Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

Accuracy of Information on Websites

Many people will be aware of the problems of obtaining accurate information on the internet. As a law firm we frequently receive communications from individuals telling us what the law on a particular matter is. Often this is based on poorly written commentary or, more amusingly, on the law in other parts of the world.

For agents this is a particularly important issue as property advertising on the internet continues to grow. The risks of misrepresentation and misdescription (which for estate agents is prosecutable under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991) are growing and the modern phenomena for sites taking automatic data feeds from agents own software means that small (and otherwise inconsequential errors) can rapidly be magnified into major problems.

However there is some good news. A recent case in the Court of Appeal dealt with the liability of a company for incorrect information appearing on its website. In Patchett v SPATA the Court of Appeal held that the Defendant was not liable for a misleading representation on its website in relation to the quality of third party contractors. This was primarily because the website “urged independent enquiry”. The website made reference to other documents supplied by the Defendant and set out a series of enquiries that should be made before relying on the contractors mentioned on the site.

Agents would be well advised to take this on board by making clear on their websites that further details of properties are available and should be sought before reaching a decision on rental or purchase.

However, agents should also take care of the details appearing on their websites and on other internet portals and should make sure they have a proper procedure in place to review this information and check its accuracy on a daily basis. Not only will this help avoid mistakes but it will also provide a defence against any threatened prosecution under the Property Misdescriptions Act.

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Mortgage Repossession Protocol Changing Behaviour

It seems that the new mortgage repossession pre-action protocol (which we talked about here) is having an effect on mortgagee’s behaviour with a dramatic drop in repossession actions.

Whether the protocol has been responsible for this or whether mortgagees are less inclined to take possession due to the difficulty in recovering their investment by selling the property is a moot point. The key issue from the point of view of the landlord and tenant professional is the increased willingness of mortgagees to appoint receivers and reach sensible commercial arrangements.

From the tenant’s point of view this means that they may be able to remain in a property they have rented by paying rent to a receiver appointed by the mortgagee. However, it should be remembered that the receiver is frequently not accepting the landlord’s responsibilities (just the money!) and so it will still be necessary to look to the landlord to repair the property.

For buy-to-let landlords the new willingness of mortgagees to reach sensible commercial arrangements coupled with a reduction in interest rates may be sufficient to allow them to weather the downturn. However, it is notable that many mortgagees are refusing to remortgage with buy-to-let landlords so this may not be sufficient.

Whether this new attitude from mortgagees will continue when they can more easily sell property remains to be seen but the current change in attitude will benefit landlords who make an effort to negotiate with their mortgagee if things are difficult.

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TDS, Evidence, and Bias

We often hear allegations that tenancy deposit protection schemes are biased towards tenants. This, in part, conceals a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of a deposit.

The tenant’s deposit belongs to the tenant and continues to do so until such time as the landlord becomes entitled to make reasonable deductions from it. Therefore the default position is that all the deposit should be returned to the tenant unless the landlord demonstrates that the deposit should be sent to them. This is not bias but the correct application of the law.

It is for landlords to show that the tenant’s deposit or parts of it should be passed to them by providing evidence of the tenant’s breaches of the tenancy agreement. This should be weighed on the balance of probabilities but the landlord will need to provide solid evidence that the loss or damage has occurred and that the valuation placed on it is realistic. Where this is not provided or the tenant provides evidence to the contrary then the money should be returned to the tenant.

In summary, the various schemes are no more biased than the Courts. They start from the proposition that the money belongs to the tenant and require the landlord to show that it should be given to them. Where insufficient evidence of that proposition is provided then the money will be returned to the tenant.

Accusations of bias toward tenant should perhaps be viewed as an admission that the landlord could not make a strong enough case. Looking at the statistics it can be seen that the schemes make awards almost equally to both parties. Given that they should be starting from the premise that the money is the tenant’s this shows that landlords do relatively well from scheme adjudications.

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Further Energy Performance Tweaks

The Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England & Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 came into force on 10 August 2009.

These make a small amendment to the EPC regulations to allow for disclosure of EPCs, recommendations and Display Energy Certificates on the sale of properties. Where an EPC is produced for a property which is for sale and the rating on the certificate is in bands F or G the keeper of the EPC register (ie. one of the licensed bodies who register and maintain records of inspectors) is permitted to disclose the certificate to the Energy Saving Trust Ltd, a body licensed by government to provide information and advice in relation to energy saving in the home.

The objective of the disclosure is to allow the trust to provide information to the owner of the property on things they can do to improve the efficiency of the property and grants that might be available to pay for the improvements.

In general this will have limited effects on the sector except to encourage improvement of less efficient properties. This may be of benefit as these properties are generally less desirable and harder to sell although, in truth, most agents will already be pointing vendors and landlords towards the trust and its free advisory services in any event.

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Notices to Quit

A recent Court of Appeal decision sheds light on issues relating to Notices to Quit by tenants. In Bradford Community Housing Ltd v Hussain & Kauser the Court of Appeal ruled on the validity of a Notice to Quit which contains a saving provision and on whether the acceptance of rent or holding back on enforcement can invalidate a Notice to Quit.

Mr Hussain and Ms Kauser held an assured tenancy from Bradford Community Housing Ltd and after allegations of domestic violence their relationship collapsed and Ms Kauser (at the urging of Bradford) served a notice to quit on Bradford. As the tenancy was periodic by this stage the notice was valid to terminate the tenancy without the involvement of Mr Hussain following the well-known decision in Hammersmith & Fulham LBC v Monk. On the back of this notice possession proceedings were taken.

Before the Court of Appeal two arguments were made. The first was that the date on the notice was wrong and that the standard saving provision made the notice ambiguous as the saving provision and the given date ultimately referred to different dates. The second argument was based around correspondence between Bradford and Ms Kauser whereby Bradford had suggested suggested that they would not enforce on the notice to quit immediately and would continue to accept rent monies on an ad hoc basis. It was argued that this arrangement had the effect of renewing the tenancy and thereby made the notice to quit ineffective without the consent of Mr Hussain.

The Court of Appeal dismissed both arguments out of hand.
The Court was in no doubt that the use of the saving provision did not create and doubt in the mind of a reasonable recipient of the notice. This is an interesting point as the same question has been raised (although not at such a level) in relation to section 21(4)(a) notices and the possibility of ambiguity if they contain both a date and a saving provision. It would seem that this argument is now dead.
The Court was also not prepared to accept that a statement by Bradford that they might not immediately enforce the notice to quit and would in the meantime accept rent in any way acted to create a new tenancy. The Court made reference to the case of Clarke v Grant and made clear that mere acceptance of rent after the expiry of a notice could only create a new tenancy if this was the settled intention of the parties.

While this is a small case it provides clarity over one or two points of interest.

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