All over the country, seasonal lights are festooned along our high streets, supposedly in memory of a birth 2000 years ago. Whether it is believed as a part of religious faith, or whether it is just seen as a nice tale, or part of the culture of the country, what could be the outcome if the same scenario happened today?
We’ll join a young couple, Joe and Mary who have escaped a dangerous situation in their home country. Mary is having a baby and they need somewhere to stay. They are desperate, having arrived in a strange country. When they find someone willing to give them shelter in a stable, they are very grateful. How unfortunate that their first contact should be a rogue landlord, offering them ‘beds in a shed’. (though quite a big one!)
The landlord did not make too much fuss, but this was another sign that he was the kind of landlord to avoid. He should, of course, have undertaken the Right to Rent checks as specified in the Immigration Act 2016. Had he done so, he would have found our young couple were not British Citizens, nor citizens of a country in the EU or EEA, nor citizens of a country with no time limits on permission to live in the UK. Joe and Mary unfortunately do not belong to any of these groups and therefore, should not have been allowed to rent a property.
The landlord does not provide his new occupiers with the How to Rent booklet, annual gas safety inspection certificate as required under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, an energy performance certificate and a smoke alarm. In fact, it is so cold in the stable, Joe has found a brazier and lit a fire, in which case, a carbon monoxide alarm must be provided too (The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015). As the water they used was from a tank, the risk of Legionella was also high and a risk assessment had not been made.
To start with, the landlord is happy to receive rent in kind – Joe is a skilled carpenter and happy to do some handiwork, but when Joe obtains paid work, the landlord wants cash every week. He gives no receipt, no rent book. He seems to be totally ignorant of the 1988 Housing Act and good practice – if rent is paid weekly, it must be recorded in a rent book. The landlord also asks for a deposit, which Joe manages to raise and pay him after 5 weeks. The landlord provides no details about how the deposit will be protected, because he has no intention of complying with the 2007 legislation.
Mary, Joe and now the baby they have, are not living very comfortably, nor in safety, but from their point of view, it is better than at home, with dangerous occupying forces. However, the landlord is not happy. Even he, with his poor business practice, is a little concerned when the neighbours start complaining about strange visitors coming at all hours of the day and night; the noise is dreadful, with livestock trailing along with them. In addition, there appears to have been a breach of the tenancy agreement, as despite the tenancy agreement banning pets, a camel has appeared. There is a clear case for eviction on anti-social behaviour grounds, but the neighbours don’t want to do statements to support this, as Mary is nice and the baby is sweet.
The landlord decides that he will evict using a ground 21 – but the tenancy must run at least 4 months before a notice can be served. If he does this, at the expiry of the notice, he will be expected to take them to Court, where his case will be thrown out because he did not serve the How to Rent booklet, or the Energy Performance Certificate, or the Gas Safety Certificate, nor did he protect the deposit. Had Joe and Mary known more about the law and been in the property legally, they would have realized they could have visited the Citizens Advice Bureau and taken the landlord to Court for three times the deposit amount.
This young couple would be in dire straits if they presented now at the door of a landlord, beset by legislative requirements, Environmental Services and surely Social Services, with a baby living in a stable.
We can joke about it, but legislation has a purpose; it seeks to provide a good standard of accommodation for all, to ensure that rent is paid for properties fit for purpose. Mary and Joe may have had a low expectation but that does not justify their occupation of a stable. As Asylum Seekers, they needed to seek the assistance of the Home Office, not a landlord who risks a hefty fine or even a prison sentence.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon