At a recent meeting with the new Minister for the Private Rented Sector, Heather Wheeler MP, at the newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), landlord representatives from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) called for housing courts, similar to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber)*.
Given the sheer amount of change going on in the private rented sector (PRS) the minister was told that more strategic thinking was needed, rather than what appears to be the government’s piecemeal approach to the PRS.
The meeting was attended by representative of landlords’ and agents’ organisations across the sector, including the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), ARLA Propertymark, the National Landlords Association (NLA), and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
It is argued in the sector that the sheer amount of change introduced by new rules and regulations was overwhelming many small-scale landlords, making it difficult to assimilate the new information and comply with all of it.
The RLA stepped up its call for a dedicated housing tribunal (housing court) that could deal more quickly, and give landlords and tenants access to justice less expensively, here experts in the field could preside over practical issues as opposed to purely legal rules.
Currently, the legal system open to landlords and tenants, using the overworked and under resourced county courts, is slow, expensive and rule bound. Legal wrangles and arguments between landlords and tenants can become protracted, they can drag on for months and become very expensive.
If, as has happened in Scotland, the Section 21 eviction process is watered down, and long-term tenancies become mandatory, housing tribunals would become essential, as otherwise landlords could be waiting 12 months or more to rid themselves on non-paying tenants.
The RLA’s representative said:
“This is crucial for landlords [housing courts] who might be prepared to offer longer tenancies to those who want them but who are fearful of being locked into a tenancy and unable to swiftly regain possession of their property if tenants are failing to pay their rent or are committing anti-social behaviour.”
RLA policy director, David Smith, who attended the meeting said:
“We welcome the Minister’s early engagement with the sector and her positive attitude towards supporting the majority of landlords who provide good housing and abide by all their responsibilities.
“It provides a good starting point as the RLA works with the Government to ensure the rental sector is fit for its changing role and works for tenants and landlords.”
* The First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) was formed to deal with determinations of rent or repair issues in private sector housing; assistance in exercising a landlord’s right of entry; and relatively informal and flexible proceedings to help resolve issues that arise between homeowners and property factors. From 1 December 2017, following the introduction of The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 and the new ‘private residential tenancy’ the Chamber began to receive more private rented cases, being applications provided for by the transfer of jurisdiction from the Sheriff Courts of non-criminal matters arising from regulated, Part VII and assured tenancies (Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 refers).
The Chamber also receives applications for rent assessments, drawing up of terms, evictions and other non-criminal matters arising from the new private residential tenancy.
Labour have committed themselves to bringing in similar new measures in England to those already enacted in Scotland, which if implemented would necessitate a similar tribunal system in England.
The new Scottish tenancy is not just a longer tenancy, it is open-ended. It lasts until either the tenant wishes to leave or the landlord exercises one (or more) of 18 grounds for eviction. It offers a higher degree of protection for tenants including: limits on rent increases, fair rent officer assessments, and extended landlord notice periods. Landlords must give 84 days’ notice to a tenant to leave after the first 6 months. There will be rent compensation orders for ‘wrongful termination’ and some local authorities in Scotland are given the power to cap the levels.