How can regulations be managed so the rental sector is fair to both tenants and landlords?
Property expert Kate Faulkner explains how property regulation has made life fairer for both tenants and landlords, but says there's still work to be done.
Over the past 15 years there have been huge amounts of new rules and regulations imposed on landlords to help improve the Private Rented Sector.
And it’s worked well so far – for most tenants and good landlords and letting agents. According to the English Housing Survey, most tenants are happy in their rented accommodation and 70% of properties rented are free from any serious hazards. Unfortunately, though, that does mean 30% are classed as ‘non-decent’ homes, meaning nearly a third of properties still don’t meet standards required.
Why are a third of the properties ‘non-decent’?
Part of the reason for so many properties being ‘non-decent’ in the Private Rented Sector is that they’re typically quite old, so tough to maintain. Secondly, the good guys do all the right things, while the rogues and criminals are allowed to get away with bad practice and criminal behaviour.
We’ve all seen this recently on TV with horror stories of overcrowding or dividing properties into bedsits without abiding by the law and still charging extortionate rents – this is not the norm for landlords though, most do a great job taking care of their property and the tenant.
Unfortunately, much of this bad behaviour has been ‘allowed’ because few Local Authorities have the funds or personnel to manage enforcement and many tenants choose not to complain as they’ve nowhere else to go. Sadly it’s meant all landlords and letting agents have been ‘tarred with the same brush’.
What can regulators do?
What’s important for any regulator to get right is to make sure that policies are fair to both tenants and landlords, based on the reality that there are both good and bad landlords and indeed good and bad tenants.
To make sure regulation is fair, we need clear and precise regulation which is widely promoted and understood by both parties. One good example is the need for a Gas Safety Certificate that has to be updated annually. All landlords and letting agents I’ve met know about this law and it protects the tenant from awful injuries and a landlord being left with the guilt of harming someone.
The rules on electrical health and safety though are greyer. The government’s ‘How to Rent guide’ recommends they’re checked every five years professionally (for example by a NAPIT registered Part P competent person). Then some believe you should have them checked at the end of each tenancy, just in case they’ve been altered, and others take the advice of their electrician. My view is to do a bit of all three. I have an electrical safety check at the start of renting a property then typically I take advice from the electrician for the next check but am always looking for any bare wires or cracked sockets and problems with appliances at the end of each tenancy.
Other regulations which are quite ambiguous but you can’t ignore are:
As it’s down to the Local Authority to enforce these rules, I’d chat to your housing officer and if there is a Landlord Accreditation scheme locally, do sign up.
Apart from being ambiguous, regulations also let people down when they are far too much in favour of a tenant than a landlord and vice versa. In these cases, it’s important to have a fair arbitration system which is free of charge or only a small cost so neither party is deterred from a dispute.
A good example of how this works well is with the tenancy deposit schemes. A deposit is taken from the tenant at the start of the tenancy and although it can take longer for it to be returned than before this system existed, it at least means each party has equal opportunity to argue their case if there’s a dispute.
Where regulations fall short
Where regulations aren’t working for either party just now is contract termination. On the one hand it is hard work to evict a bad tenant – especially one not paying their rent, but on the other it is too easy to evict a tenant because the landlord thinks they can get someone else in at a higher rent or they feel the tenant’s expectations are too high.
This for me is one area where litigation and having to go to court hurt both sides and instead need some form of easy, cost effective arbitration as these cases often need some individual but expert intervention.
So, lettings regulations and rules only work if both landlords and tenants are fully informed about their rights and responsibilities and then when either doesn’t abide by them, there is a simple, quick and cost effective way to settle the dispute.
Unfortunately we haven’t quite achieved that in the Private Rented Sector – yet. In my view there needs to be more time and effort in particular enforcing the rules that are currently in place, coupled with much better education of tenants and landlords on their rights and responsibilities.
For more information about yours and your tenants’ rights and responsibilities, do visit the Landlord Knowledge Centre.