is the contract between landlords and tenants and covers rights and responsibilities for both parties. A written tenancy agreement is not a legal requirement in England and Wales but landlords are strongly advised to have one. It should be signed by the landlord and the tenant and each should receive a copy.
It includes information regarding use of the property by other people, the duration of the agreement, the rental rate and how and when it must be paid, what is included in the rent (heating, water or council tax), additional services provided (garden service), notice period, obligations to repair, obligations to report problems and maintenance obligations. It should also include a clause that gives landlords the right to claim occupancy if they want to move into the house or sell it.
If tenancy is weekly, as opposed to monthly or fixed-term, landlords are legally bound to provide a rent book to document payments.
9) Reference checks.
Reference checks, including identity and credit checks, on prospective tenants are essential. It’s important to establish rental history by contacting previous landlords or letting agents. An employer’s reference is also recommended. Specialist companies can conduct reference checks on landlords’ behalf.
10) Check-in/check-out reports.
Landlords and tenants should inspect the condition of the property together before the tenant moves in. The inspection should be documented and photographed, dated and signed to ensure that all parties are aware of the exact condition of the property, so that there are no undue accusations later on.
There should be another joint inspection just before the tenant moves out to ensure that there is no damage or breakages that could lead to a dispute. It should also be documented, photographed, dated and signed.
11) Property guide.
Landlords should give tenants a property guide that provides the location and operating and maintenance details of everything they could possibly need to know, including fuse boxes, stop taps and alarms. It should also include instruction manuals for all appliances left behind, including the boiler and heating system.
Once the property has been let, landlords must notify the local council of the tenancy for council tax purposes. Utility companies should also be notified of the change in occupancy.
13) Document everything.
Landlords should keep all documentation and records of all communication (and copies of documentation and records) relating to the tenancy, especially relating to rent payments, amendments to the tenancy agreement and damage reported and repairs carried out.
14) Resolve problems quickly and calmly
Landlords should address any problems reported as soon as possible. Surewise.com has a quick and easy claims process and arranges call-outs on landlords’ behalf, so the landlord/tenant relationship remains as sound as possible.
Landlords should also not be drawn into arguments with tenants. Independent third party mediators can be brought in to settle disputes that threaten to blow up.