Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

Reminder of HMOs’

Local authorities are gaining confidence in using their powers to introduce compulsory additional licensing of HMO landlords.

For example Oxford County Council is celebrating its “groundbreaking new powers” for licensing HMOs. From Monday 30th January every HMO in Oxford City Council’s area must be licensed and “every landlord who owns a property where three or more unrelated tenants live and share facilities such as the kitchen and bathroom will be required to get a HMO licence”.

Cardiff has announced a consultation period to consider extending its HMO licensing to two further wards.

Brighton and Hove City Council is consultation additional HMO licensing.

Nottingham City Council took the step in March 2011 to make an article 4 direction. providing that “from 11th March 2012, it will become necessary to obtain planning permission to convert a family dwelling (Use Class C3) to a HMO with between 3 and 6 unrelated people sharing (Use Class C4) throughout the whole of the Nottingham City Council area. Planning permission is already required for properties shared by more than 6 unrelated people”

The above is but a sample. Many other local authorities are looking to make Article 4 directions. Agents and Landlords are advised that if the property is an HMO, check with the local authority as to their current (and future) licensing requirements.

Given how complex this area is we will blog on HMOs’ further with:
1. Is my property an HMO?
2. My property is an HMO what do I need to do about that (ie the regulations for ALL)?
3. Local Authority says my property needs a licence – what do I need to do and penalties?
4. Council tax and other issues.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , ,

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – What it means to Managing Agents

We have received quite a few helpline queries about the above Act and whether or not agents can refuse to supply tenant’s personal information to the police.

The key obligations provided to an agent are covered by Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Essentially an agent is not responsible for drug activity in a property where a reasonable person in position of the same information would not have been aware of the drug use. Agents are not expected to be an expert in the detection of drug paraphernalia but if a property has items within it which are well known to be used in association with drugs it would be no defence to say that they were not aware of the drug activity. Therefore if an agent genuinely believes that there is drug use at a property the safest course of action is to simply report it to the police. However agents should also be careful not to simply accuse tenants of drug use because the tenant possesses cultural items that the agent does not understand.

An important associated question is whether agents have to release information requested by the police when they are not aware of any illegal activity. This is where the Data Protection Act 1988 plays an important part. The Data Protection Act does not prevent you from disclosing information to the police. There is a partial exemption that allows you to provide personal information in order to prevent or detect a crime, or catch and prosecute a criminal. The agent is unlikely to hold much personal information about the tenant which will assist in a police investigation. However the exemption only applies if a failure to disclose the information would hinder the police investigation. In addition, the exemption only permits disclosure of information that is genuinely needed by the police for their investigation. It is not acceptable to give the police unfettered access to files.

On a practical level a decision to disclose to the police should be taken at a level which is senior enough that it is clear that the issue is being given appropriate weight by the organisation. The police should be asked to be specific about what they require and an attendance note kept of precisely what information is disclosed and to whom.

The Information Commissioners Office has provided guidance on this issue.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

TDS

We have blogged on the issues surrounding the release of Deposits following possession proceedings here. Many of you will be interested to note that the TDS have replied to this blog here.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

Security for landlords

From the 1st of this month the Land Registry launched Form LL which allows landlords to register a restriction for free against the title of their home when they do not live at the property. The restriction is designed to help prevent forgery by requiring a solicitor or conveyancer to certify they are satisfied that the person selling or mortgaging the property is the true owner.

Property is usually the most valuable asset people own. It can be sold and mortgaged to raise money and is therefore an attractive target for fraudsters. The properties most vulnerable to fraud are usually empty, tenanted or mortgage-free. To help prevent forgery, absent owners can ask the Land Registry to enter a Form LL restriction on the title.

This is something that landlords that are abroad or far from the tenanted property should consider and agents are asked to consider mentioning this to their clients.

The cynics out there are probably thinking that there is another reason why the Land Registry has released this practise note and it is to do with the compensation they have to pay out when something like this happens however it’s easier to register a restriction than seek compensation when you are abroad.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

Money Claims- Changes to the rules

From the 19th March 2012 all claims for money only started in the County Court and not already subject to special procedures under the CPR will now be known as “designated money claims”. All of these claims must now be sent to the County Court Money Claims Centre which is based in Salford. The claims will then technically be issued out of the Northampton County Court.

For these money claims the Business Centre in Salford will be the administrative office. When you issue your proceedings you will be required to specify which is your “preferred court” for dealing with matters if the claim gets transferred. The usual rules on transfer will still apply so the claim will if against an individual be transferred to his or her home court. This centre will deal with all matters up to and including the filing of allocation questionnaires. Only at that point will the claim be transferred out.

This is a significant change and reduction in the work which local County Courts will handle in the first instance. Generally for many people issuing money claims themselves it may be easier to simply use Money Claims Online to deal with making the claim rather than paper applications. We wait to see what if any further effects these changes may have on the Courts. You should be aware that if you are contemplating enforcing via the High Court (e.g. by Sheriffs Officers) you may be better advised to issue your claim out of the local High Court District Registry although the rules on financial limits still apply.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

Can Freeholders charge for Consenting to Underletting?

Most long residential leases today contain some provision about underletting. Often the clause in the lease will require the Leaseholder to obtain the prior consent of the Freeholder or their managing agent. It is when this consent is sought that problems can arise.

As ever the starting point should be the lease. Many leases have a specific provision indicating something along the lines of ” not to underlet without the consent in writing of the Landlord such consent not to be unreasonably withheld”. In those circumstances an application should be made to the Landlord prior to each and every subletting. Recently the Lands Tribunal in the cases of Holding And Management (Solitaire) Ltd v Norton and Bradmoss Ltd, Re 10 Meadow Court considered whether Landlords were entitled to make a charge in such situations.

The LVT at first instance had determined that the Landlord could not recover costs. Consideration was given to Section 19(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927. The Lands Tribunal made clear that in their opinion Section 19(1) allowed a Landlord as a reasonable condition of granting Consent to require payment of their reasonable costs. Further the Lands Tribunal went on to confirm that in its opinion such a charge would then be a variable administration charge and the LVT had power under Schedule 11 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to determine the reasonableness of the charge. The answer is therefore that the Landlord can recover these costs subject as ever to the lease terms.

At this stage the Lands Tribunal has requested submissions as to the reasonableness of the charges proposed in these various cases and we await further guidance. Clearly Freeholders will have to justify each and every charge they make and to be able to explain how the charge has been calculated both as to the particular development and their own organisation. Hopefully some further guidance will be offered as this is an area which many investor leaseholders often feel that Freeholders simply use as a mechanism to charge high fees to simply profit from the freehold rather than to cover any reasonable costs which they may have incurred. A case of watch this space ….

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , ,

Survey of tenants in private rented sector.

The university of Winchester has launched a survey of tenants in a private rented sector. There is a real shortage of good information about the sector and Tenant’s experiences of it. Again, the government is in danger of making policy decisions in this information vacuum. PainSmith ask all readers of this blog to promote this survey to any tenants in a private rented sector they deal with.

The survey can be found at http://www.survey.winchester.ac.uk/prs

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

LEASE INTERPRETATION: WHAT DO COURTS AND TRIBUNALS LOOK AT?

We have over the past few months referred in our articles to the fact that the starting point for LVTs and Courts in leasehold disputes is the lease itself.

Often residential leases were drafted many years ago and are in a format which even to professionals can be difficult to assess but what are the steps that the Court and LVT go through to determine the terms?

Initially they will go through the document. For a long residential lease all of the terms must be in writing. Some terms will be very clear and easily interpreted. This will often be the case in respect of terms over payment of ground rent and insurance. Certainly for any lease which has changed hands over recent years it should be in a format covering all the major areas such as rent, insurance, service charge, repairs etc as conveyancing solicitors should be checking that the lease complies with Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) requirements. These requirements require these fundamental terms to be covered in a clear and satisfactory manner.

What is often more complicated is the extent of a clause. This can be particularly true of service charge clauses. Many of these clauses are written in a very general manner with some kind of “sweeping up” clause whose function is meant to be to cover everything not expressly stated. Be warned they do not always work!

The general principle is that clauses are given a meaning which a reasonable person would understand and words are given there ordinary meaning. Courts will not tie themselves in knots in carrying out an interpretation even if the natural meaning gives a strange result. If this is the case other remedies may be open to the parties such as rectification if they can fulfil the grounds. The Courts and LVT will not imply terms into an agreement and will expect all the terms to be present in the document relied upon.

If then a clause is still unclear and or could be interpreted in a number of ways generally it will be decided in a way most beneficial to the person not seeking to rely upon that clause. This is due to the fact that the burden of proof will be upon the person relying upon the clause to prove that meaning. It is for this reason that “sweeping up” clauses often do not achieve the desired effect.

Usually the terms are clear but it is vital that proper consideration is given to the terms. Anyone buying a lease (or a freehold) should understand what the rights and responsibilities under the lease are. Certainly as can be seen in the published LVT decisions often in service charges Freeholders and their Agents try and argue that it would be perverse to not allow them to recover management fees, accountancy fees etc and whilst a Panel may have sympathy if the lease does not cover this the hands of the LVT are bound.

Again early consideration of the contractual terms can prevent disputes and if in doubt parties would be well advised to take specialist advice to avoid costly Court or LVT cases.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

How to prepare for an LVT Hearing in respect of service charges

For many people having an LVT hearing can be a daunting prospect and there first experience of dealing with a Court or Tribunal particularly in an unrepresented capacity.

For the purpose of this blog post we are specifically referring to applications made under Section 27A of the Landlord and Tenant act 1985 although the principles apply to all LVT cases.

These applications can be made by either the Freeholder or a Leaseholder and the purpose is to determine whether a charge is payable and the reasonableness of the same. In making its determination the LVT will have regard to the terms of the lease and then whether the statutory processes have been complied with.

Whoever makes the application is required to complete an application form. Copies of the forms and guidance notes may be obtained from the Justice department website.

As part of the application you should specify exactly what it is you are seeking. It is important to make this clear so that the LVT is clear what is being sort. Often if the Freeholder this will be the whole of particular years and if the Leaseholder they may wish to object to specific charges. This should be set out clearly and specify which service charge years are being referred to.

The application should have attached to it a copy of any relevant lease and other relevant documents. If it is the Freeholder we would recommend this should include:

• Any and all service charge demands with summaries of tenants rights etc as appropriate
• Copy of relevant lease
• Copy of any Consultation documents etc

If it is the Leaseholder then they should attach:

• Copies of demands received
• Copy lease
• Copy of any consultation notices you have received
• Copies of any correspondence disputing the sums

Remember that the LVT when they first look at the application will want to understand what the claim is about. This will assist the LVT in issuing Directions or listing for a Pre Trial Review (PTR).

If there is an oral pre trial review the LVT will want to use this to identify the issues and then issue clear guidance as to what should happen. It is crucial that both sides consider the case from this point of view. The LVT will not be deciding the case then but making sure all is in order for a hearing.

It is vital that parties follow the Directions given. The time scales are there to help all parties. You should read the Directions carefully and make sure you understand what is required. In particular the fact that you need to supply copies of all documents you will look to rely upon for proving your case. Often the Directions are detailed and very specific for the matters in dispute particularly if there has been an oral PTR.

Generally the LVT cannot refuse to admit documents (even if late) but must give everyone ample opportunity to consider. This could result in a hearing being adjourned if there is a late submission and possibly an application being made that such behaviour should result in a costs penalty (the LVT can order costs of up to £500 a party). If a party attends at a hearing and tries to submit late documents the LVT will consider whether it can give a short adjournment for the other party to consider the documents but the hearing itself could be adjourned. The LVT will not be happy with submissions on the day unless there is a very good reason given the effect this can have on the LVT being able to decide the matter.

It is vital that when preparing for a hearing that a proper bundle is prepared. This should include an Index and the documents should all be paginated in order and placed in a folder. These bundles must be supplied in good time to the LVT office so that the Panel has a reasonable opportunity to consider before the hearing. This will assist the LVT in considering the matter and whilst the panel should not draw any adverse inferences from a late submission they are only human. Late submissions and badly prepared bundles will not assist your case! It is worth asking someone to consider your bundle and submissions to see if a person who knows nothing about your case can properly understand the points you are making and can follow clearly the documents and submissions you want the LVT to understand.

Remember that at the hearing often the LVT will raise there own questions and points and so even if the other side has not raised something the LVT may still do so itself. This is particularly true of making sure that demands comply with the various statutory requirements and or consultation when required.

The LVT panel will usually not have met until the day of the hearing but will have been sent out the bundles etc. If they have received these in good time they will be better prepared for dealing with the case. The LVT will normally be proactive in managing the case in front of them and this is assisted by timely receipt of documents in good order. The panel is there to decide the matter and a case is always helped by good preparation on the part of the parties.

If in doubt about anything then you should refer to the Clerk at the LVT dealing with your case. Whilst they cannot give you legal advice they can help with understanding what is required or that you need to do.

LVTs are used to having parties appear in front of them unrepresented and pride themselves on being user friendly. For both Freeholders and Leaseholders they can effectively deal with matters in a timely way particularly with a well presented case.

We are always happy to advise and if necessary represent Freeholders and Leaseholders with all such applications.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

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