Miscellaneous – Ask Sharon


 

Miscellaneous

  ASK SHARON

Scroll down to find the advice you are looking for. Most recent questions and answers are listed first.


Council Tax Notice

I bought a run down house at auction to renovate and bring back into the rental market. I received the council tax notice informing me that I would be charged 150% of the council tax because the property had been empty for two years under the previous owner.

I tried to appeal this on the grounds I didn’t own the property and because it needed renovating. However this was rejected on the reason that I should have known this before buying and I’m left paying 150%. Is the council correct in their interpretation of this and do landlords have to pay this premium if the property has been empty for 2 years before purchasing.

I am sorry, but since April 2014 local authorities have had to run local schemes.  With cuts in funding, some of those schemes seem quite punitive where a property has been empty for a while.  Though it seems unfair, they will be trying to recover the council tax from the previous owner for the period it was empty, but will still feel that they should receive that level of council tax whilst you are getting it ready for a tenant.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they will move on this (though by all means, put an appeal in) – I was told that the only exemptions are where a property is unliveable – ie no roof, no sanitary installations, no kitchen.  Very few houses that are bought
for refurbishment will be quite that bad.   I also think the argument
could be made that, as it had been empty a long time (and a blight on the neighbourhood) you probably got it for a very keen price.

Sorry I cannot be more positive, but a lot of the situations  are coming up now and unhappy though landlords are, there seems to be little movement.

Good luck with the appeal.



Council Tax

I bought a run down house at auction to renovate and bring back into the rental market.  I received the council tax notice informing me that I would be charged 150% of the council tax because the property had been empty for two years under the previous owner.  I tried to appeal this on the grounds I didn’t own the property and because it needed renovating.  However this was rejected on the reason that I should have known this before buying and I’m left paying 150%.  Is the council correct in their interpretation of this and do landlords have to pay this premium if the property has been empty for 2 years before purchasing.

I am sorry, but since April 2014 local authorities have had to run local schemes.  With cuts in funding, some of those schemes seem quite punitive where a property has been empty for a while.  Though it seems unfair, they will be trying to recover the council tax from the previous owner for the period it was empty, but will still feel that they should receive that level of council tax whilst you are getting it ready for a tenant.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they will move on this (though by all means, put an appeal in) – I was told that the only exemptions are where a property is unliveable – ie no roof, no sanitary installations, no kitchen.  Very few houses that are bought
for refurbishment will be quite that bad.   I also think the argument
could be made that, as it had been empty a long time (and a blight on the neighbourhood) you probably got it for a very keen price.

Sorry I cannot be more positive, but a lot of the situations  are coming up now and unhappy though landlords are, there seems to be little movement.



Recovering possession

I’m the landlord of a house that I have just managed to evict a tenant from. It has taken ten months from the initial notice to the bailiff’s visit to finally recover possession.

She and her daughters were in the house for three years, and having gone into the property to inspect it I am horrified at the state it was left in. The children drew on the walls, she has painted a beige room pink and the lounge carpet (four years old) is filthy – originally beige, it is now grey, apart from the area where the sofa was.

Can I charge the tenant for the paint to cover the drawings (in both crayon and lipstick), and to repaint the pink room? What are my rights regarding the carpet? I am happy to try and get it professionally cleaned, but don’t think that would really make a difference. Can I charge her for a new carpet?

Certainly, with regard to the decorating, these appear to be very strong reasons for claiming for the decorating costs from the deposit. The carpet is a little different. You state it had been down 4 years, she had lived there 3. It is distressing that it should appear so bad, but there would be some fair wear and tear after 3 years. If the carpet has had cigarette burns, or large stains, there may be some grounds for expecting that you could claim for it, but it sounds more like grime. The age of the carpet would be taken into consideration by the tenancy deposit protection scheme. I think you would find that a very good cleaning firm (not the run of the mill) would be able to bring it back to standard, if it was a decent carpet to start with and this you could try and recover.

If it was cheap carpet, many landlords would accept after 3 years that it was ready for replacement. If you really feel disgruntled about it, you must leave it to the Dispute Resolution Service to make the decision – though remember, they are very often more sympathetic to tenants than landlords. If you go to them, you need to provide a copy of the original inventory and the signing out inventory. Photos will assist with your claim, of both the carpet and the walls and pink room.

Although I have every sympathy with you, from what you are saying, the damage and dirt have been accumulating over the 3 years. Regular inspections over the tenancy would have given you the option of evicting earlier, when the carpet may have been savable (if it is not at present) and you could have challenged the tenant on drawings on the wall, pink walls etc. It is your property and you have to manage it properly – which means evicting, when you see things that cause you concern.


Warnings and fines

I am a landlord with a flat in a purpose built block. There is a property management service that deals with communal areas, gardening, repairs and decorating. They also deal with any complaints about other residents.

Unknown to me, my tenant has been keeping a cat and has been abusive to other tenants for the last 3 months. I was notified of this by the property management company and I issued a warning to my tenant. He denied this, saying the cat lived outside, not in the property. I issued a no. of warnings and fines were threatened, to no avail.

I issued a section 21 notice. Even though I have done this, I have now been sent photographs of the cat within the property and the management company have now sent me an invoice for “dealing with tenant and cat issue and anti-social behavior”, which are “outside of their normal management duties”. Am I legally obliged to pay this, considering I had done what would be considered all the normal steps to rectify the situation and had served a s.21 before the invoice was issued? Am I legally obliged to pay this?

It may depend very much on what the management agreement says. You do say they deal with complaints about other residents, so that is within their management role. I think we could look at this from the point of view that virtually everything nowadays attracts a charge; at the very least, they have been listening to unhappy tenants, reporting the problem and then had to write to you about it. However, on the other hand, do you not pay for a management service to cover their tasks and therefore listening to tenants and writing 1 letter to you, come within the scope what you are already charged for?

I think you need them to clarify how they arrived at the charges, making the point as I have, that I pay you for a certain amount of management service – how does listening to complaints and writing to you about them fall outside of normal management duties? There may be a lot more to it than you have revealed, but from the small amount you have said, it does not sound as they are on a sound footing for demanding money from you. You could refuse to pay, or negotiate a lesser sum just for good will.

If you refuse to pay entirely, they could take you to Court for it and let a higher authority decide what is fair. The difficulty, though, is what this will do to the relationship you have with them.


Does an ordinary mortgage need to change to Buy-to-Let?

I have just purchased a property on a normal mortgage and am slowly renovating the house. Nearing the end of renovation, someone has approached me to rent the property. If I rented the whole house, would I have to change my insurance type and let my mortgage company know? Would the mortgage company move me onto a buy to let mortgage and is this a higher rate mortgage? Is there any way I can get around not having to change my mortgage as the family might only be moving in for a short period?

You need to have a full discussion with your mortgage company as it will depend on them and their procedures. I understand there is now more flexibility with mortgage companies than there used to be, as many people are renting their properties as a “one-off”. You will have to ensure your insurance company know this is being rented out and they may need to extend the cover. As a private landlord, you need to have adequate public liability insurance. This is something your mortgage company may be able to help you with. Approach them with a simple business plan and make it clear that you are thinking of this on a short-term basis only.


Any infestations

As a landlord am I responsible for ant infestations that occurred several years after the tenant moved in?

This is always a difficult topic, as unlike slugs and vermin that may be entering a property due to breaks in ventilation grills/poor pointing or sanitation problems, ants are a perfectly natural phenomenon and it is difficult to prove liability on the tenant, unless they are leaving sugar etc. on kitchen units and floor and attracting them. I am in conflict with a local pest control company on this one, as I personally would never say a landlord was responsible for getting rid of ants, unlike the other pests I mentioned.

However, because tenants get very upset and often seem unable to appreciate the difference, is it worth arguing about it, for the sake of the very few pounds it is to buy some ant powder and get rid of them? You may feel it is worth discussing with your local pest control unit and see what their opinion is. Of course, if it is more than ants getting into the house (ie an ant nest or whatever they live in), they would be the best people to discuss it with anyway.


New landlord

What do I need to know before I rent my home on a temporary basis? What should I watch out for? Please point me in the right direction.

How long or short will be the ‘temporary basis’? It should really be a minimum of six months so as to ensure maximum re-possession rights (meaning you can use the s.21 accelerated possession procedure to regain possession). You need to be clear about the tax situation. You need to get a very good tenancy agreement (Residential Landlord has one). Check if there is a local landlord accreditation scheme and see if anyone would be prepared to inspect your property to ensure it meets required standards.

Will you be in the area and therefore able to provide close management? If not, think about an agent. Make sure it is one that is a member of a regulatory body, such as ARLA or RICS.

I run a course on creating and managing a tenancy. It takes three hours. So it is difficult to give a comprehensive answer in this short space. But: make sure you have an inventory; decide on whether you are taking a deposit and if so, how you will protect it (there are three schemes and you must use one), whether you want a Guarantor, what credit checks and reference checks you are going to make. Prepare a full application form and ask prospective tenants searching questions, and require them to list all their addresses in the last five years.

What should you watch out for? The guy who ask no questions, who does not seem bothered about the standard of the property, the guy who has to move in immediately. There may very well be circumstances where someone has to move out of somewhere, but never accept someone who wants you to short cut your interviewing and checking procedure.

If someone turns up with a reference, ring whoever provided it, make it clear why you are asking for details – a landlord is more likely to be fully open, honest and rank in a private conversation than in a written reference. I deal with many landlords who accept housing benefit tenants, but if you want more rent than the local housing allowance rate, you should require the first month’s shortfall in advance – otherwise, how do you know the tenant will pay it? If you take a housing benefit tenant, make sure he or she actually needs the size of accommodation that your property provides. Otherwise the local housing allowance will be that much less.

I always advise new landlords to contact any local landlords association – they can offer a lot of good advice. I hope that is of some help for you. Good luck.


Starting up

I am looking to get my first BTL property this year and will be managing the property myself. When I find a tenant, what forms / documents do I need to see from them? Is there a specific list?

I know an Experian report is needed to check they have good credit but apart from that is there anything else which i need to ask for?

Becoming a private landlord can be rewarding, provided you realise it is not easy money – to do it well, you need to work hard at it!

  1. Before you start, do your research. You may say you will only take working tenants – fine, but in the current financial climate, anybody could lose their job – thousands are losing work every day. Tenants who become unemployed will have to dependent on Local Housing Allowance, so check what the rate is and decide on your client group. For example, a single person or couple would only need one bedroom, so irrespective of how big your property is, they would only get support for the rental cost of a one bedroom property. Would that be sufficient to meet your needs to pay mortgage and get a contingency fund together for emergency repairs?
  2. Speak to your local authority – does it have an Accreditation scheme? Many schemes offer discounted services to landlords of accredited properties, so it is well worth ascertaining what is available in your area.
  3. Contact your local landlords association – it may have meetings and advice available. Sometimes realising problems you have with tenants have been experienced by others can be a great psychological help! There should not be a problem about joining a landlord association and also being an Accredited Landlord.
  4. Make sure you have good paperwork – a tenancy agreement can be obtained from your accreditation scheme/landlord association/Residential Landlord which will be clearly written and cover all major points;
    Set up rent accounts which clearly show when arrears start to accrue; rent book or card – only a legal requirement for sums collected weekly, but can be useful anyway, to mark housing allowance payments and the like.
  5. You need to try to choose the best tenant you can, so devise an application form and ask pertinent questions – are you working, national insurance nunmber, why do you want to live here, who will be living with you, at what addresses have you lived for the last five years and who were your landlords? Many landlords feel uncomfortable about asking these questions, but if tenants want a council property, they will have to answer more than that! Any tenant can refuse to answer, but in that case, he or she is not the tenant for you!
  6. References – ask for one from the last or current landlord, and one from the landlord before that. The current landlord might give a good reference for a bad tenant to get rid of him; the one before that has no such incentive. Get it in writing. Also get a credit check. You can dio this online through a number of firms. Among other things this will confirm whether the prospective tenant is on the electoral register and where – a good cross check for the previous addresses given by the tenant.
  7. Decide what you want to do about deposit/rent in advance. If you take a deposit, it must be protected by one of the tenancy deposit protection schemes – one is custodial and is free, the other two are insurance schemes and you will pay a premium. The maximum deposit you can ask for is two months, though one is more usual. Rent in advance is fine in addition to the deposit and some landlords have chosen to take two months rent in advance instead of a deposit.
  8. Guarantors – some landlords feel easier about having a Guarantor, depending on the client group. If you ask for a Guarantor, please be sure that they have the means to meet any debt that the tenant may incur.
    When you have got your tenant, I would suggest you ask for his or her national insurance number and for proofs of identity (passport, driving licence, utility bills in their name). keep copies. Also not their place of work and next of kin.

Remember, you are not a charity, take swift action if you have any problems, check to see if there is a Housing Advice or Housing Aid office in your area that will advise you. If you have any concerns about the standard of your property, the Environmental Services will be happy to come and inspect and point out any problems.

Very best of luck in this new venture.


Housing benefit when renting to a relative

In 2000 I bought a house in Scotland where I then lived. After my marriage in 2002 we moved to England where as my husband, who is in the Army, had been posted. We initially had a residential mortgage on the Scottish property and gained permission from the lender to let it via an agent. The first tenant lived there for three years before moving on. It was then my sister in law moved in. She has lived there for the last three years. Although no tenancy agreements was ever drawn up, she been paying rent and also the council tax.

I have declared the rental income to Inland Revenue, paid for repairs and maintenance and have changed by mortgage to a buy to let mortgage.

My sister in law’s circumstances have now changed and as a result she has sought housing benefit. Although her earnings are such that she meets the criteria for some level of payment she has been assessed as not entitled to any benefit under the 2006 housing benefits regulations 2006. The ‘non-commercial’ nature of the rental has been cited as the reason. As a landlord, what can I do further, as my sister in law cannot pay the rent without this support?

These are always difficult situations. Your sister in law needs to appeal against this decision. You can support her in this by sending rent accounts to prove the property has been let as a commercial tenancy to the previous tenant. This was a long-standing tenant, so I think you can make a case that this was a commercial tenancy and your sister in law moved in on that basis. I would also state that you will evict her if she cannot pay the rent. State your understanding was that a tenancy agreement was not required in writing, provided you had the proof that a tenancy had been created by the payment and acceptance of rent, which your rent accounts will prove.


Passing on tenant information

I am a letting agent in Scotland and we have a landlord who is taking the tenant to court for non payment of, now, three month’s rent. We need to know what paperwork do we have to give the landlord for this – for example, do we have to hand over credit check results and references as we advise our tenants that this information will not be seen or given to anyone out of the office without their written consent.

If you have given this undertaking to your client, then to divulge that information would be a breach of confidentiality. For future reference, it is good practice to have clients sign an authorisation agreeing to allow you to share all information they provide the owner of the property.

I think a statement from yourselves, stating that whilst the information you can give is limited due to confidentiality and data protection, you can confirm credit checks were done and references obtained that would indicate that the client would be a satisfactory tenant, and this is why the tenancy was offered. I cannot see that the actual references/credit checks would be required.

You should, of course, provide a very clear rent account which shows the arrears and also, copies of letters you will have sent when the arrears started to accrue and any responses from the tenant.
That should be sufficient, I would think, for the purposes of possession proceedings on the ground of rent arrears. Make sure all the rent arrears grounds are used, as all will apply.

I hope this helps.


Requesting landlords references

I am considering renting out my property and have used your website to obtain valuable information on tenancy agreements and tax implications. I would like to request tenant references from previous landlords but am unsure of what to ask. Are there standard questions or do I simply write and request references? Is there a standard questionnaire I can use?

Thank you for the kind comments. It starts with your interview with the tenant. Ask for two references minimum – preferably from the last and last but one landlord. The last landlord could lie and give a good reference to get rid of someone, the one before last has nothing to gain and is more likely to be honest. Are you a member of your local landlord’s association? I have found them very helpful and often provide paperwork that can help you. Otherwise, draw up your own reference request – you may need to get your tenant to sign an authorisation that this is acceptable to him.

You want to know:
The dates he lived in the property
Whether there were any issues of anti-social behaviour
How he conducted his tenancy
How he conducted his rent account – ie whether he paid on time, whether he left any rent arrears when he left
How did he leave the property – ie did he give correct notice, was the property left clean and tidy

In addition, a character reference may be helpful.
Also, speak to your local authority – is there a facility through the Accreditation scheme (if there is one) to get a reference from the authority about past tenancies with them?

I hope this is helpful.


Right of entry

Can you clarify the legal right of entry into a tenanted property? for example, if after giving 24 hours notice in writing, can a landlord enter the property if the tenants do not agree and are not present?

No – even with the notice, if the tenant does not agree, you risk action for harassment. I think you need to write a stiff letter advising that as the landlord, you cannot be denied access to inspect for repairs and that you will obtain a court order to gain entry, if you have to. In future, I advise that you get an agreement signed when the tenancy commences that says that you can enter, provided adequate notice has been given. I know it is sometimes necessary to inspect without the tenant being present (provided you have the tenants permission) but I would be very cautious – the tenant could accuse you of theft and various other unpleasant things, if they, or a representative of them, is not there.


Pest control

Is a landlord or a tenant liable for pest control charges after an outbreak of bedbugs in a house with no previous history of pests?

Whose bed is it? That would be my starting point. I believe bed bugs can live in carpets in a dormant state, if the house has been unlived in. I would also say – ask the experts. Whoever deals with infestations in your area will have a wide knowledge of the subject and should be able to indicate how a previously uninfested property now has bedbugs. The answer should indicate responsibility.


Energy assessment

I am recently returned from Belfast to London and looking to rent out my house there. I spoke to a number of letting agents in Belfast one mentioned that there is a requirement for a building energy assessment to be done on the property before I can rent. What do you know about this new rule?

I am unsure about the situation in Belfast, so apologies, but from 1 October in England, all new lettings must have an energy performance certificate for the property. Cost is not excessive, and competition in England is becoming fierce with prices starting at £70-ish but now down to £45-50. If this has been the legislation in Ireland for some time, you will find prices will be competitive. They last five years. The certificate will look at loft insulation, whether there is cavity wall insulation, double glazing, the type of boiler, whether there are energy efficient light bulbs and anything else you can think of!


Unpaid telecom bills

I rent out my spare bedroom to a lodger. My previous lodger left in January. He had his own phone and Internet connection in his room, which he paid for himself. As we got on so well, I stupidly believed him, when he said it was all paid up when he left. However I keep getting a bill from the supplier, which has now been referred to a debt collection agency. I keep returning them to sender, indicating he is no longer at this address. But they still keep sending them and they are quite threatening now.

My question is am I liable for this bill? Or should I just keep on sending them back?

Provided the bills were in the lodger’s name, they should not believe you are liable. You state they are becoming threatening – does this mean you opened them? If they were addressed to your former lodger, you should not have opened them.

I believe you need to write a strongly worded letter, stating that ‘this was your lodger’s debt and he moved out on… Please ensure no further correspondence comes to my address’

‘If you have any contact details, enclose them in the letter. Enclose any (unopened) correspondence in the letter. You may have to do some checking to ensure you are not black-listed for debt.

If the bills are in your name, I think you will have difficulty in escaping the debt.



Lodger bother

We had a lodger who didn’t want a contract or to pay a deposit so that he didn’t have to give notice if he wanted to move out. That was fine as he was a friend who just wanted to stay for a short period. We asked him to move out at the end of July or the beginning of August as we wanted the place back to ourselves. I believe this was enough notice. However, he said he felt not welcome and decided to move out early, he then started demanding repayment of an entire month’s rent!

He said that he had not even spent a night there so does not feel he should have to pay, he was always staying at his girlfriend’s house. The fact that he said he wanted to move out early was fine, I said that we may write a cheque for part repayment of rent should the room be left in good order and asked him to leave that evening. The room was not left in good order and he left some of his belongings. He still has the keys to the house and refused to give them back so obviously I had the locks changed so I would feel secure in my own home. He said that he would collect the rest of his belongings ASAP, he still has not arranged to do so.

I understand that as a lodger which used shared facilities he has very few rights. Have I shot myself in the foot by saying I would give him some money back and is he still effectively lodging as he has not collected the rest of his belongings?

I am amazed by the number of ‘friends’ who find it acceptable to behave in a most unfriendly way to those who have been kind enough to take them in. For future reference, should you take another tenant:
1. Taking a deposit is to protect you, it has nothing to do with whether the lodger gives notice or not;
2. As a lodger, he had minimal rights; a lodging agreement need not be terribly binding, but would at least give you the chance to agree between you what was acceptable; he took offence that you asked him to leave with notice so he left right away, leaving you feeling uncomfortable. An agreement would have allowed you to say goods left for say, one week after he vacated would be disposed of, but you have nothing in writing that would allow you to do that.
3. As he made the decision to leave, he should have removed all his goods and returned the keys – had you wished to get another lodger, you could not do so because his goods were there.
4. The fact he is saying he did not sleep there is irrelevant – his goods were there and he had a rental liability.

I think you have tried to be fair to someone who has behaved quite badly, but I don’t think offering him some of the rent back has shot yourself in the foot. However, you need to be very clear what you are allowing him and why – he chose to leave without notice, you have had to change locks. You should certainly deduct the lock change from any rent payment you think you should return.

My own feelings are that if his goods are still in the property, you cannot re-let and he has a rental liability therefore until he does so. However, as you made it clear that you were not re-letting immediately, that may be a difficult one to argue! Good luck.


Missing keys

A friend of mine has a property which she lets out. Recently the last tenants moved out and back into local authority housing as they could not afford to pay the rent. They left the property in a bad state of repair, repairs that have cost more than their deposit. Upon meeting with tenant at the property and telling him there would be deductions due to damage he grabbed the keys and attempted to drive off saying ‘no deposit, no keys’ my friend’s partner jumped in tenant’s car and grabbed the keys back. Two keys were missing and it was suspected that the previous tenant had been letting himself in to collect mail. I tried to convince my friend to change the locks but she didn’t seem to think it necessary. New tenants have now moved in they recently called to say they could smell gas. An engineer was called and discovered that two screws had been deliberately removed from the boiler.

Is there anything that could oblige my slightly naive friend to do the right thing and change the looks?

I’m afraid not, other than keep re-iterating that she is being very foolish for an expenditure of a maximum of £100 to change the locks. For the sake of her new tenants, who are at risk if someone can enter the property at will, she must get it done.


Noisy neighbours

The house next door rent the property out to Slovakian families.

Over the past two years we’ve had nothing but noise problems with the tenants we have contacted the environment agency and they have recently installed noise monitoring equipment. If the results come back that there is a noise issue with the tenants is there any legal recourse I can take against the landlords? I am looking towards selling the house due to finance. Issues and they are putting of prospective buyers is there anything I can do about this? Any advice would be gratefully received my email address is davidian_26_@hotmail.co.uk

I would expect that if the Environmental Agency are involved, they will be advising you fully of their findings and what action you can take. If this was my area, the anti-social behaviour team would be advising the landlord that action must be taken, and it may be the same thing will happen in your area. I think any steps to obtain damages off the landlord for the perceived loss of possible buyers would be very difficult to prove, given that the property markets at the moment are depressed. Certainly, if the case is proved, the landlord should be serving notice using a ground 14. Be prepared to do a statement for court, if it comes to that. The evidence proved by the noise monitoring equipment should also be used in evidence.

I also wonder whether there is a mediation service in your area – do they perhaps not understand the noise they are making and how disturbing this is?


New owner wants damages

I have recently sold a house. Tenants were living there at the time but had been served notice through the courts. They have now left but the new owner is concerned about the amount of damage throughout the property and is asking me to pay for part of the costs – which I do feel obliged to do. New carpets are required throughout due to water and urine damage, new door frames are needed as the original frames have been removed, and new light fittings and air vents due to damage. The whole house and garden area was left in a shocking state.

We could not gain access to the house before the tenants moved out. The tenants had complained to the local council about myself and the new owner and we were told by a gentleman in the local council not to hassle them.

My question is: would it be possible to claim against the old tenants for the damages maybe through the small claims courts?

Did you take photographs on the day the old tenants moved out? Have you and inventory and/or photos from when the tenancy started? If so, and you know where they are living, you could take them to the Small Claims Court. However, a word of caution – if the ex-tenant can make a case against you that there was bad feeling and they had had to approach the council, the tenants could then say that they are not responsible, spite has motivated you etc. You need clear evidence, receipts to show that the carpets were brand new when the tenant moved in etc. Presumably you retained the deposit, so that would need to come off the list of damages.

It is always better, of course, to make your issues known as the tenant is vacating the property. Good luck.


Gaining access

I have a tenant whose contract is due to expire shortly when I will be moving into the property. I have asked for access to the property as I wish to bring in a builder to look at doing the kitchen prior to my moving back. I have explained that this may require several visits, all of which I would make during the day while the tenant is at work so as to minimise impact. The tenant is not being entirely co-operative. Naturally if new tenants were moving in they would be required to give access for viewings. Is there anything I can do to gain access?

They may be expected to allow viewings in the last month, but no more. I would also say that if they do not allow access for viewings, there is nothing that can be done to force it. I would not be happy to have builders going into my property (which it is to the end of the tenancy) whilst I was at work, and certainly not several times. You must ensure that you have their signed permission before you go into the property during the day – if not, they could believe that their quiet enjoyment is being disturbed and they are being harassed.


Troublesome tenants

Our neighbouring house is one that is privately rented. The landlord has recently moved a family that he knew had troublesome in another house which they also rented from him. This family are dealing drugs from the very house.

Is there anything that we can do to have this family moved and anything we can do about the landlord placing these people here knowing what they are like and what they do?

Drug dealing is a criminal act – inform the police. Speak to your local authority and see if there is any action they can take, but be aware, these kind of cases can take a long time to sort out.


Not so quite enjoyment

I am one of four students of Cardiff University currently in the second year of a tenancy which we arranged through a letting agency. We signed a standard student contract for the academic year 2006/7, which consists of half rent payable for July and August, and full rent payable for September – June. In January 2007 we renewed our contract for another academic year.

We had experienced some problems with the landlady in the first year. She did not provide 24 hours written notice before entering the property, as our contract states (sometimes not even verbal notice) and on occasions she entered without knocking, just letting herself in with her own key. In November 2006 she informed us that the doors on our bedrooms would need replacing, and that this could not wait until we had vacated the house for the holidays. For us, this meant several weeks of a builder turning up in the evenings (as this was the only convenient time for him) to change the doors. Each person experienced a number of days with no door. However, we were as accommodating as we could be, and made no complaint to our letting agency about what was going on.

Unfortunately things have now got worse. Complaints have been made to the letting agency about damp in the house and the landlady has placed blame on a tumble-drier we purchased from the previous tenants, which broke within a month of us moving in.

The breakage was visible, as the door became completely separate from the rest of the unit, and the tumble-drier was unusable.

The house is in a terrace, and all external walls have damp and obvious mould on the base. The tumble-drier was removed, as requested by the landlady. Since this the walls have been repainted, and the mould has reappeared, making it apparent to all that the tumble-drier was not the cause of the mould. The complaint has still been lodged with our letting agency however, that it was our fault that this problem has arisen.

A major breach of our contract occurred in December 2007 when, without warning, two large chests of drawers were delivered to our house. Despite telling the deliverymen that we had no knowledge of the chests being delivered, we were bluntly told that it was ‘not their problem’ and that they had been told the landlady was going to contact us prior to the delivery.

Each chest of drawers was sizable, 100 x 175 x 50 cm, and both were left in our hallway, the main access route to the house. When we contacted the landlady to inform he they had arrived, she told us she would ‘be round tomorrow to move them’. Days and weeks passed before the drawers were eventually moved.

The location of the drawers obviously created a fire hazard, as there was limited access from upstairs to the front and back door, which was reported to the letting agency and the landlady.

The entire Christmas holidays (almost four weeks) passed before the drawers were eventually moved, by which time we had all returned to the property. After being out during the day, we arrived home to find that the landlady had entered the premises, moved the drawers into two of the rooms, had emptied the contents of existing drawers into the new set and had removed the existing drawers. Understandably, the two girls in question were furious with what had happened. We contacted the letting agency with no success. We rang the landlady direct, who admitted to the breach of the contract, but insisted, ‘It had to be done…I could have dumped the stuff on the floor’.

We then approached our student union for advice, and booked an appointment to see a lawyer who gives free consultations. During the appointment, we were told that our landlady had indeed broken the contract, but that, realistically, any action against her would almost certainly lead to our deposit being partially, if not completely withheld. We were also advised to contact the City Council, and for one of their officers to come and complete a damp survey on the house to confirm, in fact, that there are structural causes behind the mould that has appeared. This is currently pending.

Our main concern, other than obviously about the possibility of losing our deposit, has been brought to our attention by the landlady in the past few weeks. Our landlady via a phone call informed us that building work was to be carried out on our house in the middle of June. This work consists of demolition of the back lean-to bathroom and foundations being laid for a new extension. In the course of this proposed work, our downstairs bathroom will obviously be unusable, as will the garden, and the living room adjoining the bathroom. There is no back access to the house, and so all workmen will be requiring front door access.

We think that the start of this work occurring in a period of time where we are living in the house and paying for the privilege is unacceptable. During the period of the day while the builders are in the house, few rooms will be available for use without being disturbed, as in addition to the living room and downstairs bathroom, the hallway and kitchen will provide the route from the front door to the back of the house. We have contacted the landlady about this; she is unwilling to delay work until July (the half rent period for next year’s tenants) as she says that there will not be enough time for everything to be finished. We have argued that, should this be the case then the house should not have been made available for next year. As she has not budged on the matter, we have contacted the letting agency. They have been made no apparent effort to contact the landlady, or indeed attempt to postpone the work. In the past few days we have been to the Citizens Advice Bureau, but they have not been able to give us any idea of how now to pursue this matter.

Our concern is that we have signed contracts but it would appear, as tenants, we have no legal rights and no way of challenging what our landlady is doing. What advice would you have for us on the matter?

It is rare that you will ever read this from me, but go back to CAB and ask them who the prosecuting authority is in your area where harassment is taking place. There is no question that this is what is happening. The last few weeks of the academic year may require you to arrange what you are doing next year and you should not, therefore, have the worry of this work and the dirt and dust that will get into all your things. They should also be the ones who can set your mind at rest about the deposit and can handle on action if she attempts to withhold it unfairly. The other preferred options for me would be that you contact the local authority and see if they undertake any actions, say from a Tenants Advisory Service or Housing Aid office. The Accreditation service, if there is one in your area, may also like to know about this landlord, who is giving private renting a bad name.


Dilapidated rental properties

I am the owner of a property in Leeds in an area a number of houses have been let privately. The houses are now becoming run down and are devaluing my home. The gardens are full of old furniture, cables running down the front and backs of houses. I even have a cable going over my property (Ii think this is for one house having sky and the others using it FOC).

I want to find out who owns these properties. I have tried to ask the tenants but most are Polish and don’t understand what I am asking. Is there someone I can report this matter to? How can I get this situation rectified.

Environmental Services are who you need to contact. They can get the landlord’s addresses for these properties and contact them, if the situation is that bad. Certainly, I would expect they would be concerned about furniture in the gardens because of the fear of vermin and the electrical safety aspects. Good luck.


Recovering the cost of damage

With my wife I own a property in Neasden, North London. We paid £30,000 pounds to fix the place up so that it became a lovely little home.

I insured my property for damage and contents as a buy to let, with the letting handled by professionals. I then signed an agreement with a management company.

The management company then decided to let my property out to a council tenant. It turns out she/he/they were heavy drug abusers and they were evicted from the property. They totally destroyed my property causing damage to the rune of £15,000.

Where do I stand if the council has told my management company that they will only reimburse us £500 pounds – just to replace the front door with security costs £1,400 alone. My walls have been kicked in and punched in along with my kitchen cupboards, light fittings and door handles ripped out.

The tenants also fraudulently purchased goods in my wife’s name which has resulted in giving us a bad credit rating.

If you could share some light on the subject that would be greatly appreciated.

I think you need a solicitor. I don’t quite understand why the council have offered £500 re-imbursement – surely it should be all or nothing? What references did the agent get? I find it difficult to believe that the tenant left the council tenancy in an immaculate fashion. Get an explanation from the agent – why did he take this tenant? Did he visit him in his last property, to see how that tenancy was conducted? Did he get a guarantor? I think this is a very sad and disappointing case, but you may have to make the claim on the insurance and put it down as a bad experience.



Release of guarantors

My husband and I acted as guarantors for our daughter and her boyfriend who jointly took on a tenancy 12 months ago. The tenancy agreement is for a six month period with a two month notice.

Sadly the relationship has not lasted and my daughter wishes to leave. If her ex-boyfriend agrees to continue with the tenancy (highly unlikely!) can both myself and my husband remove our names as guarantors – obviously, under the circumstances, we do not wish to act as guarantor for him.

Once our daughter has left, then one guarantor will automatically be removed – I presume. Please advise.

Without seeing what you actually signed, it is difficult to be clear. If your daughter advises the landlord that she wishes to be released from the tenancy, this automatically ends the tenancy for the other party and the landlord then would have to evict if the then illegal occupier does not vacate. If he provided his own guarantor, the landlord may be happy to release you from the agreement, but if you were the only guarantors, then the landlord is likely to be unhappy to release you until he knows that all costs have been met.



Live-in landlord question

I am renting out two rooms in my house and occupying a third, the kitchen, bathroom and garden being common usage. I have recently started a relationship and am spending more and more time at my boyfriend’s house. I keep most of my belongings at my house, I call in every day and my mail is still sent there, but I’m spending most nights with my boyfriend.

Can I still be considered a live-in landlord if I don’t sleep there at all? And can I therefore treat the house as my main residence under the Rent-a-Room scheme?

The Rent-a-Room scheme provides a tax concession to those who let furnished accommodation to a lodger in their only or family home – your only or family home being ‘the one where you/your family live for most of the time’. In those circumstances it allows you to receive to to £4,250 a year tax-free.

If you find yourself living full time with your boyfriend, you cannot really be said to be a live-in landlord and the scheme would not apply. In addition, there is the issue that your tenants could claim that they are no longer lodgers but tenants and therefore have far greater rights. The Rent-a-Room scheme is explained on the Government website.



Lodger’s council tax

I advertised to rent a room in my house, I already rent the other room out. My advert stated that I wanted a professional. A guy came to view the property and knocked me down on the rent which was fine. We signed a contract and then when we discussed bills and council tax, he said that he didn’t have to pay council tax as he was a student and was on a six month’s work placement. That means I’m liable for the extra council tax payment as my other lodger can’t afford to pay for all of it on her own, hence why I wanted a professional. I’ve checked his response and he has put that he is a professional – not a student. Does this invalidate the contract or could I negotiate with him to increase the rent to cover the amount of the council tax?

I would say that he lied and you could therefore say that you granted the lodging on the basis of a false statement. First – check with council tax – is any discount allowed for him? I think it is unlikely, but check it – it makes your case stronger to the student. As it is only a lodging agreement and not a tenancy, the guy has only minimal rights to stay, so discuss with him – if he does not want to make any contribution to the costs, then you will serve him 1 weeks notice. I am afraid as a housing professional, who worked very hard for qualifications to be considered a professional, I feel quite aggrieved that he could class himself as a professional when he has not yet graduated!



Repossession

I have rented a property since March 2004. But now it seems the landlord has failed to pay his mortgage and the bailiffs are coming to evict him and ‘any occupiers’ which presumably includes me. I am looking for alternative accommodation for myself and my nine year old daughter, but as I work full-time and private properties are in short supply, I am becoming more concerned that this eviction, which is not my fault, will lead not only to us becoming homeless, but to the loss of all our possessions, as we have nowhere to store them.

My landlord was contacted and said ‘leave it with me I’ll call you back in a couple of hours’. That was a week ago. The mobile phone number they gave me never picks up now.

I have appealed to both the county court bailiffs and the solicitors acting on the lender’s behalf and neither are willing to give any leeway whatsoever regarding extending the time given to quit the property. I don’t know what to do.

The council homeless section couldn’t give me an appointment for two weeks.

If we could find somewhere it would be a blessing in disguise, as the landlord has never had gas appliances inspected, we’ve had no cold running water in the kitchen for two years and several lights aren’t working/sockets are unsafe. However, I do think my daughter and I are being evicted when we have done absolutely nothing wrong and therefore the landlord is in breach of tenancy in the respect that he has failed to maintain the property when requested, has failed to follow correct eviction procedure, and has also seriously breached our ability to enjoy the property peacefully!

What can I do? I’m busy looking at properties when I can… and calling the council daily to see if they have had any cancellations, but if nothing comes through for us we’ll be out on the street with nothing. Is there really nothing we can do about it, and can I take legal action against my landlord to claim back the monies for lost possessions/financial hardship and/or stress caused by his non-payment of the mortgage and resulting eviction?

Yes, you could take action against the landlord, but given that the property is being repossessed for non-payment of mortgage, how likely is it that you would be able to recover anything? The property’s state is such that Environmental Services should have been notified and action taken – though of course, you may have been homeless sooner; but then you would have been in control of your situation, whereas now, the court is. You need to look up storage facilities in Yellow Pages – the cost does not usually seem prohibitive and is preferable to losing everything. This is a very unpleasant situation and one that there seems no way out of. I discussed a similar case with our local court just after Christmas and whilst acknowledging the landlord had not followed the correct procedure, could offer no assistance in avoiding the situation.

I think that unless you are very lucky, you have a few unpleasant weeks ahead of you, in either temporary accommodation provided by the council or with family or friends. I am so sorry and hope you get somewhere.


Anti social neighbours

I own a flat in a converted house and am now having problems renting it out due to antisocial neighbours in one of the flats. I would like to find out what my options are – can the residents be forced to move or can the leaseholder be forced to improve the state of repair of the property?

All three flats are leasehold, and the freehold is held jointly. One of the flats is occupied by an antisocial family, with one of the parents and the child registered disabled. The flat is in a bad state of repair inside and out (due to landlords not doing any work to it in approximately 30 years, and the residents themselves damaging it during arguments). The family have been in arrears with rent in the past, and do not fulfil their tenancy agreement to keep the property in order. The family refuse to leave the flat to allow works to take place, and also refuse to move to any property the Council find for them.

My tenants say they cannot sleep at night due to the screaming arguments held daily by the family and will move out soon. The police have stopped responding to their calls reporting antisocial behaviour.

What do you think my options are in this case?

Environmental Services should be able to take action on the noise issue so contact them. Does your local authority have an accreditation scheme, or an anti-social behaviour team? They should also be able to take actions against them. The difficulty often though is that even though there are teams that can help, it is getting the victim tenants prepared to follow the complaints through. I am surprised the police are not being more proactive in this and are no longer responding to complaints – this is a high-profile subject with Government. It may be worth enquiring whether there is a crime and disorder partnership. Environmental Services will be able to get the bad landlord’s address and hopefully, will be able to take some action against him.


One hour notice

I am a resident landlord. I have three tenants, the only communal areas being the bathroom/toilet and kitchen.

The wife of one of the tenants wife moved in last November but as a gesture of goodwill I did not charge them as a couple for that month as he said he was kind of broke. After four weeks I started having a few problems with the wife who became abusive towards me. In mid December I this couple four week’s notice to leave.

However, they found an alternative room almost immediately and less than a week later they gave me a one hour’s notice that they would be leaving and that they wanted the deposit back.

I decided to give the tenant £100 (one hundred pounds) from the £240 that he had given me as that was the only money I had on me. He said he wanted it all.

I said that I had the decency to give you four week’s notice and you have given me one hour. I told him that if I found a tenant by 31 December I would return the rest of the deposit. (His rent fell due on the 1 of every month, so I was covered by rent up until the 31 December). He did not like this but he left.

He has now been sending me text messages threatening to take me to court, saying he has the right to receive his deposit.

I do not know if I am doing the right thing. I gave him four weeks, he gave me one hour. I returned £100 but what about the rest? What happens if my room remains empty? What can he do to me?

I think under most circumstances, when a lodger (they are not tenants if you live in the same property) or a tenant has been given notice, they would not be held to notice periods on their side, if they have found alternative accommodation. Also, as the rent was paid until 31 December, this would count as some notice – I think from what you say, probably one or two weeks.

Now the deposit. You returned £100 ‘as that was the only money I had on me’. You can’t return a deposit on that basis! You are entitled to reasonable time to repay the deposit but, unless you have good reason not to do so, should return the full amount.

You gave him notice, so risked the room being empty anyway. He could take you to the small claims court and unless you have a very good reason for not returning the whole of the deposit, like damage, he will win. You appear to have acted reasonably for the most part with this couple but perhaps not thought it through sufficiently. For future reference, if this happens again, immediately put in writing to the tenant what the increased charge will be for two people sharing – a figure not based on double the rent but a reasonable increase to reflect increased electricity etc. As your tenant was ‘broke’ and perhaps unlikely to have been able to pay, you could legitimately therefore deduct that charge from the deposit. However, you would have had to have asked for this at the time, you cannot impose a charge retrospectively.


Parking dispute

I own a modern house (which I rent out) where the parking bays are located separately to the houses. I have the freehold title for the house and the parking bay, marked with the number of the house. The house and parking bay are clearly shown on the land registry map as my freehold property. In addition to this freehold title covering the land and parking space, I am a shareholder of a company which owns communal gardens, bin areas and three visitor bays in the vicinity.

Without my knowledge or consent the company set up an agreement with a parking enforcement company to control parking not only on the three visitor bays which they own/manage, but also on the individual owner bays. I parked in my bay and was clamped. The company has no control over my house or parking bay. It does have authority over the green areas and visitors bays, but I have never asked them or anyone to manage my house or parking bay.

The parking clamping company refuses to acknowledge my complaint, saying that I was not displaying a permit and they operate in the area. They refer me to the residents’ company. The residents company refuses to even respond to me even though they have set up an agreement with this parking company covering my land, not theirs, without my consent. Both sides refuse to listen to the fact that I have never invited a parking enforcement company to operate on my land, I have never asked the residents company to control/manage my land, and I don’t need to display a permit on my lawfully owned property.

After weeks of letters and no responses, I need to progress this. Who should I sue – the parking enforcement company or the residents company?
Or both?

I am maddened by the discourtesy of companies, organisations and individuals who refuse to acknowledge your complaint. I think you need legal advice and if I were suing, I would go for the organ-grinder, not the monkey, who in this case must surely be the residents’ company. Good luck!

By the way, do other residents display a permit when in their designated bay? Be careful that you cannot be made to look as though you are being awkward and refusing to do what others do, on a point of principle – the clampers may be firmly instructed that only a permit indicates that someone is legally parked, rather than say an opportunistic parker who sees a gap (because you are out) and parks there illegally.

 


Council tax

I bought an apartment in 2006 on a ‘buy to let’ mortgage and started renting it through an agency. The tenants are now leaving, which is OK as I can get new tenants. But I have just received a council tax bill from the local council saying that I owe money for an ’empty property charge’ between May 2007 and March 2008. What does this mean? I presume they think the apartment is empty and that the council tax hasn’t been paid?

What are my rights as a landlord?

The agents should have ensured that the tenants did what they were supposed to and registered for council tax. However, provide as much proof as you can that you had tenants (copy agreements, rent accounts etc.) and they should try and pursue them for the debt, not you.


Care costs for tenant parents

A few years ago, my parents needed to raise some capital and were considering selling the family home, downsizing and moving into rented accommodation. Fortunately, I was in a position to help and, after several family discussions, I agreed to buy the house from them and allow them to live in the property rent free for the remainder of their lives.

They are the only members of our family still living in the house and I own and live in my own home at the other end of the country.

I was recently told that because my parents were living in the house rent free, if later in life they had to go into care, I could be forced to sell the property to pay for their care. Is this the case?

If so, what is the legislation that covers this and is there any way around it?

This is really a Social Security question. However, I have made some enquiries. I cannot see what legislation there is, and certainly my contact was unaware that this would be the case, but each case would be considered on its merits. Provided you paid something like the correct market value, transferred ownership etc., then there should not be an issue about you having to sell the property as it is not theirs. However, bear in mind, that if the circumstances you outline come to pass, your parents financial circumstances would be investigated – when you bought, what they have done with the money, whether they should be able to fund themselves etc. Certainly in cases I know of, the bank accounts for a number of years have been examined to ensure that large sums have not been transferred in a manner which could indicate that they were trying to escape responsibility for their own care costs.


Pest control

The property that I let suffered from mice two years ago; a problem that I resolved, with no recurrence. My question to you is: do I have to tell a prospective new tenant about this?

My answer where pests is concerned is that this is a natural occurrence. Anyone can get the odd mouse in, and if you are really unlucky, you get a female who breeds. I do not think you need to advise, any more than you do that you had a burst two years ago. However, you can buy plug-in devices that are supposed to protect using ultra-sound and deterring mice, rats, even cockroaches. If you decided to buy a couple (£20-ish each) you are showing what a sensible landlord you are, who realises no-one is immune to the odd nuisance and are guarding against it.



Dog nuisance

I have let my flat to a tenant who keeps a Rottweiler dog.

I have today been approached by someone saying that this dog pinned their son against a wall, growling as if to attack. Last night the dog chased the boy so that he fell and suffered cuts to his hands and legs.

There is a public lane at the back of the flat which is used to park cars. The shop next door has a back entrance in which it places rubbish. And the young boy who suffered the fall works in this shop and on both occasions was putting rubbish in the bins when the dog incidents occurred.

I have told the parent that I have no responsibilities for this occurring and that the responsibilities would lie with the tenant. I have said that I will speak to the tenant but that is all I can do. She has informed me that she will go to the police and that she believes that I should do more.

Can you tell me where I stand in this situation? Also, if my tenant’s dog was to bite someone, would I also be liable?

I think if this animal bites someone, there can be no responsibility on your part. However, I also feel you have a responsibility as a landlord to protect your neighbours from nuisance, which this dog is. Check your tenancy agreement. How long until it ends? Serve a s.21 to end at the end of the tenancy. If it is still several months to the end of the tenancy, then you need to start compiling a body of evidence to take to Court for eviction on a ground 14 – causing a nuisance to neighbours. The first steps must be a warning letter, saying this is intolerable and you will be forced to take action. Get statements from the neighbours who are complaining. Speak to the Police – should this dog not be muzzled when it is out? So what I am advising is – get rid of this tenant. It will not be as fast as the victims parents would like, but you need to do something to prove you are being responsible.



Landlord associations

I am in the process of building up my property portfolio, purchasing several residential houses and flats during the past six months. My questions to you are: as I continue to grow my business would it be wise to join a landlord association, and if so, is it a legal requirement. I wish to become a professional landlord and would lean towards membership of some organisation or another.

I would always advise that you join a landlord association – many areas have a local organisation and I think Residential Landlords Association of the National Landlords Association could put you in touch. The advantages are sometimes in the benefits they provide, but also in the comfort of having someone there that will have experienced the same things you are. It is also worth speaking to your local authority – does it have a Landlord Accreditation scheme? This can also offer incentives. You can be a member of both organisations. No, it not a legal requirement, but a recent discussion document Encouraging Responsible Lettings said that only 2 per cent of landlords belonged to any kind of organisation, which they felt was unacceptable and could explain why there are poor standards in the private sector and seemed to be indicating that this could be a way forward, but certainly nothing at present says it is a legislative requirement.



Dwelling with no heat

My husband and I live in a farmhouse converted to a semi. We use solid fuel (woodstove) for heating, but next door has been vacant as it has no heating. The owner of the property recently allowed a young Polish man who works for him to live there. I don’t believe he is charging him rent, but this young man is paying single-occupancy council tax. Our neighbour also has had three or four ‘guests’ living with him – they moved in three or four days after he did, and they make a lot of noise. We also have a wall in our house crumbling from damp – the plaster is falling off. New windows were put in a year ago, but the house was never rendered around the frames and there are gaps between the window and wall that were filled with foam and left exposed. There are broken pavers all over the place. We were promised a year ago these problems would be fixed, but they still remain.

Is the landlord allowed to have tenants in a place with no heat if he doesn’t charge them rent, but they pay the council tax? Are our neighbours allowed to have perpetual ‘visitors’ while paying single-occupancy tax? Do we have any recourse, or do we just have to put up with the noise and crumbling walls, or move?

Seem several issues here.

* You do not have to put up with noise – have you discussed it with your neighbour? If you have and this has had no success, discuss with the landlord – he should be taking action to get the tenants to quieten the noise down. You could tell him, pleasantly, that you have been advised that you can contact your local Environmental Services – they will usually monitor noise and can take action where it appears excessive. He may prefer to do something himself, particularly as this could bring unwelcome attention.

* Environmental Services could also investigate your living conditions – the broken paving and damp could be detrimental to your health and safety and they could perhaps order the landlord to get the work done. However, this could be detrimental to your relationship with the landlord. It may be better in the first place to put your concerns about your property in writing to the landlord and ask him when the work will be carried out. Whoever fitted the windows has not finished them off and should be called back. It may be worth asking someone to investigate the damp, likewise the paving, get quotes for the work and ask the landlord would he like you to have the work done and deduct the cost from the rent. See what response you get.

* Is the landlord aware of the visitors? If they are really visitors, family or friends visiting for a few days, there is no problem. However, if the tenant is sub-letting to other migrants, that is another question. The property would then be classed as a house in multiple occupation and the landlord would then have to meet requirements set by Environmental Services and would be responsible for the council tax.

* Environmental Services would say that a tenancy must have a fixed point of heating. I think the landlord is aware of this, which is why he is asking no rent. A court may take the view that the tenant is paying rent, by virtue of the work he does for the landlord. However, I don’t think this is something you can take up, if the resident of the property doesn’t do so himself. If Environmental Services get involved, they may well check up on the Polish gentleman’s status.

I hope this helps. Good luck.



Refusal to provide spare key

A couple of years ago I acquired a property with a sitting tenant. When I acquired the property the previous landlord provided me with a spare key to the property which I have held since but have never had to use. Recently, the tenant has had the locks at the property changed without my consent. I have asked him to provide me with a spare key for the new locks for emergency purposes. He has told me that I cannot have a key and that he has received advice from the local council that he is not legally required to give me a key.

Can this be right? Obviously, as in the past, this key would be for emergency purposes only. In reality, any access to the property for maintenance and inspection in the past has been while he has been present by previous arrangement.

I am afraid it is. I would always recommend to both landlord and tenant that the landlord should keep a spare key, for emergencies only, but you cannot force the tenant to provide you with a key. I wonder why, after all this time, the tenant has changed the locks and is refusing a key, when you have never improperly used the key you had? Try to keep the lines of communication open, as it may be something that is nothing to do with you has frightened him or given him cause to be suspicious. If you don’t insist and perhaps offer to hold a key for him, or have another key cut for emergency use, he may come round to offering it to you. If you are really unhappy about the situation, you can evict him on a section 21 notice, but if he is a good tenant otherwise, it may not be worth it.



Liability for bills

I have been renting a house for eight months with a so called ‘friend’. She had money troubles recently and moved out to live rent free with another friend without settling any of the bills or giving any notice to me.

I then gave three required months notice and am due to move out soon. The utility bills and council tax were all due and I have paid my half except for the phone bill of £560 which for some reason is in the landlords name. Some 80 per cent of this bill was for her calls.

I am using the money I would have owed the gas towards her portion of the council tax as they will pursue me forthe full amount so I am not trying to get out of paying my share overall. I have tried to get her to pay her share but to no avail.

The landlord is now threatening me with court action for the outstanding phone bill but I think they should be
pursuing my friend as I am willing to prove that I am paying my half overall but allocating the phone money towards the more pressing council tax. As the phone bill is in the landlord’s name what is the chance they will be successful in the court action?

The landlord has tried to phone my friend but had no response so seems to be putting all the responsibility on me. I understand it is unfair on the landlord but I think if they are to pursue anyone it should be the other tenant.

This is so difficult, because I have great sympathy with both you and the landlord. I think as you sound to have been joint tenants, you were jointly and severally liable for all the bills. You know where she is, so you could give the landlord her address and let him try and recover the money from her, but what are the chances of getting it? Not very likely, I would think. And in that case, he will come to you. Have you any leverage with your ‘friend’s’ family? Are they aware she is leaving debt which you will be pursued for? In a court, I would imagine the landlord would have to explain why the bill was still in his name so may dismiss it, but I cannot be sure that this will happen.



Debt recovery agencies

My previous tenants left my house in such a filthy condition that their deposit did not cover the cleaning and maintenance required to make the house habitable once again. I have an outstanding debt of £369.27 which I am unable to collect. I am reticent to throw good money after bad and take this matter to the small claims court as my previous experience in an unrelated matter resulted in no payments despite winning my case and appointing a bailiff. I am considering using a debt recovery agency that charges a fee based upon a percentage of monies recovered, I know more and more landlords are using these agencies, but really don’t know enough to with no fee up front. I would welcome your opinion and advice on these agencies.

I really don’t know enough about these agencies to offer anything other than a personal opinion. I think you need to read the agreement very carefully; check what steps they are prepared to take; how long have they been running; what kind of success rate they have. I always recommend the small claims court, but as you say, even when judgement is yours, they do not collect the debt. The tenants would get a County Court Judgement against their names, but you may find a debt recovery agency can also take steps to ensure the tenant gets a very poor credit rating. I think it is worth investigating along the lines I have suggested. If you decide to use them and are satisfied with the service, let your local landlord association know – they will be interested in your experience.



Tracker rent

Is there any reason why I can’t have rent tracking Interest rates stated in my assured shorthold tenancy agreement?

Also, can I offer a discount for prompt payment – say 10 per cent if cleared funds are received into a nominated bank account on or before a certain date each month?
Could this in anyway get caught up in the tenant deposit protection rules? I don’t see why it should.
Following on from this, is there any reason why I can’t give tenants a choice of a ‘fixed discount’ rent (with penalties for late payment) or ‘tracker rents’.

This is the first time I have come across anyone suggesting a tracker rent. I think you need to discuss this with a solicitor with very good housing law experience. I do not think this would be considered fair to tenants who would be signing agreements not knowing what the rent would be over the period of their tenancy. By all means, use the tracker rate to fix the rent increase after a period of tenancy, but fluctuating throughout the tenancy would cause complications for the tenant, and quite probably for you. I think the discount would also create a problem with the tenancy – if the tenant does not pay, what is the sum by which he or she is in arrears? I know that you will say it is for the full sum and I would agree with you, but a court may think otherwise. If your tenant loses his or her job and has to claim housing benefit, he or she will never get the discount because of the way housing benefit is paid. I would seek other advice, as I said earlier, but strongly believe that landlords need to make things as straightforward as they can, for their benefit and their tenants.


Summerhouse clues

Can my landlord charge me rent for living in his summerhouse? Is this legal? Also he sometimes lives in there himself and rents out the other three rooms in his house.

I think you have to look at it the other way – why would he let someone live there without recompense? It is very difficult to advise without knowing the full circumstances and exactly what facilities the summerhouse offers. However, as he lives there himself sometimes, I can only assume that it is suitable for accommodation. Only if it was not suitable could it be said to be illegal, though of course, there may be something in his deeds which prohibits it being used for more than one accommodation. Environmental Services would advise with regard to the standard of facilities needed. The main difficulty may be in claiming housing benefit if you do not have a proper tenancy, but again, cannot advise on that without more detail.


Flooded Property?

I have a terraced property let out to a young lady claiming DSS benefits, all legal and above board. Unfortunately, earlier today, due to the excessive rains and a river bursting its banks nearby, the property has been flooded and the family (and everyone on the same street) has had to be evacuated for their own safety.

I am not particularly worried about rent or non-receipt of rent at this stage as I feel sure the council will continue to pay. However my question is: what is my liability to the tenant? For example, would I have to pay for temporary accommodation whilst the property is dried out and cleaned up? Would the situation be any different whether or not the tenant was working and paying the full rent?

Incidentally, I have a very good relationship with the tenant – I just need to know where I stand.

Easy bit first – your tenant working and paying rent himself would make no difference to the circumstances – a housing benefit claim is the tenant’s right.

The flooding has been quite horrific and many people are in the same situation as your tenant. I would have expected that your buildings insurance would have covered your tenants as this should cover the cost of alternative accommodation. The flooding is not your fault, but then, neither is it your tenants. If you were living in the property, you would expect your insurance company to cover it, and the same applies to your tenants. The only other element to consider would be whether your tenants could claim themselves as homeless, in the hope of obtaining a council or housing association property, though it sounds as though your area has been badly hit and there are probably many other families in the same situation so they may not be able to offer any help.



Buying tenanted property

I am in the process of buying a flat as a buy-to-let investment. The flat already has a tenant who has just renewed his agreement with the letting agent. Although the rental was valued above the mortgage payments, the tenant is actually paying less than the rental value. This means I will be about £40 out of pocket every month. This is no problem as we where aware of this when we agreed to buy the flat.

My concern is that, since we are already going to be out of pocket every month, we do not have to pay out any more than necessary in letting agent fees and the like. Since we plan to keep the tenants that are already in the flat, and plan to manage it ourselves my questions are:
1) Are we obliged to pay the agent anything (a finder’s fee, for example)?
2) Will the current agreement automatically terminate when the property is sold or do we have to fulfil the agreement already in place?
3) Do we have to sign another agreement with this agent?

P.S. The agent selling the property is also the agent that deals with the letting (if that makes any difference).

I cannot see that you are duty bound to continue the letting agreement that was entered into by the previous owner. However, as there is a tenant in your new property, it may be courteous to pay some kind of finder’s fee. I think I would speak to the vendor, and ask him to get this sorted out before the property is signed over; a new tenancy agreement would be needed with your name on it, as you are the only person who can evict the tenant, should it become necessary. Explain to the vendor that you wish to manage the property yourself and get him to clarify it with the agent.


Parents Renting

I recently purchased my parents’ house where we all live. Both my parents are receiving pension credit and my mother is receiving DLA.

Paying the mortgage has become a bit of a drain on me. There are at least three rooms I could sub-let if my parent were not there. Meanwhile having them live in the house means the heating has to be on continuously.

For these reasons I would like to charge them a weekly rent. A friend recently mentioned that they could get Housing Benefit to help them pay the rent. Given that I am their son, how would this be viewed in the legal sense? Could I charge them rent at the market rate with a proper tenancy agreement in place? I am worried that benefits department could misread the situation.

I think your all living together would make it very difficult. At its most straightforward, you would be a resident landlord. Therefore the best your parents would be would be lodgers without any rights in the property. You would not, therefore, get what you would consider to be market rent.

If you decided to move out, leaving your parents in the property, you could then issue them with a formal tenancy agreement, but I think the benefits department, or Housing Benefits in particular, would look at these circumstances as not constituting a commercial tenancy and possibly having been created to take advantage of the benefit system; they would be unlikely to pay anything. The part about not a commercial tenancy would also apply if you remained in the property and asked them to claim housing benefit as lodgers.

I can understand your frustrations, and it seems this was a situation which you had not considered when you purchased the property. I would be inclined to discuss the situation with them, in that they have an income, some of which must be excess. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask them to cover the cost of the heating which is over what would be considered normal. It must be cheaper for them to share your house than to live on their own. I also think that if they realised the serious money troubles you have which must be causing great stress to word your question as you have, they would insist on helping as much as they are able.


Number of tenants & facilities

A neighbour’s house has recently been sold and we understand that it will soon be used as student accommodation. We were not greatly surprised at this as we live in a university town. However we understand that the now slightly extended house (a small three bed semi was previously extended on the first floor into five very small bedrooms with one kitchen and bathroom). So there will be a minimum of seven students – and possibly eleven in total. Is there any legal requirement regarding space and kitchen/bathrooms per student? We believe that it will be rented to foreign students who may well end up being housed in, to my mind, extremely cramped and unsuitable conditions.

You are quite right – five should be the maximum if there is only one bathroom and toilet. I would contact Environmental Services, who can tell you what the space standard is. They should have been contacted anyway if this is the first time it has been let to anything other than a family. The other place you can contact is the University’s Student Services – they may be able to reassure you that the property will not be overcrowded if it is left to them.



Sale of property


I would like to sell my rental property but my tenants have five months of their tenancy left. Can I sell the property even so?

Yes, you can, provided you make it clear you are selling with a tenant. You cannot end the tenancy before the six months end; you would need to write to your tenant, transferring the ownership to the new owner. Rent would then go to him and he could evict at the end of the 6 months, if he wishes.



Housing standards

I live in a shared house in Milton Keynes which they say is a five bedroom house although it’s really only a four bedroom house with what was the dining room used as a fifth bedroom room was a dining room. What is now used as the dining room is located directly off the kitchen. Is this allowed?

There are five people living at the address and we only have one fridge/freezer for all of us. This does not have enough room. Should the landlord provide another one?

Should there be locks on the bedroom doors? Should there be fire doors? Especially the one located next to the kitchen? And finally if the correct standards are not being met, does this mean my contract is void or invalid?

You need to discuss this with Environmental Services; the landlord should have done this anyway as the rules have changed to include student accommodation and this did increase the standards. They will be able to address all issues regarding the size and location of bedrooms and fire doors and the like. I would expect that if the five occupants are not members of the same family, some form of lock should be on the doors.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask the landlord to provide a further fridge-freezer – if he wishes to let to five, with the increased rental income this will bring, a further fridge-freezer is the least he should do, as it will be there for the next tenants.

Does it void the agreement? I don’t think it would, necessarily, though you could try this tack if you wish, but the landlord may not agree. I think I would see what Environmental Health say, which may add some weight to your argument. Remember, you viewed the property and accepted it – you had an opportunity to express concerns and walk away, then.



Opening mail

My husband let a house to a family member. The tenant has left the property having informed us the previous week that she had a new tenancy and then gave two days notice of her moving date with no forwarding address. The property is in a state of disrepair and the tenant has removed fittings which were installed at her expense but in doing so has caused damage. Also there are piles of rubbish and dog excrement.

She has had 10 days to collect her mail or arrange for it to be redirected and has not done so. I have now opened the mail and found she has water rates and council tax arrears as well debt recovery schemes threatening court action. I opened the mail in order to get in touch with the agencies to inform them the tenant has left the property. I have also informed the tenant via a third party that I have read the mail and will forward it to her.

However she is claiming that I have committed a criminal offence by interfering with her mail and claims to have reported me to the police.

Do we need to take any steps with regard to her moving from the property to prevent claims of eviction? Where do we stand with the question of the debts and the mail, and what steps should be taken (if any)?


The first thing I would do would be to take photos of the dirt and damage. She should be charged for this and I would expect to deduct it from her deposit. If she did not pay one, then Small Claims Court is the answer, if you have her address. I would expect that if she is a family member, someone knows where she lives.

I am afraid she is right about the mail – my answer is always to write ‘vacated this address…..(date) and forwarding address unknown’ and ‘Return to Sender’, without opening.

Obviously, anything addressed to ‘the occupier’ would be you, if no tenant is in the property. If she has been to the Police about the mail, I would have expected to hear something by now. If you do hear from them, ignorance is no defence in the law, but if you explain the situation, that she left without leaving a forwarding address and at very short notice and you were trying to trace her, they may not pursue it – in fact although it is the law that mail should not be interfered with, I have never heard of a case of action being taken. Obviously, you would also be emphatic that you would never do this again.

Discuss the situation with the council tax and water people – they may have their own debt recovery people and provided you let them have sight of the tenancy agreement, they should not pursue you for the debt.

I am afraid this shows yet again that mixing business with family really does not work. Good luck!


Key question

I have recently rented a two bedroom apartment for which the landlord has only issued me a single key. I have requested additional sets. These are so that I can leave a spare set with my brother, who lives nearby, in case I lose or forget my keys; so that I can give a set to a cleaner should I choose to hire one,; and so that I can give a set to my girlfriend for when she visits from out of town.

The landlord has declined saying this is against the rules and will only issue additional keys to people who have signed the tenancy agreement.

This does not reasonable. If the landlord is worry about my subletting without approval, I can provide proof that both my brother and girlfriend are resident at other addresses.

Can you provide any insight into this situation?

I think the landlord is just trying to save himself some money here. It is a two-bedroomed apartment and aside from the sub-letting issue, you are entitled to have an occasional guest. I would think two keys are reasonable. Having said that, I don’t think the landlord can be held responsible for providing multiple sets of keys. I would expect two sets from the landlord and to provide any others myself.

I would make no secret of the fact I was having extra keys cut, but say you would be interested in seeing which rule he is talking about. If his concern is the security of the property, you must ensure he realises that you will take full responsibility for the extra keys and other people having access.

Obviously, should one of the keys you have handed out get lost, then it would be your responsibility to ensure the security of the property by having the locks changed and providing new keys.

Although the law is different, I usual go from the standard of a local authority, who will give two keys, irrespective of how many live there, additional keys being the responsibility of the tenant.
I had a new door installed recently on my own property – we got two keys as standard issue. We needed additional, so had them cut.



Fully or part furnished?

I own a house, the living room and master bedroom of which are fully furnished while the kitchen has an oven a few plates and some cutlery. My letting agent insists this is not fully furnished. So what constitutes fully furnished?

Also as I am new to this and am currently taking over from the agency, do the tenancy agreements, receipts and other documents have to be official ‘bought’ documents or could I create them on my PC to be printed off and signed by both parties.

The difficulty is that there is no legal definition of a fully furnished property. But it is generally considered that to be fully furnished the tenant would not have to provide any additional furniture for the lounge and bedroom while there must be basic kitchen facilities – inclusion of a cooker; washing machine and fridge freezer would be considered good practice and may mean your property is let quicker. If the property has two bedrooms, a bed should be provided in the second bedroom. Generally, some kind of table and chair(s) should be provided so that there is somewhere to eat properly. If your property meets these standards you can say it is fully furnished.
Whatever is provided at the start of a tenancy must be available and in good working order throughout – so my advice would be to provide the basic minimum and no more

The tenancy agreement does not have to be “bought. You can compose your own agreement, but remember this is a legal document, so you might be better off downloading the free agreement available in Word form from the website (http://residentiallandlord.com/tenancyagreement/).


Telephone connection

I have just started letting a new apartment through a letting agent. There is a BT phone socket in the apartment, but BT need to connect it and there is a charge of £124.00. Who is responsible for this connection charge?

Technically this is the tenant’s responsibility. If the tenant does not wish to have a phone line or continue to use a mobile phone he or she doesn’t pay the connection charge. The only argument may be if prior to accepting the tenancy, you or the agent said the telephone would be connected.



Finding tenants

My husband and I just bought our first home a little over a year ago; about five months ago we moved out and put it up for rent. We thought that it was going to take no time to get it rented but here we are five months later. We had a real estate agent working for us, seeing how it was our first rental property. Things started off well but three months in, we felt that she wasn’t doing her job. We wouldn’t hear from her for weeks at a time and there was so much more. She kept telling us that it was the asking price that was running people off. We do admit that we were asking too much at first but we came down from £1,100 to £875.00 (at which we would be taking a loss).

We had found a family member to rent the property and overnight the agent magically found someone for the property. We had made up our minds that we no long needed her services and had found a tenant. Last minute the family member fell though. Now we have no agent, no tenants and a mortgage payment for another month to meet.

What now? How do we get this property rented? Can we do it on our own and is that best? What’s a good asking price? Should you rent to family members?

When renting to family members you do need to remember you are running a business, therefore you may need to make ruthless decisions at some points. Would you be prepared to do this to a close family relative?

It is entirely possible to find tenants yourselves, perhaps placing adverts in a local newspaper and advertising in local shop windows. But remember an agent did eventually find a tenants and it was your decision not to go along with that. Letting agencies are also businesses, so it is in their best interests to let your property quickly, plus they may be able to advertise in a variety of different places.

A good asking price is one that reflects the facilities available and other prices of rented accommodation in your area. Sorry to sound harsh, but a drop in price of 20 per cent may indicate that £1,100 was very optimistic. You weren’t happy with the first agent – find another. There are plenty around that should give you an honest price, but also tell you what they intend doing for the money you will be paying them.


Bad credit history

Four years ago I let my property through an agent.

The first tenant they placed in the property left after the lease expired owing the rent and having trashed the property. After cleaning it up we let it again (foolishly using the same agent) and this tenant did the same but this time stole a lot of my property and disappeared without trace a week before the tenancy finished also owing the rent.

I have subsequently changed agents and have had a couple of successful periods of letting.

However, the first two tenants left a trail of debt and we are still constantly plagued with creditors’ letters. Having spoken to one of the creditors today I discovered that they are both still using the address when purchasing goods and the one tenant even used the address following treatment by NHS.

As neither of them have lived in the property for 2 ½ and 3 years respectively is this not fraudulent behaviour? One creditor said that they have done a trace on this tenant and their name is still associated with this address – how can this be possible? How can I stop the creditors pursuing the tenants through this address as it is obviously distressing for my current tenant? Is the house blackballed for credit and if so how can I change this?

You may be able to apply for a notice of disassociation from the credit agencies such as Experian and Equifax in order to clear the house of any bad credit left. By providing information on your new tenants, such as proof of tenancy agreement, then you may be able to ensure that any future searches will no longer have your old tenant details attached to the property. I would also recommend you contact your local authority with regard to the electoral register, ensuring your new tenants put their name down on the electoral roll.

 


Rights of way

In 1996 I purchased two adjoining cottages, one had sitting tenants (a brother and sister) who have lived there in total for 66 years, having taken it over from their parents. The other cottage I live in myself. The previous owner of both cottages also lived in one cottage and allowed the tenants to walk through the garden of the cottage she occupied to access their cottage. I have continued to allow this, although put stepping stones in along a different route through the garden which they have used since 1996. I also use this path and the one they previously used to access my cottage – it is not exclusively used by them.

I sold the tenanted cottage in 1998 to a limited company but still gave permission (verbally) for the tenants to walk through the garden, although advised them that the official right of way granted to the company for pedestrians and vehicles was along a lane to the front of the cottage which also belongs to myself. I have now asked them to walk along this lane which is the right of way given to the owners of the property but they have refused to use it. I am improving the lane in the hope they will use.

Two questions:-
• If they continue to refuse to use the official access lane can I enforce it?
• The tenanted cottage has passed from father to mother to son, the sister also lives in the cottage but is not named on the rent review forms. Does the son still have a protected tenancy, I am not sure when he took it over, and can it pass to his sister, and if so would it still be protected?

On the access question, you need to consult a solicitor. Trying to force old people to change their point of access after so many years could become unpleasant. They may argue something along the lines of custom and practice mean they now have the right to use the pathway – presumably this is slightly more convenient access for them.

With regard to succession, I believe I am correct that there can only be two successions, which appear to have already occurred. I would discuss with the solicitor also – eviction of the elderly sister would get a lot of sympathy for her and an unpleasant situation for you.



New neighbours

I have had some new tenants move in next door. Within days they were asking me to keep my television down (their bedroom is next to my lounge and the wall is very thin) and moaning that my toaster made a bleeping noise at 12am. As I cannot smoke in my flat I go outside to do so, and I fear my new neighbours are going to make a ‘thing’ of me keeping going outside.

My landlady has allocated my previous car parking space to them (they now have two spaces), and moved mine. Although I don’t drive, this means there is no parking for visitors outside my flat.

I feel under attack!! Do you any advice to deal with these things.

You need to discuss this calmly and rationally with the landlady. Only you will know if your behaviour is likely to be a nuisance. Do you watch a music channel late at night and have it on loudly? If so, could you get headphones? Could the television be moved to another part of the room, so it is less of a problem to the neighbours? I don’t see what they can do about your going outside to smoke, if you are not allowed to smoke in the flat, though it may be as well to mention to them why you go out, in a pleasant manner, so they don’t think you are watching them, for example. With regard to the parking space, though I understand why you feel unhappy, it is quite understandable that if your neighbours have two cars and you have none, they would wish to have parking spaces that enabled them to keep their cars in view. It is not such a requirement for short visits. I think I would acknowledge this to the landlady, but state that as it was originally your space, you would expect that if you obtain a car, you could park this in the original space. It is perhaps just a settling in process. Good luck.


Preparing to let

My husband and I are planning to rent our property out in May but we are a little unsure of the procedures and paper work that we will need to ensure that everything is all legal between any tenant that we may accept into the house. We are debating whether to go through an agency as we know of a few people that are interested in renting the property. What safety documents do we have to provide to ensure we are covered by law as an appropriate landlord?

If you go through an agency, it should have all the necessary forms. Make sure the firm is a member of a professional body – ARLA for example.

A tenancy agreement is available as a free download from this website. It comes in Word format and can be customised to meet your needs.

Otherwise you will need a gas safety certificate which you can obtain from a CORGI registered gas engineer after he or she has checked over your gas appliances.

It is good practice also to have:
• a full inventory, including notes on the condition of walls and carpets, even if unfurnished;
an application form, asking for last addresses and dates;
references, from last landlord and the one before;
Rent card (if collecting any money weekly).

All except the last are available from our document download centre.

Ask for a deposit, usually one month’s rent is sufficient, and also rent in advance, again usually one month

Get the Guide for Landlords from CLGD (previously ODPM).



Criminal conviction

I have four buy to let properties in Scotland. I am trying to insure them but because I unfortunately have a criminal conviction for assault (four years ago) I am fining difficulty in finding an insurer. Could you suggest a company or broker that might be willing to insure me?

I am sorry, I can’t help with this. Speak to your local landlords’ association, it may be able to help.


Seeking redress

I have recently taken back possession of two properties that had previously been ‘hijacked’ by a team of east European builders who were commissioned to undertake refurbishment works. The builders were recruited whilst living in an HMO hell hole.

As their work began to fall substantially behind programme it was agreed between us that they should sleep over in my own properties so as to speed up the work. I stated that unless more work was commissioned or I did not offer them a tenancy agreement, they would be required to vacate both properties within one to two weeks of completion of work. They moved into the two properties – in two instances with their partners. No money or work payment credit was accepted prior to my final visits.

Progress with the work almost stopped and my payments to them were accordingly suspended. Their attitude became hostile and menacing and my health suffered so that I felt too ill to continue contacts with them.

The workers stayed on, subsequently ignoring notices to quit posted and hand delivered to the properties. It seemed their intention was to force me into making progress payments they considered due – notwithstanding that the work to which this related remained manifestly unsatisfactory and/or incomplete.

Because of my ill health I was unable to deal with the problem for some eight months.

After a couple of months of their unauthorised residence I was telephoned out of the blue by a solicitor who claimed to have been appointed by Citizens Advice to assist them in their claim for further work payments. He pointed out that his clients retained possession of the properties.

It transpired – incredibly – that he had not been advised by his clients that my the reason for refusing to make further work payments was simply that the work had not been completed. He conceded that I sounded to be a rational and reasonable man and advised me that he would take further instructions and revert to me – but I never I heard from him again.

This protracted elapse of time without contact from me evidently emboldened the persons responsible workers. They claimed to neighbours and landlord colleagues who periodically asked after me that they had paid one year’s rent up front and that I had agreed to pay all bills and taxes accruing from their period of residence.

False HMO style tenancy agreements were found in one the properties after it was vacated which had evidently been drafted from copies or scans of their previous tenancy agreement at their previous address. The address and dates had been changed to reflect their occupation of my property though not the landlord details.

At least one of the houses was sub-let to at least one of their compatriots (without my permission, obviously) and the rent presumably pocketed.

Despite running this house (and possibly both houses) as an unregistered and unlicensed HMO, only one television licence was obtained for three sets, each operated by different sub-tenants. (The TV licensing authority requires that individual licences be obtained for HMO residents with separate tenancy agreements).

The original utility accounts remained unpaid. As disconnection proceedings approached at one property these accounts were redesignated to an unknown name (protected by data protection legislation in the absence of criminal investigation).

A BT landline telephone that I had installed at one property to assist in co-ordinating the work was used to dial premium rate gambling and pornographic telephone lines and also make international calls home. As a result a BT bill of some £500 was run up in my name. The phone was then put into another name and a further bill of £500 run up.

I understand that I have now at least one CCJ in my name – from BT – and that the total bill plus costs has escalated to £800.

After neighbours challenged the residents of one property, my furniture was stolen when the workers did their final runner. A police report was filed. Incredibly the lead police office (a young and inexperienced officer) became more fixated on the notion that I might have breached minimum wage legislation. (This is a complete non-issue as I was able partly to prove by presenting the Police with a copy of an application for a temporary national insurance number that one of the persons concerned submitted with my assistance which correctly states that person to be self employed not employed).

It transpires that these people spread a story that I was wanted by the police (untrue) although I was served with traffic summons via one of the addresses – but it transpired that the alleged offences had been committed by others. I subsequently made a voluntary Statutory Declaration at Magistrates Court naming those who were responsible.

My options are various and the optimum course of action is somewhat unclear to me:
For example, I could report them to the police, or use the threat of this in an attempt to obtain redress. I could instigate civil action. I could do both. I could employ a solicitor (on an hourly or no-win no-fee basis).

Please, please advise me urgently insofar as you feel able. My life and that of my partner and elderly mother have been devastated by the continuing financial losses and strain. My relationship with my partner has irretrievably broken down as a result.

I am so very, very sorry for the situation you are in. Anything I could say you have already, I am sure, said to yourself. We can all be wise in hindsight. You now know that unscrupulous builders, that do not do the work are paid for, are unlikely to behave better if you allow them to occupy your property. They are unlikely to be honest and truthful.

I was not aware Citizens Advice was ever happy to help landlords, who it tends perceive as being able to afford legal expenses – hence the person you spoke to may have realised the truth of the situation, but been unable to do more than tell the clients who presented to him that they were out of order.

This is such a complex case, I don’t know what to advise. First – if these people have stolen furniture, this must be reported to the Police – it is theft.

Civil action, probably through the small claims court, may do something. But are they likely to pay? They seem to have no respect so I think it is doubtful.

No win no fee may be the best bet, but I am unsure how many solicitors would consider a case like this for that type of arrangement, because again. I have doubts that you would recover anything.

However, a solicitor is definitely the best person to advise you about this. If you served a notice to quit and they did not move, a bailiff should be able to remove them and you should have a locksmith there to change the locks, but this will not get you any redress, of course.


Helping wayward son

I am at my wits end. I got rid of my son six months ago because he stole from me – to buy drugs maybe; I don’t really know. He went to work for my ex husband from whom he has also stolen. Even so my ex got him a nice flat and paid the rent for six months. But when the tenancy expires in a month’s time my son will have nowhere to go. My ex husband will not allow me to take our son back and I have debt problems of my own. Is there anything I can do to help our son find a tenancy without putting myself in finance jeopardy?

Though the tenancy is due to expire, if the landlord has not served him with a legal notice, he has no need to move out. I don’t understand why your son is not paying his own rent, or at least making a claim for housing benefit. He is an adult and needs to take some responsibility for himself. Without that, he will struggle to keep any decent accommodation. Depending on his age, is there any help available through the local authority, or through an agency that provides accommodation for young people, or a drugs team, if that seems to be the root of his problem?


Job seekers allowance

I am trying to find out what the rules and regulations are regarding renting to tenants on job seekers allowance. Specifically, if the house requires any special health and safety measures beyond the usual electrical and gas checks?

We have an unfurnished property and have been approached by a neighbour’s sons who wishes to rent it. I have heard that there is a delay in housing benefit payments and that the tenants will be given the rent to then pass on to us?

Any information would be gratefully received or even guidance on where to find it.

Unless you are very confident that the neighbours and sons are responsible people who will look after the property, I would not touch them – friendship and private renting rarely mix.

If you live in an area where the new local housing allowance is operating (in time this is set to replace housing benefit throughout the country), the allowance will go to the tenants who in turn pay you. If your area is not one of the pathfinder areas, then you should specify that the rent must come directly to you.

As you will be renting to brothers on a house share basis, there should not be any additional health and safety measures, but speak to Environmental Health – which will be able to reassure you.

Housing Benefit often takes several weeks to come through, depending on how your authority is working. Ensure that your tenancy agreement states that the rent is payable monthly in advance – which means that as soon as you have not received five week’s rent you can start proceedings to evict. Get a good deposit, usually a month, and if possible, rent in advance.

Will the parents stand as guarantors? Get in touch with your local housing aid or Shelter and get the Department of Communities and Local Government booklet on private renting) Good luck.


Duty of care to neighbours

As a new private landlord, could you possibly advise me whether l have a duty of care to the neighbours’ living in properties that adjoin my own let property – and if so, what they (for example controlling noise from my tenants)?

As a responsible landlord, you have a duty to try and ensure that others living in the vicinity of your tenants are not disturbed. You will be aware that the Government is trying to clamp down on ‘neighbours from hell’ and will want you as a landlord to take action if incidents occur.

I always advise that you raise the subject in your initial interview, stating that the neighbours have contact details for yourself and you will not tolerate bad behaviour. Put a clause stating the same thing in your tenancy agreement. Devise a procedure of warning letters and keep copies – they will be useful if you need to evict using ground 14, which is a discretionary ground and the court would have to feel it was reasonable for you to want possession.

If you get any complaints, always be prepared to end the tenancy after six months, though if the situation is serious, you should use ground 14, but be prepared to provide masses of evidence, copy letters, statements from neighbours, police reports and the like.



Withhold building insurance payment

We are lessees and make payments to a service charge account for maintenance, annual building insurance cover, and the like. In our landlord and tenant lease agreement it states that the tenants shall not obstruct the hallways, stairways and passageways of the estate. One tenant has stored his personal belongings on the landing of the communal hallway and even though I have informed, in writing, both the tenant and the management company of this situation; I have not received a reply from the company. I also presented photo evidence of the stored belongings to our insurance company which wrote to our management company explaining that using a communal hallway in this manner would increase the liability and fire exposures and could be in breach of a policy condition; and if there was an accident or injury the management company may find it difficult to defend its claim to the insurance company.

It also states in our landlord and tenant lease agreement that the management company will at all times during the said term insure and keep insured all of the building in or upon the estate against loss damage fire and such other risks.

My question, is will I be able to withhold my portion of insurance payment until the management complies with our lease agreement by forcing the tenant to remove his belongings from the hallway? I feel that I am paying for insurance cover that may not protect us if any accident should occur due to the obstruction of our communal hallway.

I hesitate to suggest you do anything that puts you in breach of your lease agreement, but can understand your very real concerns. I think I would try and contact the insurance company and see what they have to say. Fire Safety would also probably try and take action if you contacted them. I am not sure what you would gain by making deductions from the insurance payment – where you do this because repairs have not been undertaken, it is expected that you have the work done and make deductions to recompense you. Clearly that is not the case here. Final thoughts, Health and Safety Executive and Environmental Services may also be able to force some action from the management company.


Access to meters

My Gran owns two blocks of flats containing seven flats in total. She is 75 years old and is slowly handing on responsibility for various tasks that she considers she cannot manage, to my sister and me. These tasks include dealing with any maintenance and repairs and emptying gas electric and token meters, most of which are within the flats.

Despite our best efforts one tenant is refusing to allow me access to his flat, saying I am not welcome in his home. What are (if any) my powers of entry in order to access his meters. We have tried setting times and dates, this has failed. Despite suspecting that he has, for some time, been tampering with them, (not something I can prove without properly tracking coins in and money out) we are not sure on what grounds we can enter as ‘an agent of Gran or with her say so?

Eventually this handing over of power will result in the setting up of a property management company to take all responsibility for the flats. Does this change any of the tenants’ rights?

If you have suspicions of any type of utility fraud, you should discuss it with the utility company which may be able to gain access. You are acting as your gran’s agents, but even so, you do not have the right to enter without the tenant’s permission. I would be inclined to serve him notice. As far as I am aware, tenants’ rights would not be altered by the formation of a property management company.


Purchase and rent back

My friend and her husband are parting. My friend is desperate to stay in her home. I can afford to purchase the house but not at full market value and then rent it back to her. She is happy with this and so is her husband, as he is only interested in getting the settlement he has asked for.

My friend earns very little and I think she may be able to get housing benefit. However, someone has told her that, because she owned the house previously, she would not be entitled to it. This surely cannot be right can it? If she moved to another property she would be entitled to benefit.

Because I cannot purchase the house for the full value, she will only have about £10,000 savings and very little income.

Hopefully, when things are more stable for her, she may be able to buy the house back in a few years time.

I could be wrong, but I think Housing Benefit officials will not look at this as a commercial tenancy, because you are not paying full market value, you are not buying it to let anyone live in it, only your friend. I would suggest you discuss it fully with the local Housing Benefits office to see if the arrangement would be accepted. You must also remember that if your friend a single lady on her own, the house may be bigger, and the rent higher, than housing benefits officers would think appropriate.


Councils in need of private housing

Is there a list of Councils in London that have need for private housing for their tenants? I am resident in the Borough of Richmond which has such a scheme, but would be interested to access a website that provides information about all London Boroughs.

The Local Government Association (www.lga.gov.uk) tells us it does not know of any such list. Sorry to say it is a matter to looking at each individual council website, although a quick search of the Internet turned up a reasonable number of councils looking to work with private landlords in this way.


Landlord in residence

I will shortly start work as a mathematics teacher. I am keen to buy my own home but will struggle to pay the mortgage that I will need to take on. Therefore, I will let out as many rooms as I can.

This will make me a residential landlord? I would like to know the full list of my responsibilities and rights and how they would compare to a landlord who lives elsewhere. The comparison with a non-resident landlord would be interesting to all of us who enjoy viewing the web site.

There is really insufficient room to go through a full list of responsibilities, but a few are:
Lodgers have few rights and little security – landlords need only give ‘reasonable notice’ to leave.

Tenants of residential landlords not sharing the property have far greater security – and must be given at least two month’s notice or a ground to evict.

In both instances landlords have a duty to provide a property that is in safe condition and to provide clear accounting procedures for payment of rent. Lodgers would also be expected to pay towards bills.

I suggest a copy of the Department for Communities and Local Government booklet ‘Letting rooms in your home: A Guide for Resident Landlords’ from DCLG.


Lawyers

Is there an association of Landlord and Tenant lawyers so that a client will know whether his solicitor or barrister has the necessary specialist expertise?

The Law Society says that all solicitors are trained to a standard which should allow them to deal with property issues. There is no separate association, and even if there was, this would not imply that members were necessarily better trained in property law than their peers. However, calls can be made to the Law Society’s records and information services (0870 6066575) from should be able to provide a list of local firms offering particular services. Otherwise, why not look in the Residential Landlord selected suppliers listings which have a section for solicitors, all of whom are offering landlord related legal services.


Need for insurance cover

We are just about to let our home (in Scotland), using an agent. We will leave about £10K worth of furniture in the house for the tenant to use. Do I need insure this since he is under an obligation (in the tenancy agreement) to fix it if he damages it?

Secondly – we will be leaving about £15K of our stuff in the loft. Do I need a separate policy for this? It seems that leaving £25K in the house is more than usual and exceeds most companies’ limits.

Thirdly – is it worth paying for accidental cover on the buildings? What if the tenant accidentally puts his foot through a door or something?

You clearly have good furniture, so I would want as much cover as possible. Discuss this with your insurance broker; he will also advise whether a separate policy is required for stuff in the loft. Accidental damage is interesting – I would get it if you can, though having a tenant may mean nobody will offer the cover. I would also say that a foot through a door is likely to be easier and cheaper to repair than if something happened to your £10K furniture and I would expect the tenant to have that repair done.


Land ownership

How can I find owners of small plots of neglected land in semi-rural areas near to me, I have tried all the usual ways, asking neighbours, local council, adverts in local rag and the like, all to no avail. I am on a limited budget, and do not trust companies saying they will find a plot for a fee but with no guarantees.

Also have you had any dealings with claiming plots with no apparent owners. Is it legal does, it work?

You could try the Land Registry. There is an online search facility which allows searches by post code, map, or aerial image. You can also order an index search from your local Land Registry office (listed on the Land Registry website www.landreg.gov.uk) which will track down property from a partial address. Not all land is registered, and it is quite possible long neglected plots might not be.

However, the law changed in 2002 so that registration counts for much more. This means it is now much harder to gain ownership of property by adverse possession (often referred to as squatters’ rights). This is obtained by showing exclusive use of the property over a good many years. But before this is allowed the Land Registry will inform the registered owner or title holder, allowing him or her the right to object.


Unpaid council tax

I have recently moved back into a house that I have owned for five years, having let it out for some time.

There have been two different sets of tenants. And I recently discovered that the first tenant, who was a friend of mine, missed paying an entire year of council tax (roughly £1,000) and had been issued with numerous notices from the local authority regarding their arrears.

The debt has now been passed to bailiffs who have threatened the tenant with a prison sentence (not to mention recovery of possessions). Would I be responsible for the payment of this at all?

The tenant to whom the letters were written is currently touring Australia but is due to return soon. When first renting the property I made him sign letting agreements but did not take a deposit.

As this was the first tenant, and presumably you had one after he left, and the local authority has not attempted to pursue you for it, I think you should be in the clear. The council is duty bound to pursue the tenant, not the landlord – if a council tenant pays no council tax, it is the tenant who is prosecuted, not the landlord. Of course, if you colluded with the tenant and did not cooperate with the authority, then it may feel you had some responsibility, but this is clearly not the case.


Elderly tenant

I have inherited a property with a sitting tenant who is quite old and looks after himself.

He has been ill of late and does not have much family. It’s pretty clear that one day he will go to a better place, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what my responsibilities are when he dies. Do I contact the police/ambulance, social services, change locks? It’s not a very pleasant thing to think about. Is there any kind procedure to be done?

A difficult question. If at all possible, try and get a next of kin. Does he have any kind of emergency contact cover? In Bolton, we have Careline, with a pendant which can be pressed if the user feels ill or needs any help. It goes through to a central switchboard, who then alet the next of kin. Try and get someone, or do it yourself, to ring on a weekly basis.

Should the worst happen, and it did to me only a month ago, immediately ring for an ambulance. Emergency services will have to come to attempt resuscitation, and will contact the police. Only when the police have been will they tell you or the next of kin, that an undertaker can be called. Provided there appears to be no suspicious circumstances, the property should be yours again to do what you wish with. If there is no next of kin, social services may be able to assist with funeral arrangements.


Leasehold worries

I currently own a leasehold property with a lease of 30 years remaining, I want to buy the freehold, but the freeholder says he is not interested in disposing of it. Alternatively I would like to extend the lease to obtain a mortgage on the property.

I have owned the lease for one year now and I am worried because the freeholder does not reply to the letters my solicitor sends him. As a result I may not be able to sell this flat.

I believe that after a certain period, you have the right to buy the freehold, but I think it is longer than a year. I think I would check the Department for Communities & Local Government website (http://www.communities.gov.uk/) to see what it has to say on the subject.


Next door to a rented property

I live next door to a rented property and we share an entry. The gate (which a previous tenant installed) is in very poor repair and I would like to replace it. As it is a shared access I feel that the cost should also be shared.

My Husband has offered to do all the work and a letter has been sent to the landlord to this effect. So far there has been no response from the landlord and I would like to know where we stand on getting this and other maintenance work done. There are a few other things that I feel would reduce the price of our property should we decide to put it on the market. There does not appear to have been any general maintenance to the property in the 13 years I have lived next door. For example there is no working guttering on the outbuildings, there is also a broken drain cover and this floods the yard when there is heavy rain.

We do not have a problem at all with the current tenant.

Certainly some of those repairs do sound as though they could cause deterioration both to your and the landlord’s property. I’d do a short, sharp letter reminding him of this, but if there is no response, contact your local environmental services and get the department to inspect. With regard to the gate, I agree that as this is shared access, costs should probably be shared also. However, you are the ones who want it changed; clearly the landlord is not bothered. Has the tenant asked him to change it? Perhaps the tenants needs need to put some pressure on. However, if this gets no response, it cannot be said to be creating deterioration to the property so I think if you want the gate changing, you might have to bite the bullet and have this done at your own expense.


Lost property

At the end of her tenancy, (in Scotland; a short assured tenancy); my friend was unable to remove some goods from the house as she had broken her wrist in an accident. When the landlord refused her entry to retrieve the goods; my friend got the right to legal access.

Before she could get into the house, the landlord informed her that the goods had been placed in an outbuilding, and that my friend had one hour to get them.

When she tried to do so, she was prevented by members of the landlord’s family (who had already been cautioned for harassment). She was verbally abused and physically threatened; the police were called and cautioned the landlord and family.

The following day, my friend was informed that the goods had been stolen from the outhouse; the landlord refuses to tell the police about the theft, refuses to make an insurance claim, or to provide compensation.

Is there anything that can be done to recover costs? The goods included a television and video, tumble dryer and an expensive wardrobe.

This sounds to me like theft and, if the landlord won’t report it, then you must. Otherwise, you can seek to recover costs through the Scottish equivalent of the small claims court. You should see a solicitor.


Potential harassment?

My partner and I viewed a flat last year and asked the letting agents if there were any issues with noisy tenants or neighbours. We were told there were not and that it was a very quiet flat. We said we wanted something for possibly two to three years and were told this was also what the landlord was looking for – ‘a quiet couple wanting longer term accommodation’.

The landlord would not agree to a break clause in the contract, but as we had been told the flat would be quiet, we didn’t anticipate any problems.

As soon as we moved in we found we had a very noisy family (two small children) in the flat above us and that soundproofing was non existent. We appealed to the family to try and keep noise down but this appeared to make them worse. We complained to the landlord who asked us to log complaints and get back to her – which we did. We had a daily log of noise disturbances, both night and day and particularly at weekends when we were at home. We both have busy and demanding jobs which is why we sought a quiet place to relax in when we got home, and at weekends.

We had cause to speak to the ex-tenant of our flat about misdirected post, and during the conversation with her found she had endured horrendous noise from the family upstairs, from the point where the second child was born. The ex-tenant advised that she had been kept awake during the nights. At weekends the noise was so bad she found herself going away to get peace. In the end she gave notice and left because it was unbearable.

Unfortunately, she had not complained to the landlord – she didn’t find her very approachable but also felt there was nothing she could do.

The landlord told us she would give the family a warning, and said things should improve. She also told us that she had been thinking of asking them to leave anyway because their flat wasn’t really suitable for children.

We endured two more months of extreme noise disturbance and complained again. This time the landlord said she would give them notice to quit. She did this, but they carried on being noisy until the time they left. We had endured five months of this before they moved out.

The landlord said quite strongly that she would not be letting that flat out to another family or couple with a baby, because it wasn’t suitable.

New tenants moved in last weekend. On the Saturday they had visitors with kids who ran screaming and banging around their flat for most of the day. We also heard loud singing and a piano – apparently the woman is a music teacher, and is going to give music lessons at home. (which is surely a breach of her tenancy agreement as everyone in the house will be able to hear this?).

The bombshell however was that the couple are having a baby in November. Their bedroom is immediately above ours. We have already been woken at 6.30 in the mornings by the woman’s loud singing and other noises.

We feel the landlord has been very unfair here. She had a written list of complaints from us about noise, gave the last people notice because of noise, and had virtually promised she would not be letting the flat above to people with children. But she’s done exactly that. And we’re aware the new tenants were asked to pay a higher rent because of the baby arriving in November.

My partner and I feel stuck – our tenancy doesn’t run out until November, but we’re getting noise disturbance already and if the woman gives music lessons from home we feel we will never get any peace.

We feel we have to move out and wonder if we can claim anything like harassment by the landlord (who has clearly brought in people who are unsuitable in the flat above) or anything else. What can we do?

You could consider claiming on the grounds of misrepresentation, bearing in mind the assurances your landlord has made to you and the consequences of her actions. This does depend on what proof you have from the landlord about what kind of tenants she decided not to let to, and how this has been broken.

Your other action could be about speaking to your landlord about ending the tenancy. Most responsible landlords would rather not lose good tenants, and providing your rent is being paid and the property is in good condition, I’m sure you would be considered reasonable tenants. The landlord has already evicted one lot of tenants based on your log and disturbances.

You could also speak to your Local Authority regarding noise disturbance and ask them to take appropriate steps to remind your neighbours of their obligations to other residents. They should be able to put some sound monitoring equipment in. Good luck.


Responsibility for bad behaviour

I have a tenant who carries out anti social behaviour. My question is, am I as the landlord responsible for this?

Legally not, although in the past this has been challenged. However morally this should be an area you should wish to address. You may wish to give an Acceptable Behaviour Contract to your tenant to ensure he or she is aware of what is considered to be Anti Social Behaviour and also give diary sheets to other tenants to record disturbances. If you wish to evict the tenant then these contracts and sheets will certainly show that you’ve tried to address the problem rather than just ignore it. It is also worth discussing with your local accreditation scheme – it may be able to offer some assistance and this would again demonstrate your willingness to address the problem.


Allowance for relatives

A relative has moved into my house for a short period of time. He stays three days a week but hasn’t got a job. He has asked me if he could claim job seekers allowance.

I will certainly have to start charging him soon because I can’t keep up with my electricity and gas bills. I will also have to start claiming job seekers allowance myself soon. Meanwhile he now says he may be staying here longer than he first said.

I’m concerned about our continued eligibility for allowances, especially since as my youngest will be 16 soon and will be claiming education maintenance allowance while at college.

Any ideas?

Your eligibility for educational allowances will be affected, as technically, if someone is claiming benefits from your property, it will be classed as another income into the property, however small. If you rent your property and claim JSA then housing benefit may also be affected due to this second income, which may mean you have to pay more towards the rent. You need to have a full and frank discussion and consider how much you need to ask for; as a lodger, and as he only stays three days, he will probably have little eligibility for housing benefit, so any sum you ask for, he will have to pay himself from benefit. Think very carefully, because your current circumstances may mean his staying with you is a liability you can do without.


Anonymous inspection

I am going to carry out an inspection of my property, together with my letting agent, in the next few days. I want to remain anonymous to my tenants, and have asked my agents to arrange that the tenants are not at the property at the time I inspect. The agents say that I cannot ask that they are not there. Is that right?

I think you have to turn the situation around – it is your tenant’s property during the course of the tenancy, so you cannot say to the tenant that you don’t want him there. Your tenant may agree to the agent inspecting in his absence, if he is working, say, but may prefer not. Ask the agent to discuss with the tenant, but the agent is quite correct. I would also have thought that as you are paying the agent there is no need for you to be involved. Also remember that should you get in the property and find it is untidy, or even dirty, this does not mean that at the end of the tenancy it will not be handed back in a spotless condition.


Letting to students

We are intending to buy a house in Durham and then let it out to a maximum of four students, including our daughter. What are the requirements for such a let in terms of fire doors, safety, and the like? Is it less complicated to have only three students in or does this not make a difference?
Any advice would be much appreciated.

Discuss with your local Environmental Health department, who will know local requirements and whether there are any special licensing arrangements for the type of house you intend to buy. The numbers letting will depend on the size and type of property. May also be worth discussing this with the accommodation officer at the Uni.


Insurance

New to letting, I have just found some tenants through a letting agent for my unfurnished flat, and they are due to move in, in the next two weeks. I currently pay the property management agents and I know that their fee includes buildings insurance. Is this enough, as I would expect the tenants to arrange their own contents insurance, but what would happen if there was a fire, or if a pipe burst and damaged the property below? Would this come from the management company’s building insurance, or should I take out a separate policy?, if so what sort of policy do I need.

Difficult to say whether this would be adequate insurance without seeing the policy. I would discuss in detail with the management company, to see that it is full cover. It should also include third party liability cover.


Access to roof

We have recently rented a residential property where there is access to the roof from one of the rooms. The area is reasonably large and is flat; however there are no fences around the edge. We have used it to enjoy the sun in the weekends.

Our landlord has asked us to stop this as the believes he would be liable if any of us fell off the roof. Is he within his rights?

I believe that without a shadow of a doubt the landlord is within his rights, if something dreadful happened, he could be held liable. I know you may say you would not be silly, would do nothing that would put you in jeopardy, but what if you entertain friends? You’re out enjoying the sun, so may have a drink, or two – it does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to see something could happen.

I think if I was the landlord, I would do what was necessary to deny access to the roof. If this was impossible, I’d give all tenants a sheet to add to the tenancy agreements, stating access to the roof is forbidden. I’d also put up a big notice saying that and taking a photo of it, to show that steps had been taken to notify tenants that they should not use the roof. Under those circumstances, you may be considered to have forfeited all rights to compensation, should there be an accident, but I would check that with a solicitor, if I was the landlord.


Buying or selling with tenants

Is it legal to sell and/or buy a property with a tenant? What are the downsides or pitfalls if any?

Yes, it is, but it depends on the circumstances. If there is a very long standing tenant (pre-Jan. 1989), the pitfall is that he or she would have very good security and it would be difficult to evict. The rent is unlikely to be a market rent and increases are likely to be small.

My own inclination would be to say that the person selling is better to serve notice and get rid of any possible problem before contracts are signed. However, it depends whether it is the buyer’s intention to use it as a property from which to gain an income – if so, make sure he or she should be very clear about the status of the tenancy.


Letting to family

I have a couple of properties that I let out, and would like to rent one to my daughter who currently lives in a tiny flat with her child. She is claiming housing benefit. Is it legal for me to let one of my properties to her if she is getting housing benefit?

It is legal to let to her, but not to claim the housing benefit. She must pay her own rent. Otherwise it would be looked at as a non-commercial tenancy – housing benefit would not pay rent on a property which at some stage would form part of your estate to which she would have a claim.



Buying a rented property

We began renting a flat one month ago at the start of a 12 month agreement. One week later we found out that our landlord was selling. We are interested in purchasing the property. However, we are not sure if we have ‘the right of first refusal’ as we are already occupying the property.

Does ‘the right of first refusal’ mean we will have to pay the full asking price? How does right of first refusal work if another prospective buyer makes a higher offer? We are trying to avoid a bidding war and secure the property but feel very pressured to make a decision before anyone else does.

You have only lived there one month, so I cannot see that you have many rights with regard to buying. You have a 12 month tenancy, which the landlord should honour. However, he could sell the property on the basis that you will live there until the end of the tenancy, when a new owner could serve you notice. With regard to the asking price, it is always subject to negotiation. If the asking price seems fair, then you will make an offer close to it. I would think you are in a good negotiating position, in that the owner would be selling to someone else with you as tenants.


Legal low-down

I have recently moved out of a property leaving rent arrears. Our landlord also wants to charge us for some damage to the property and has said he will be pursuing legal action. Can you give me an idea of what this might entail and whether I should seek legal advice?

It is difficult to say from what you say. Have you vacated or been evicted? If evicted, the landlord may be applying for possession and costs. Otherwise, if you have just vacated, and he will be taking you to the small claims court.

Should you seek legal advice? Well, if you are in disagreement with anything he is claiming for, it may be a good idea. However, you have acknowledged there are rent arrears. What proof does he have of damages? Is there an inventory, receipts, photos? Bear in mind, if he goes to the small claim court and you lose, the costs will be added to your debt. It is far better to try and discuss and come to an informal arrangement to pay the arrears/damages off, than go through the whole procedure.


New landlord

I own a two bedroom house which I am about to let. I have downloaded your tenancy agreement. My question is, can I add to the conditions or alter the lease agreement to suit my own purposes and if so, will the document still be legal and binding. Also I would be grateful if you could let me know as a landlord what licences or certificates I require by law. My house is in Scotland with two unrelated people about to rent it.

Our tenancy agreement is written to comply with English law, so you will need to read it carefully to make sure nothing is said which would nullify its effect under Scottish law. However, in general you should be able to add what you want to your agreement, so long as it does not impose an unfair contractual term. I usually recommend addition of such stipulations as monthly inspections of the property, prohibitions on anti-social behaviour, and no dogs.

Scotland has more demanding licence and registration requirements than England. All HMOs must be licensed and all landlords (of whatever type of property) must be registered with their local authority. There is a central website for landlord registration which includes a step by step registration process. However, you should also contact your local authority to check on local requirements. You will, of course, require a gas safety certificate.


Keeping it in the family

I have just bought my first property to let and I would like to know if I can let this to a member of my own family who is currently living with me.

Yes, you can, but if the person concerned is wanting to claim housing benefit, it may not be viewed as a commercial tenancy.


My first flat

With my parent I bought a flat off-plan in Wales. The idea is that I would live there, but since moving in I have found it very hard to find a job nearby. Also the flat isn’t really big enough for me. I was wondering if we could rent it out.

I am a first time buyer but now find it impossible to live in the flat and pay the mortgage – so the sensible answer would be to let the property. Is this possible?

You would need permission from your mortgage provider. Because of the current property situation, most of them tend to be amenable to this kind of thing happening. If you get the permission and manage to let the property, make sure you follow all the advice you can get – get a deposit, ask for and follow up references, and make monthly inspections to ensure the property is being properly looked after.


Change of ownership

I have been a tenant in a private rented house owned by a Jersey company for seven years. The ownership is now to be transferred to my sister as part of a divorce settlement.

I am paying rent to the company every month with the help of housing benefit. But my sister has been told by her solicitor that when the house becomes hers she cannot be my landlord and if she did I would not be able to get housing benefit. Is this right?

See the answer above. I think it is probably because officials may not regards this as a commercial let for housing benefit purposes that the solicitor is suggesting your sister cannot be your landlord. I would be inclined to say you may be able to persuade them otherwise, on the basis that you have lived there seven years, though of course, this may make them investigate the circumstances when you moved in – was it then owned by your brother in law, and if so did you disclose this fact when claiming housing benefit?


Personal possessions

I have just received a letter from my landlord’s wife stating she entered the property unannounced (she did not give us any notice) and was unhappy with the untidiness she found. She has informed us she will now be entering the property once a week to throw away our personal possessions if they are not in our rooms. Does she have any legal grounds on this?

Most definitely not! This would constitute harassment. Tell her you have taken advice and she must not do this again, though you are happy for her to inspect if she gives you notice and it is convenient for you to see her. If this happens again, tell her you will have no choice but to see a solicitor. However, this will quite possibly mean you will be served notice to end at the expiry of the term, but I think this is preferable than having someone poking into your goods. No landlord can dictate the manner in which a tenant lives unless he or she has reason to believe this is having a detrimental effect on the property. Untidiness does not usually have this effect, although bin liners full of rubbish could attract vermin, of course.


In whose name?

I am considering renting my friend’s house together with my fiancé. He says he only wants to offset his mortgage to help his girlfriend meet her mortgage repayments for a separate property. If we do decide to move in, do we have to transfer all utility bills/council tax into our own names or can we leave them all in my friend’s name and give him money to cover the bills every month.

It would be more usual to transfer all bills into your name. If at some stage you had to claim housing benefit, this arrangement would show that it was a commercial tenancy. Make sure your friend has the permission of his mortgage company to let the property.


Need for buy to let mortgage

I am purchasing a house using a fixed rate residential mortgage. If, for example in 18 months, I wanted to rent out my house, would I be able to do this?

What would be the consequences if I rented out my house without a buy to let mortgage?

You should be able to rent out your property in the future, though you would need permission from your lender. Often mortgage providers will allow this for a limited period without changing anything. However, if this would be intended as a long term situation, the lender would almost certainly want you to transfer to a buy to let mortgage. Attempting to let without permission would break the terms of your agreement with the mortgage company which could then take action against you.


Unwelcome guest

A couple of friends of mine are joint tenants in a flat they rent. A few weeks ago one of them agreed that the 18 year old son of an acquaintance of hers could stay as a guest for a while as she works away from home a lot.

Since then he has been requested to leave on a number of occasions but has so far refused. His command of English is poor and although he claims to be taking English lessons seldom leaves the flat. The other female tenant is most uncomfortable at his still being there, especially as she wants to go away on holiday which would mean leaving this person on his own.

The ‘guest’s’ father is apparently in New Zealand at present and he claims he has nowhere to go. In addition tenants in the flat above are now complaining of noise late at night.

It would appear on the face of it that this youth has no legal right to remain in the property; he pays no rent and is not the legal tenant – just a guest who has grossly overstayed his welcome. What can be done in a case like this? If she knew he would be out of the property for a few hours then she could have the locks changed. Can she call the Police and have him removed?

This person is there on licence only. Your friend should give him a brief letter, dated, stating that she would like him to vacate on a near date – say one week, to give reasonable notice. Keep a copy. At the expiry of the reasonable notice, she can then go to court and get a repossession order. If he still does not go, then a bailiff’s order would be needed and a bailiff would come and remove him. Have a locksmith on hand to change the locks immediately.

The police would normally be present at a bailiff’s attendance, to ensure that there is no physical violence.

Your friend could call the police and ask them to remove him, but I would be careful of actions like that. Although unwelcome, nobody can remove him without a court order and bailiff’s warrant.

Most people in receipt of a court order would simply leave. In this case, if the unwanted ‘guest’ has poor English he may not understand this. Even so, I am willing to bet, cynic that I am, that if there is any transgression against legal procedure he will find friends quite willing to take him wherever he needs to go to take action against your friend.

I am afraid this is yet another proof of why you should not let friendship influence sound common sense – which says an 18 year old male is very different to two working women, particularly when he does not understand the social norms of this country.


Left with bailiffs to deal with

Our tenants have suddenly left us. Although they have paid the rent, there are numerous letters addressed to the house, asking them for the money. The bailiff is threatening to come over. Is there anything we should do? They have also registered themselves with the local council for voting.

Presumably your tenants told you they were going. If not, you need to issue a ‘notice to quit’ showing you think the property has been abandoned. Then contact the Bailiff. Bundle together all the letters you have found from creditors, and send a copy of these together with the notice you have issued and anything your tenants have given you and tell the Bailiff exactly what you have told me – that the tenant has abandoned. There are companies which will ascertain where your tenant has moved to and will pursue the debts.

I cannot see that you as the landlord have any responsibility for debts. However, the address may be blackballed for credit in the future if you do not take all the steps you can to ensure this does not happen. Speak to your town hall to have your tenants taken off the Electoral Register.


Reporting system

Do you know of a suitable laptop based system that would allow me to print off the results of annual landlord and maintenance inspections when at the premises so as to impress tenants and make them see the process is professional and official.

I suggest you take a look in the Selected Supplier listings for software suppliers. There are a number packages for landlords and most if not all will run on any new PC.


Unwanted entry

My landlord collects the rent from me weekly. I work and so agreed leave the rent inside the main door to my flat. The landlord enters, takes the rent, and endorses my rent book accordingly.

I am now finding my mail (from the downstairs mail table) is being put on my kitchen table and I feel the landlord is crossing the boundary line.

He is a very hands on, old style landlord with old fashioned attitudes such as: ‘if my tenants don’t like my methods then they can go’, and not allowing me to change my utilities supplier because he only likes to deal with one agency.

My main concern is his entering into the flat. What should I do?

He should not be entering areas you have not agreed to and you should calmly and pleasantly raise it with him. I appreciate it from your point of view, but could you try talking to him along the lines of how bad you would feel if you had left underwear out, or had lost an item after he had been in there? You understand that he may feel the need to make inspections occasionally, but this should be by prior arrangement and in your presence. Is there no possibility of paying the rent into a bank account? If he continues to invade your privacy, see Housing Aid, Citizens Advice or a solicitor. But if you do, almost certainly he will issue you with a notice, hopefully legal, but notice nevertheless.


Keys and quite enjoyment

I wonder if you can help me. I am a tenant in a rented property and I recently heard a friend of mine who is a landlord, say that landlords are not legally allowed to own a set of keys to their occupied houses? Is this true?

On the same note, my landlord sent a workman to our house and fitted a new gas fire without me knowing and while I was working. I haven’t heard from my landlord since I moved in, which was four months ago. Was he wrong to do this without me knowing or being present at the time?

They are not legally allowed to use keys without the tenant’s prior knowledge and consent. I have not heard it is illegal to hold them, as many landlords do this as a safeguard, in case tenants lose their keys – it is cheaper and more convenient to be able to provide another set of keys rather than breaking the door down and complete lock changes. If anybody reading this knows differently, please let me know.

Your landlord should not have allowed access to your property without your knowledge. Your presence is desirable, but you can allow access in your absence – but this must be with your permission. Advise the landlord that you could have left private paperwork out, money, personal items you would not want anyone else seeing. Entering without your permission puts the landlord or workman in a very compromising position. It is to safeguard them as much as you that they should not enter.


Letting to council

Next year I will be retiring and am considering purchasing four terrace type properties [local] which are in good order, and which I am considering letting to the local council. Is this a practical idea and how do I contact the relative council department?

Seems a reasonable idea to me. Letting to the Council will take a lot of the pressure off you. I would contact the Regeneration section, or Housing Aid or Housing Advice. If none of them, try the Homeless section – they are the people who will be trying to house people and therefore will know of whatever schemes are available locally. Can’t be more help, I am afraid, as this is not something my local area does. Good luck.


Accidental damage by fire

What is the situation in respect of accidental fire damage?

Some students had a small fire in the kitchen of a property I was letting out and the kitchen needs to have some work done on it. Can I pursue them for the damages? Do I have to find them alternative accommodation at my own expense whilst I carry out repairs to this room, and do they have to continue to pay rent on the property even though technically it could be classed as uninhabitable at the moment?

If you find them alternative accommodation, I would expect them to pay rent for that accommodation.

If Environmental Services said the property was uninhabitable, they would have to move out, but would not necessarily mean you had to provide them with alternative accommodation.

I think it would depend on the circumstances of the fire whether you pursue them for the costs, but they would probably argue that this sort of occurrence is why you have insurance.


Who pays for insurance?

Having bought a 999 year lease on a new property w are just about to let this he first time.

Who is responsible for buildings insurance? As we are letting unfurnished I assume the tenant will pay for contents insurance. And who pays council tax?

You are responsible for buildings insurance – it is your building. The tenant would pay for contents insurance to cover their contents. Council tax in a fully self-contained flat is payable by the tenant.


Right to buy

Does a tenant have any rights to purchase a property from a landlord after a given number of years? My friend claims a tenant will have extra powers after three years. Is this true? What rights should I be aware of for long term tenants?

The only ‘right to buy’ I am aware of is for local authority tenants. I have never heard that three years makes any difference to rights or security. If a tenancy started before 1989, they have greater rights as they are protected tenants. If in doubt, see a solicitor.



DHSS tenants

I’m thinking of letting through the DHSS. What sort of information do they ask for when they send out their forms?

I am sorry but I am not sure exactly what you mean. For example, in my area, a prospective tenant contacts a landlord who is expected to interview him fully. Having decided that he or she will accept the tenant, the landlord gives him or her a tenancy agreement. The tenant has to complete a housing benefit application form, to ensure benefit is paid for the property.

The questions asked in the application are what would be expected – name, address, National Insurance number, income, savings, any family or other people living with the tenant, the landlord’s name and address, the rent and when this is payable, and a few details about the property size and facilities. Is that the type of information you mean?

There may be a local scheme that refers prospective tenants to landlords like yourself. The information that would be sought under those circumstances will be confidential, but may include previous addresses, whether there are support needs and anything else that seems appropriate to that scheme.

If you are thinking of working with specific scheme it would be reasonable to ask those who run it to give you as much information as possible. In our changing society what was DHSS is now DWP (Department of Work and Pensions). Either way those that need housing benefit support can be excellent tenants.


‘Homeless’ tenants

I have a tenant with a sole tenancy agreement. He has moved out, leaving his ex-partner and child. They are not on the tenancy, but she wants the tenancy in her name, to which he is willing to agree as he believes he can then claim homelessness. But I am told it might be better for the tenants if the tenancy remained with the original tenants and the woman claims homelessness since she would be considered to be a priority case. What do you advise?

Difficult to know without knowing the area this relates to. However, if you are happy to give this woman the tenancy, there is no reason not to. She has no rights in the property if you do not give her a new tenancy. The man should be able to register as homeless on the basis of relationship breakdown and that he has joint care of the child – though depending on the length of the local waiting list, he could be waiting some time. Having joint care of the child, his ex-partner would be in the same position. Technically, there is no difference although it is usually easier to get a woman with child temporary accommodation in a hostel whereas a man is likely to be accommodated in a hostel alone – and they are usually not the nicest of places.

But he would not be able to say he was homeless if the mother and child were not given the tenancy and he voluntarily relinquishes the tenancy.


Bicycle trouble

Our neighbours continually park their bicycles on our property without our permission. We have asked them to stop doing this but they simply ignore us. We are worried about removing the bicycles in case we are held responsible for either theft or damage. Are we allowed to remove the bicycles and if we are, how should we go about it. We would be very grateful for any advice on this matter.

Selfish and inconsiderate neighbours cause so many problems. I don’t think there is an easy answer to this one. Presumably the property they park on is completely open? Is there no way you can stop them being able to access the area, perhaps by placing rubbish bins there or something of the like? You could write to them formally, asking them not to park bicycles on your property, but if they have ignored a verbal request, are they likely to respond differently when it is in writing?

You could ask a solicitor to write to them, but that is cost for you and will probably get no better response. I would speak to your local authority – do they have a mediation service that may be able to negotiate about what is a very awkward situation. Is any compromise possible? I do know how infuriating situations like this can become but keep it in perspective.


Taking on lodgers

Before the tenant comes to stay in a spare room me have.
What information should I ask for before I agree to let my spare room? And what type of contact should I draw up?

A lodging agreement is very simple, as the lodger has very few rights – the main one being the right to reasonable notice. You are simply giving the lodger a licence to stay at the property.

I would write a simple agreement, stating when the lodging began, the rent, what it includes, the notice period, and any restrictions you want to make (such as ‘no dogs’, ‘no smoking’, ‘use of shared facilities’, or how the bills are split).

The information you need before you let the room is pretty much standard – can he provide references, cash deposit, what use he thinks he would make of the room. Does he work away? Would he expect overnight guests? How frequently? It is your home, your lodger has minimal security, but you have to be comfortable and confident with him being in your house. So ask what you want. He does not have to answer, but if he doesn’t, don’t let him in.


Insurance cover

What is the minimum insurance cover I should take before letting my property? Is it just landlord’s building insurance?

Buildings Insurance and Occupiers Liability insurance are the main two, though if you let the property furnished, you need some contents insurance too.


Information about landlords

I am looking for database of landlords in the West London area, can you help!

Not easy. While there are hundreds of thousands of landlords, many do not belong to landlord associations (which in any case are unlikely to want to release their lists) or to accreditation or other schemes. Some local agents may have built up lists of landlords but will have to have regard to data protection law – meaning that the uses to which information of this type can be put will depend on terms on which the names were gathered. Your best bet in reaching landlords is probably to advertise in appropriate journals, or for the most Internet savvy landlords on Residential Landlord. If you are not seeking the list for commercial purposes, you could post a message on our Landlords Forum.


No right to buy

My family has rented the same property for near on 70 years. I took over the tenancy from my mother approximately three years ago after she sadly died. About a year ago I contacted the landlord through the letting agent to ask if he would be willing to receive offers to buy from myself and about a one month later the letting agent informed me that he would be willing to listen to any offers I had.

I had the property valued and had a private survey. The property has not been modernised or upgraded for at least 30 years, and has no central heating. There is extensive damp, it needs re-wiring and there is no fitted kitchen.

The property was valued at £215,000 and I made my offer. It was declined.

A year down the line and a number of refused offers later, the landlord has informed me that a property of this size in my area would cost at least £250,000 and that he would not except any offers below this price.

Considering the amount of time that my family has been renting the property and the amount of work obviously needed, I think this is excessive. What are my rights? Do I qualify for a discount?

You do not have rights to a discount in the private sector, though sometimes landlords will give a discount if they feel it is beneficial to them to dispose of the asset. Clearly, this is not the case here.

You cannot force the landlord to sell if he does not want to, but if you want to pursue this further I suggest you have the property revalued to see if it is still only worth £215,000. Get another valuation in addition. If both are saying roughly the same, this may add some weight to your argument with the landlord (or to his with you).

I can appreciate that you feel the landlord is trying to obtain an unrealistic price. However, he may equally feel that you moved into the property comparatively recently; that a tenancy of the length of your mother’s probably means the rental income until her sad death was only quite small and, that now you are trying to make a quick profit.


Fire safety notices

We are just about to let out several flats that we have refurbished and I would like to know if there is a standard wording that we should use for fire safety notices in the flats? I understand that we have to provide the tenants with a leaflet explaining about gas and electrical safety as well as what to do in the event of a fire – is this correct?

Contact your local fire brigade – they should be able to provide you with the leaflets you need. Also, discuss with Environmental Health – they need to be sure you have met all the safety requirements.



Licensing law

I have heard a rumour about a new licence being introduced from 1 December 2005 where all landlords of residential properties must be approved by their local authority. Can you shed any light on this matter and say what the consequences of non-approval would be?

Various changes are coming in because of the 2004 Housing Act, but the only part that I can think of that sounds anything like this is the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation of three storeys or more. It would be up to Environmental Services to use enforcement action, but I am unsure how far they would go – though closure of the property is an option, of course.


Commercial considerations

Because of all the new landlord regulations coming in, I am gradually disposing of my residential property in favour of commercial lets; which in time will mean that I will no longer require the services of the National Landlords Association.

Currently I own eight small factory/warehouse units and a shop. There must be many more like me who require advice and representation of the quality given by the NLA. Do you know of any relevant association or would the NLA consider bringing small commercial landlords under its umbrella?

It is interesting that Government regulation has been a catalyst for a number of landlords thinking this way. However the NLA tells us it has no plans to broaden its remit to include commercial property and knows of no organisation like itself that does include it. Perhaps the nearest is the British Property Federation, with whom the NLA has good links.


Suitability to let

We are hoping to let our three bed room house in which our kitchen leads directly into our bathroom (with a door in between).

We know that houses in multiple occupants may not have bathrooms directly leading off kitchens but are there similar restrictions that would affect us that apply to houses let to a family or group which are not HMOs. We cannot find any secondary (or primary) legislation that states that this would be a problem but feel we must clarify the situation. Are there any other housing requirements regarding layout? For example, would we need fire safety doors between the kitchen and bedroom?

I believe that at one time, the ruling was there should be two doors between a bathroom and kitchen. This has now changed. I would always suggest you discuss problems like this with Building Control or Environmental Health to check on local regulations as well as legislative requirements. Generally, fire doors are not required in a domestic dwelling occupied by a family.


Change of law?

People tell me the law is changing next year regarding electrical and gas safety checks for residential lettings but I can find nothing about it on your excellent site. Have I missed something?

This refers to new Housing Health and Safety Rating System (go to the ODPM website for further information), due to come into effect in April 2006. It brings 29 risk categories into being which will be used by Environmental Services to assess fitness. The general principle behind the new rating system is that dwellings should provide a safe and healthy environment for the occupants and any visitors and should be free from unnecessary and avoidable hazards. Where hazards are necessary or unavoidable, they should be made as safe as reasonably possible.

I am not aware of a major change to gas safety, which requires a safety certificate annually. New building regulations require that any major new electrical work must be inspected by a ‘competent person’, registered to issue certificates. Try the British Standards Institute on 01442 230442 for further information, or NICEIC on 0800 0130900 for a local certified electrician.


HMO licensing

I have a three storey house which I am proposing to let to four tenants. I am shutting off the top floor so they will only have access to the ground and first floors. The top floor consists of an attic room only.

In view of the new licensing requirements for HMOs, I am trying to avoid having to
register the property as an HMO (and recorded as such with Land Registry). Do you consider these measures would exclude me from having to obtain a licence?

I really can’t say, the precise regulations are not available yet, although my gut feel is ‘no’, unless you brick it off so there is no access at all, but this would probably be impossible for access to roof space. Environmental Services are the obvious people to advise – but of course, that alets them in advance of the property you have got.

The Government has announced that the regulations dealing with HMO and selective licensing of landlords by local authorities will be published at the end of January 2006. Explanatory information will be made available for landlords and tenants in February and March 2006.



Sitting tenancy laws

My parents have had sitting tenants for many years but are still unaware of the sitting tenancy laws. Where could I view such documents?

I think you are probably referring to a regulated tenancy. Contact the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on 0870 1226236 or e-mail odpm@twoten.press.net and ask for booklet Regulated Tenancies – Product code 92 HUG 221 – they usually provide this free of charge.


Housing Act 2004

When does the Housing Act 2004 come into effect? What constitutes a ‘house in multiple occupation’, and which HMOs have to be licensed?

It is being implemented in various stages. Regulations dealing with HMO and selective licensing of landlords by local authorities are to be published at the end of January 2006. Explanatory information will be made available for landlords and tenants in February and March 2006.

Regulations on the new Empty Dwelling Management Orders, for which councils will be ably to apply when properties have been left unoccupied for six months or more, will also be published at the end of January, with publication of guidance to follow in March. Regulations dealing with tenant deposit protection will be published in July next year, but explanatory information is to be issued from May 2006 onwards.


Landlord forum

I have just started running the Bond Scheme for Monmouthshire, but there doesn’t appear to be a landlord forum here. Do you have any advice on who to contact?

Speak to your local regeneration division/accreditation scheme – work with them – it will be able to help with contacts and also with the costs and accommodation needed to hold a forum. Check the telephone directory for landlord associations. Put a poster up in your Housing Benefit section. Advertise in the local newspaper something along the lines of: ‘Landlords – do you want a say in shaping the private sector in the future? Do you need tenants’ – put in whatever your aims and objectives are, and end…’ring…… if you would like to be part of the Monmouthshire Landlord Forum’. Good luck!


Non Paying tenant losses keys

I have a tenant whom I am in the process of evicting for non payment of rent (I expect we will be at court in about four to five weeks time). He has now rung to accuse me of changing his locks (which is untrue). He has lied so much that I don’t know what to make of this situation and suspect he has perhaps lost his keys and wants me to let him in. What is my obligation?

I am sure you have not changed the locks, but you need to be very careful about tenants making these kinds of allegations, which amount to claims of illegal eviction. I would get the tenant a new key, but ensure you change the locks when he leaves. You have an obligation to allow him residence of the property until a court orders possession, and if he remains then, you need to get a bailiff’s warrant – you cannot evict him or deny him access to the property until this happens.



New HMO rules

I let a two storey three bedroom semi-detached house to three adults who have all signed the tenancy agreement but are not (so far as I know) related to each other. I understand there are new rules about houses in multiple occupation that might catch my situation. If so substantial modification would be needed to the property including fitting fire doors, mains smoke alarms, extinguishers, and more. Please outline the conditions for a house to be classed as in multiple occupation and the legal obligations arising?

You need to discuss this with the local Environmental Services as it sounds as though this property would come within the mandatory licensing legislation. My understanding is that all three storey HMOs will come within this legislation. All other properties let to more than one person in separate units are classed as HMOs. The only possible exceptions are properties converted into flats having entirely separate entrances and no shared accommodation.



Internet connections

I own a pair of houses in London jointly with my sisters. They are let out to university students, virtually all of whom have computers and Internet connections. There are wires everywhere!

We would like to provide a central Internet connection in either one or both houses – each has 10 lettable rooms. We are considering using a dLAN system in each house which would be simple and cheap. Do you have any views about this or alternative suitable systems?

Not really my field but the technical people at Residential Landlord say a dLAN would be suitable solution. dLANs have a range of about 50 metres but care must be taken in their positioning – they will not work through concrete walls, for example. To use the system the students would each need a USB sensor costing about £20 although older computers might need something more to access the line…

 


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