We’re about to enter our sixth week of lockdown in the UK. Don’t worry this is not a blog about the trials and tribulations of having to deal with everyone working from home. I’m not going to give anyone any tips about how to make the most of the situation as that really is not my speciality. I struggled like most others to begin with but after getting used to the situation I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how adaptable everyone has been. On a personal note I’ve really enjoyed being able to spend quality time with my six year old boy. For the sanity of my wife who isn’t working at the moment I’ve taken on the responsibility for teaching geography and history so she gets a break.

What this blog is about is how I see the legal landscape in the property industry when things return to normal. For those who do not know I am a qualified solicitor, legal associate director for Hamilton Fraser and have responsibility for the delivery of dispute resolution for mydeposits, the Property Redress Scheme and I am compliance officer for legal practice at Landlord Action. These responsibilities give me a direct insight into the delivery of different legal services to the property industry.

mydeposits is one of three government authorised tenancy deposit schemes across the UK (and Jersey for just mydeposits). Operating since 2007, we deal now with over 10,000 tenancy deposit disputes a year and around 7,000 adjudications. The Property Redress Scheme is one of two government authorised consumer redress schemes for the property industry. We now have 14,000 offices registered with us and deal with around 150 escalated complaints against our members a month. Landlord Action was purchased by Hamilton Fraser in June 2017 with me taking over the operations and Paul Shamplina taking a role as group brand ambassador. We have a rolling live case load of around 700 possession and debt recovery matters at any one time. These cases are for clients based all over England and Wales so over a year we will issue at least one claim in every county court in the country.

We have been heavily involved in all government consultations related to legal matters affecting the property industry. The most recent involvement we’ve had is advising the government on the implications of the removal of s.21 as an option for repossession of tenanted property. Directly linked to this is the potential for dedicated housing courts.

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We had three members of the government visit our offices last year to see first-hand the challenges that landlords face dealing with the current court system. We also provided them with evidence to show why landlords use the s.21 process. Often there will be rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or the tenant simply wants to be rehoused by the council. This is not the kind of information that is ever seen in the mainstream press who prefer to criticise landlords rather than appreciate the challenges they can face.

From this meeting and also from seeing where the mood appeared to be heading we started looking at how we provide legal services to our clients. With the recent decision to stop all current possession matters until late June at the earliest we realised we had to do something quickly.

When we started the Property Redress Scheme we had already decided we were going to focus on achieving negotiated settlements with consumers and our agent members. As our 2019 annual report will show we now resolve just over 40% of all escalated complaints this way. With mydeposits the thinking had always been it was more efficient to push the matter through to adjudication. That traditional model has now changed and we’ve retrained our case assessors to attempt what we call ‘early resolution’ in any cases they can. The early results have been very promising.

This leads me to the next natural step for both Hamilton Fraser and the property industry. That is the introduction of a dedicated tenancy mediation service. I am delighted to say that with a lot of drive, determination and a great team effort across the Hamilton Fraser family we have been able to launch the Property Redress Scheme Tenancy Mediation Service.

This service is designed to assist landlords and tenants come to agreements about disputes that have occurred during a tenancy. We have trained and experienced professionals who will help both parties understand their positions and try to agree a sensible resolution to those issues. We have tried to use the best of both worlds so it is a Property Redress Scheme service but we have borrowed the Landlord Action three step, fixed fee approach.

There is going to be a huge backlog in the courts when they reopen. There are also going to be many tenants who find themselves in rent arrears through no real fault of their own. Landlords and tenants talking to each other and finding a flexible approach is going to be more important than ever before. The pending introduction of a pre action protocol for possession claims is also going to mean parties should discuss matters and attempt alternative methods before issuing a court claim.

Through Landlord Action we have also introduced a commercial lease mediation service following a similar process but as that is more legal we will use experienced Landlord Action solicitors.

We are here to help our current and hopefully new clients navigate these choppy waters.

While I’m discussing the changing face of dispute resolution in the property industry I would also like to mention that having initially sat back and observed the situation, Hamilton Fraser have launched a fantastic, new deposit alternative scheme. It is called Ome, benefits from our latest technology and I believe deals with concerns previously raised about deposit alternative schemes. It is based on a Netflix style subscription for tenants paying a very low monthly amount at the same time giving the landlord the same five weeks of rent security of a deposit.

It may not feel like it but this is an exciting time for the private rented sector. Demand is likely to be higher than ever once lockdown ends. Those who innovate and look to the future are likely to be those who benefit the most. In the meantime please follow the latest guidance, stay in and stay safe. I’ve got learning about hot and cold climates and Roman Emperors on the timetable today.

Veni Vide Vici!

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