Mortgage brokers are furious that the West Brom Building Society are only targeting clients they introduced with a 1.9% hike of their tracker margins. Only 41% of borrowers are affected highly controversial rate rise, direct customers of the the building society are not currently being targeted. Further, the society has issued veiled threats in response... Read more
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[Ben Reeve Lewis is leaning new tricks...]
One of the best things about a new job is learning new stuff.
I’ve been prosecuting landlords for harassment and illegal eviction for years now so it’s all a bit familiar and “yeah, yeah”, but my new role as PRS Enforcement Coordinator is teaching this old dog new tricks.The RIPA nightmare
Heard of RIPA? The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
When it was introduced it was known as a ‘Snoopers Charter’, ushering in more powers in the wake of increasing terrorist threats to allow public bodies to carry out surveillance and obtain information from other organisations without the subject knowing about it.
Maybe it works well for spooks, those secretive MI5 types who the eponymous TV programme would have us believe all look like super-models instead of John Le Carre’ shabby old dossers, but for people in my position, TRO’s, EHO’s, housing benefit fraud investigators RIPA is a major pain in the arse.
We have multi agency meetings with a named landlord/letting agent on the agenda, we all have different parts of the jigsaw and a range of investigatory documents but we have to work out which of us is allowed to see which bits of what the other one has.
For instance if DWP fraud find something out about the person that was prompted by information they originally got from the council that they shouldn’t have been party too, then their prosecution could fail.
Far from being a snoopers charter it seems, from the perspective of my flowering relationship with the legislation, to be a criminals charter, allowing them to walk on a technicality if we all get one tiny bit of the investigation process wrong. You don’t even have to lie or fit someone up, just showing yours to someone who should have seen it is enough.
Where’s Gene Hunt and Jack Regan when you need them?Drawing evidence
Talking of dodgy procedures I was curious to read this piece in the Daily Mirror about a child’s school drawing of neighbours from hell that was used as evidence in the eviction hearing.
Fair enough the family do sound like complete nutters; loud parties each night, urinating in neighbours gardens, jumping on cars and they quite rightly deserved to be evicted but I can’t see any judge that I have ever been in front of allowing a kids picture as evidence.
I know that the standard of proof in the civil court is just ‘balance of probabilities’ but even the most kindly judges I know wouldn’t let that one through……would they????
Certainly wouldn’t get through the RIPA test anyway.Data Protection answers
Talking of going all Secret Squirrel, the Guild of Residential Landlords this week pointed me to an interesting article on website of the Information Commissioners Office about the vexed question of whether or not the Data Protection Act allows agents to share referenced information about tenants with their landlords [we have written about it here too Ben, eg here - Ed].
This is a question I have been asked several times. The ICO tells it very straight and unambiguously:-
“The agent can pass this information to the landlord, as long as, when the reference is asked for, they make clear to the tenant and the referee that this will happen”.
There! That should settle things once and for all.
A few other common questions are answered there too.
- Can a landlord pass the names of new tenants to the utility companies? Yes.
- Can landlords put up a list of tenants who are in arrears? No.
- Can a landlord pass forwarding addresses of former tenants to the utility companies? Yes.
There, nice simple laws, just the way we like them, not this bloody RIPA nonsense.The Audit Commission is pleased (sort of)
And staying with fraud and investigations I was heartened to read that the Audit Commission found that councils are making headway against social housing fraud as reported on Housing Excellence.
In 2012 councils repossessed 2,642 homes that were being illegally sub-let, which would have cost £400 million if they had to rebuild (Yes I don’t get the point of that weird statistic either). This all represents a 51% increase in fraud detection on the previous year.
For once the Audit Commission cheered on the councils saying:
“There is no doubt our findings show councils increasingly out-smarting the housing tenancy fraudsters. This shows what councils can achieve by working effectively together in partnership, sharing and adopting best practice,”
Which is exactly my point and the purpose behind my new role.
Fraudsters of all stripes have been getting away with murder for too long because council’s are so mired in restrictive laws (like bloody RIPA) and too denuded of staff to keep on top of the amount of scams and general criminal activity being reported.
But if you take all those small teams dotted around the council, those shabby John le Carre types squirreled away in a forgotten back room somewhere and put them all together in a room to form one big enforcement team then you stand a good chance of spoiling someone’s day.
However the Audit Commission wasn’t all smiles, it isn’t their default mode, and revealed that most of the fraud is detected by a small number of top performing councils. But they did add:
“We encourage all councils to play their part and do as much as they can to detect fraud. If the other 75% of councils had found as much, we would see much higher overall rates of fraud detection,”.
Yep! It aint Kansas anymore, Dorothy and council’s have to become less like Margaret Rutherford in Miss Marple and more like Sean Connery in ‘The Untouchables’.Door talking
Throwing this week’s fraud and spying theme completely out of the window my final eye is drawn to a curious piece on Planet Property “What does your front door say about you?”
At first I thought this was an article about paranoia, the notion that one too many spliffs can cause the illusion that the portal to your home is spreading tittle-tattle about you with the hedge, but no.
In the style of a cheap astrologer the authors at PP suggest, with tongue firmly in cheek that:
- UPV = Modern Mamma
- Glass Panels = Sophisticated sister
- Wooden Door = Conservative Chick
- Painted Doors = Boisterous Babe
- White door = House Proud Homebird
The whole thing turns out to be a promotion piece for Todd doors who obviously paid PP to push people their way.
Curious though that all the names are aimed at women. Maybe that’s what the research tells us, that the women choose the doors as an outward expression and the blokes buy and fit them.
Doors as status symbols? All a bit depressing I think. I prefer to think that my door does talk about me when I’m out and that when I come home it says to the hall “Oh god here we go again”
See ya next week.
For those of you who are involved in people looking to extend their leases or undertaking freehold purchase by way of collective enfranchisement under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 you will no doubt be aware of the issues with regards to signing the Initial Notices required under this Act.
Due to a case called St Ermin’s Property Co. Ltd v. Tingay EWHC 1673 (Ch) it was determined that all such Notices must be personally signed by the relevant leaseholder. The case determined that the Notice could not be signed by a solicitor or even under a Power of Attorney but required an actual signature. This practically caused many issues particularly once the residence requirement was removed and leaseholders were often “Buy to Let” landlords spread all over the globe.
As a result a Private Members Bill, Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Bill, is due to get its second reading on 22nd November 2013. The Bill sets out to amend paragraph 99 of the 1993 Act to remove the requirement that Notices must be personally signed. If the Bill should become law it will mean that Notices may be signed “by or on behalf of the tenant” and should remove this practical difficulty.
Whilst this may seems minor many notices have been rejected by freeholders on the grounds they have not been properly executed and leaseholders have had to start the process all over again incurring not only their own costs but having to pay costs to freeholders.
Filed under: England & Wales Tagged: legislation, long lease, procedure
Here is a question to the blog clinic from Richard (not his real name) who is a landlord
I am a landlord, I have rented out a flat in the centre of Bath since 2001. I last visited in May 2008 when the place was partially renovated, since then it has been managed by an agent as I live in Kent.
The flat was rented from August 2008 until February this year by a couple, when they left the agent re-let it quickly to a single gentleman.
At some stage the couple had a satellite dish installed on the front, this has now been utilised by the new tenant who has set up a contract with a well-known broadcasting company.
I have received a letter from the council informing me that the dish has been put up without planning permission and it must be taken down. This was the first I was aware that a dish has been installed.
I have passed the matter onto the agent and asked why I was not consulted about the dish and why they have not notified me about its erection since they have been visiting the premises every twelve months. They responded by saying they are not responsible for the tenants actions, which has irked me somewhat.
The tenant has been advised and is threatening to sue as he is in the middle of a contract with the provider and also wants to terminate the tenancy.
Does this constitute breach of contract on my part or is this the fault of incompetent managing agents?
I would appreciate some sound advice. Please assist me if you can.
There are four relationships to consider -
- With the Council
- With your agents
- With the old tenants and
- With the new tenants
It is difficult to answer properly without sight of your tenancy agreements with the tenants and your agency agreement with the agents as I do not know what you have agreed with them.
I assume though that your tenancy agreement would have prohibited installation of satellite dishes either specifically or under a general clause prohibiting changes to the property without consent. So they are the real culprits. I suspect however that they will now be long gone and that the tenancy deposit (which you could have utilised to cover the cost of removal) has been paid back to them.
The second main culprits are your agents. If they are employed to inspect the property under a management contract, this is something that they should have spotted and reported to you.
Even if they were just employed to re-let the property they would presumably have done an inspection and should have noted that between checkin and checkout a satellite dish had been installed and informed you of this. Surely they must be aware that this could be illegal?
I think it may well be negligence on their part that they did not spot this and let you know and have therefore let you in for this mess.
So far as the current tenant is concerned, he is innocent and justifiably annoyed at having to cancel his contract. I think you may well be liable to compensate him for this or maybe even allow him to leave early.
My view is that you should be able to pass any loss on to the agents as they should have kept you informed of the dish installation – this is after all why one has agents. It sounds as if they are not going to be co-operative though.
One possible suggestion is to have a word with the Council and see if there is any chance that the disk can remain at least until the end of the tenants contract. On the basis that you will definitely remove it at that time. Worth a try maybe.
What do readers think?