On the panel: Francis Williams (Rushmoor housing portfolio holder and chair of the meeting), Meurig Lloyd (Southern Private Landlords Association), Dawn Kelly (Rushmoor housing benefits official), Khalid Ishmael (housing lawyer, Ashtead Park Chambers), David Salusbury (chairman, National Landlords Association), Paul Juan (Rushmoor housing official). Dotted around the room were stalls from organisations there to give help and advice to landlords. Most of the Rushmoor housing department seemed to be present to give advice, including the head of housing Alison Whiteley, and her boss John Edwards. Several councillors were also present.
Francis Williams welcomed everyone with an extremely biased and partisan speech, that he fully sympathised with the red tape landlords had to comply with and we were here to help.
David Salusbury gave an extremely bellicose speech, it was as though one was at a meeting of the National Front. Landlords were being given a hard time, the government only governed by consent and the jury was out as to what action landlords would take, Shelter was viciously attacked as a disreputable organisation, and CAB was little better as they gave advice to tenants, and the governments was as bad for listening to both organisation and giving them the time of day. He attacked the government for bringing in new legislation that tightened up on landlords after years of legislation in favour of landlords, that it was wrong to have rules to protect deposits, it was wrong to bring in tougher housing standards. But even Salusbury had to admit that landlords had to be more professional, and had no choice other than to obey the law.
Salusbury started off with the question, was it all doom and gloom, do we retire to a room with a bottle of gin and a gun to our head? But he summarised that it was not that bad, they had people on the inside working with civil servants, and although they did not like the new legislation they could live with it.
Salusbury praised Rushmoor, unlike other local authorities, for its leniency towards landlords!
Meurig Lloyd, who spoke before David Salusbury, took an entirely different line, he outlined various aspects of the new legislation (deposits, house in multiple occupancy (HMOs) and the new rules on risk assessment), and explained what landlords had to do to be compliant. He said landlords had to be a lot more professional.
This was a view echoed by Khalid Ishmael, who simply raised or answered points of law.
The Housing Act 2004, as outlined by Meurig Lloyd (I have not checked the legislation myself):
[Not all the legislation has yet come into force and some aspects will be covered by secondary legislation.]
Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) will have to be licenced, the person holding the licence will have to be a 'fit person', the property will have to meet certain minimum standards. There will be a fee for the licence. It is for local authorities to determine their own fees, but it will have to be seen as reasonable. I heard a figure of £300 mentioned.
The driving force for licensing of HMOs, has been student flat-shares, illegal bedsits in all but name. All student flat-shares will be classed as HMOs. Minimum standards will include noise and anti-social behaviour.
Classification of students flat-shares is welcome as many towns and cities have now been blighted by student flat-shares, for example parts of Lincoln.
Rogue landlords buy up properties, pack them with students, the area becomes blighted, people move out, find they cannot sell there houses, rogue landlords buy their homes on the cheap, fill them with students, and so the downward spiral continues.
All homes with have to meet minimum standards with regard to risks and hazards (including owner occupiers). The landlord can carry out this risk assessments himself, but he will have to show that he has considered and mitigated against all risks. The assessment will have to take account the occupant as well as the property. This does not replace the contractual obligation to keep the property in good state of repair, but it does replace the 'unfit for habitation' for which local authorities could step in and enforce repairs.
Landlords have to now be part of a scheme to protect deposits. Deposits have to be in cash. If a landlord fails to return a deposit without good cause, he will be forced to pay back a sum several times that of the original deposit. Landlords were recommended to carry out proper inventories, to video and photograph the contents.
Disputes between landlords and tenants will now be decided by tribunals, similar to those that resolve rent disputes. This will be less formal than going before the County Court, but it remains to be seen as to whether it will be preferable.
An Asian landlord attacked bad tenants, and wanted to see legislation to deal with bad tenants. His was very much a minority voice. The general consensus was that landlords should improve their standards, be more professional. One landlord said he was happy to improve his standards to be able to gain a competitive advantage and thus be able to attract better tenants. He wanted to see a star-rating system brought in, but this got short thrift from housing official Paul Juan. There was a general consensus that they did not like bad landlords, who were giving everyone a bad name, and wanted to see a clampdown on bad landlords. One landlord said they were here because they wanted to become better landlords, and it was only the bad landlords who did not attend these meetings.
Looking around the room I could not see any of our well known local Rachman landlords.
There was a demand for more information. Paul Juan drew attention to a booklet produced by Rushmoor full of useful information and sources of further information and help, and that Rushmoor was here to help landlords.
Copies of the booklet can be obtained (free of charge) from Paul Juan:
Rushmoor Housing Department
Hants GU14 7JU
01252 398 636
Dawn Kelly explained how the housing benefits section was there to help landlords get their money. They only had to contact her section and claims would be speeded through. That claims were dealt with within 20 days, with 100% accuracy.
All this would be news to tenants claiming housing benefits, who wait so long that they end up in court facing eviction.
There may though be a change in the benefits systems from Housing Benefit to a Housing Allowance. This will be paid to a person based on their family size and need, not on the rent they are charged. No explanation was given if your allowance is less than your current rent. This new system is currently being piloted in Guildford. In the Guildford pilot, people are being paid an allowance far in excess of their rent, giving some people a profit of £50 per week!
The slogan for the forum, emblazoned in big bold letters on the top of every piece of paper, 'Let's work together'. A council falling over backwards to give landlords all the help and support they could wish for.
The same help and support they give vulnerable tenants. Er, no.
A few case studies will suffice:
Chris Chelsea, partially disabled, classed as a vulnerable adult: He has been waiting since March 2005 for repairs to be carried out. Since the start of the winter he has been without hot water or central heating. When he complained to the council, and they raised these matters with the landlord, he was served with a Notice to Quit. When he sought help with his eviction and harassment by the landlord, he was told to go to the local CAB if he wanted help and advice. The landlord was sent a letter how to evict legally and sources of useful information to evict tenants!
A girl harassed out of her home and illegally evicted by a known Rachman landlord. She sought help from the council. They refused to help her, claiming she had voluntarily left her home, refused to help her with her Housing Benefit application.
Firgrove Court: In a terrible state of repair, belongs to Pavilion Housing Association. KPI wish to purchase it for a car park for a superstore as part of their unwanted town centre redevelopment. Broken gutters, water pouring down the walls, rotten windows etc etc. Harassment by disrepair to force the tenants out? When these problems were drawn to the attention of Rushmoor head of housing Alison Whiteley, and she was asked to take enforcement action, her boss John Edwards replied
'The Council's position on this is clear. You are not a resident of Firgrove
Court, so we are not able or prepared to talk to you about issues which affect
the people who live there.'
We have since learnt that Alison Whiteley has told Pavilion not to carry out repairs.
Housing official Paul Juan visited a property and said the gutters were in good working order. He paid his visit on a dry day. Every time it rains, water is pouring down the walls.
But it is not just the housing department, it is councillors too. A 93-year-old resident at Firgrove Court has been without hot water for 9 months. Three months ago she sought the help of Paul Taylor, a Rushmoor councillor. Yes, he told her, I'll get it fixed. Three months later, nothing, not even the courtesy to keep her informed of what was going on. Once we learnt of the problem it took one phone call to Pavilion and the problem was fixed. Following a complaint to the council chief executive, Paul Taylor appeared on her doorstep, making a nuisance of himself, claiming to have got her problem fixed.
On the other hand, when Peter Sandy complained about the piss-poor performance of the housing department, especially the performance of head of department Alison Whiteley, he was referred to the Standards Board by Rushmoor chief executive Andrew Lloyd. A complaint that has got nowhere as Peter Sandy has been cleared of all charges. [see Peter Sandy cleared by Standards Board]
I found the landlords forum interesting, and have asked to be kept fully informed of future events. Initially Rushmoor tried to bar me from attending the forum, claiming that it was a private event for landlords only, a private event that had been widely trailed in the local press.
We have now demanded that Rushmoor host a similar event for tenants, with a similar range and calibre of speakers, with a range of stalls and people on hand to give help and advice. We may have a long wait, as Rushmoor has so far refused to hold one.
Keith Parkins, Peter Sandy cleared by Standards Board, Indymedia UK, 22 January 2006
Rushmoor Council invites landlords to forum on 19 January, press release, Rushmoor Borough Council, January 2006