Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

Agents signing prescribed information

We are running out of titles for deposit blogs. We have had some queries regarding a court case in which possession proceedings were thrown out because the Prescribed Information had been signed by the agent, not the Landlord. This is unreported and we do not know exactly what went on although it has been reported here:

Painsmith has also experienced a claim for possession defended on this same point: the tenant argued (i) that the certificate on the deposit protection certificate must, pursuant to paragraph 2(g)(vii) of the The Housing (Tenancy Deposits) (Prescribed Information) Order 2007, ( the Housing Order ), be signed personally by the landlord, (ii) that under paragraph 2(g) (iii) the landlord’s address etc must be provided and not the agent’s and that accordingly the s.21 notice is invalid.
In our case the matter settled so we can only speculate on the outcome of that hearing, which would have only been a county court decision and thus not precedent.

However we disagree with the above view. Section 2 of the Housing Order provides that prescribed information for the purposes of section 213(5) of the Housing Act 2004 (“the Act”) includes: at 2g (iii) “the name, address, telephone number, and any e-mail address or fax number of the landlord”; and at 2g(vii) confirmation (in the form of a certificate signed by the landlord) that—
(aa)the information he provides under this sub-paragraph is accurate to the best of his knowledge and belief; and
(bb)he has given the tenant the opportunity to sign any document containing the information provided by the landlord under this article by way of confirmation that the information is accurate to the best of his knowledge and belief.

The Housing Order sets out what information is needed for the purposes of the Housing Act 2004. Chapter 4 of the The Housing Act 2004 deals with tenancy deposit schemes. Section 212 part 9 of the Housing Act provides that “In this Chapter [ i.e. Chapter 4] – (a) references to a landlord or landlords in relation to any shorthold tenancy include references to a person or persons acting on his or their behalf in relation to the tenancy or tenancies……”.

So, for the purposes of s213, the obligations on the landlord are also onto a person or persons acting on his or their behalf i.e. his agent. The Housing Order prescribes what information must be given for the purposes of compliance with s213.

In our view “landlord” for the purposes of the Housing Order 2007 should share the definition with the primary legislation i.e. the Housing Act 2004. It is not logical to interpret the Housing Order 2007 in a way that is incompatible with its parent legislation.
It follows that in our view the deposit schemes are correct to allow the agent to sign.

However as we know, the courts can make some odd decisions so we might have to concede if a precedent is set in a higher court. Watch this space.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , ,

Another Deposit case

Superstrike Ltd v Rodrigues [2013] EWCA Civ 669 (14 June 2013)

So what’s the big deal?

The facts: On 12 January 2007, Mr Rodrigues entered into a fixed term tenancy agreement for a year less one day. The deposit was not protected as the compulsory tenancy deposit legislation (which required landlords to protect the deposit and serve the prescribed information) came into effect on 7 April 2007 i.e. after the tenancy agreement was entered into. On the expiry of the fixed term, Mr Rodrigues remained in occupation under a statutory periodic agreement and the deposit remained unprotected. On 22 June 2011 the Landlord served a section 21 notice and issued proceedings on it, which Mr Rodrigues defended, amongst other things, on the basis that the section 21 was invalid as it was served while the deposit was unprotected.

The decision: Firstly the Court of Appeal ruled that the statutory periodic tenancy was a new tenancy under Section 5 of the Housing Act 1988. This decision is uncontroversial as the wording of the section is clear.

The next question was – if a new statutory tenancy arose in January 2008, was a deposit received at this time (thus triggering the requirements to protect the deposit and serve the prescribed information?) The landlord argued that it didn’t as no money was physically received, i.e. no cash, cheque or bank transfer made but the Court of Appeal disagreed. In paragraph 38 of his judgment, Lewison LJ stated:

“In my judgment, although there is no evidence that the parties said or did anything of that kind, and it is likely that they were not aware of the nature or incidents of the legal process that took place when the fixed term tenancy came to an end, nevertheless the position as between them should be treated in the same way as if they had had such a discussion. The tenant should be treated as having paid the amount of the deposit to the landlord in respect of the new tenancy, by way of set-off against the landlord’s obligation to account to the tenant for the deposit in respect of the previous tenancy, given that the landlord did not seek payment out of the prior deposit for the consequences of any prior breach of the tenancy agreement”.

What this means: When a new statutory periodic tenancy arises, the deposit is received for the purposes of section 213 Housing Act 2004 as at that date and so must be protected and the prescribed information served.

What now?
Tenancies that were created before the deposit protection legislation came into effect i.e. before 6 April 2007, but rolled over into a statutory periodic tenancy after that date, fell to have their deposits protected on the expiry of the fixed term.

On the expiry of the fixed term and the arising of a statutory periodic tenancy, or a new fixed term, the requirements of the Housing Act deposit rules kick in for this new tenancy, which are that within 30 days of receipt of the deposit it must be protected and prescribed information served. Whether the prescribed information must be re-served has been a matter of discussion and you can enjoy some excellent analysis from Nearly Legal and David Smith of Anthony Gold Solicitors.

A cautious landlord and agent might prefer to re-serve for each new tenancy, (including a statutory periodic tenancy), than expose themselves to tenancy deposit claims or defences to section 21 possession proceedings.

Following this case there is undoubtedly a number of long-term tenants who could challenge the validity of any section 21 notice served on them. Landlords in doubt may want to consider returning the deposit to their tenants (with or without deductions) before service of a section 21 notice.

Interestingly, the courts service N5B form for accelerated possession proceedings asks the Claimant at section 7(a): “was a money deposit received on or after 6 April 2007?” After the Court of Appeal decision one presumes that the answer to this will, if a statutory periodic tenancy arose after that date, have to be answered affirmatively.
Statutory periodic tenancies that arose before that date and have never been renewed will not be affected by this decision.

On 17 June 2013 the deposit schemes made a joint press release here.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , ,

Lettings Fees in the news

Shelter has stepped up its campaign to make it unlawful for lettings agents to charge any fees at all to tenants. You can read their report here. The average compulsory lettings fee that renters pay to a landlord’s agent in setting up a tenancy is £355.00. The charity would like to see tenants’ costs limited to the protected deposit and rent in advance as it is in Scotland.

Painsmith receives frequent queries about agents’ fees, and what can and cannnot be charged. The position currently is that agencies must be transparent about their fees, which should be an accurate reflection of their actual reasonable costs rather than an unsubstantiated sum. We have blogged on this before .

The Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled that agents must publicise their fees and charges in their quoted prices, or at least provided enough information for potential renters to calculate what they will be charged.

There is already a great deal of consumer protection legislation, e.g CPR Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, UTCCR, as well as regulatory bodies such as the Property Ombudsman. Regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection Regulations prohibits misleading omissions, which includes the providing of material information in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely. To charge extortionate fees is already either unlawful or unenforceable.

If it becomes unlawful to charge tenants any fees at all it has been argued that the cost will have to be picked up by tenants later on down the line through higher rents ( although in its report Shelter says that since Scottish law was clarified there has been no significant rise in rents). That said, if Shelter succeeds in effecting a ban on lettings fees, agencies will no doubt adapt. It may even cause a demise in the number of rogue agencies that are currently operating.

Filed under: England & Wales, England only, , , , , ,

Forfeiture and the Courts

As many of our readers will be aware that since the passing of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 before a freeholder can take steps to forfeit a lease a determination is required. Section 168 of the 2002 Act gave jurisdiction to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal to determine if there was a breach of covenant under the lease. As with all Leasehold Valuation Tribunal claims a more limited cost regime applies although some leases may allow recovery of any freeholders costs as an administration charge.
Recently a case came to be decided by the High Court Queens Bench Division known as Cussens v. Realreed Limited [2013] EWHC 1229 (QB). The freeholder applied to the County Court for a declaration that the Leaseholder was in breach of her lease of two flats which she owned which she had sub let and which had then been used for the purposes of prostitution. It appears form the judgment that the unlawful use itself was not disputed. The County Court made a declaration that the lease terms had been breached and made an order for the leaseholder to pay the freeholders costs. The tenant then appealed challenging the County Court’s jurisdiction to make such a declaration and also against the order for costs.
It was argued that given the terms of section 168 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 it was for the LVT to make the determination that there has been a breach of the lease. The High Court determined that there is nothing to stop a freeholder seeking a declaration in the County Court for such a breach of covenant. It is worth pausing here to remember that potentially a County Court could of course refer the matter itself to the LVT to make a determination as to whether there has been a breach.
With regards to the question of costs the leaseholder tried to argue that it was inappropriate to make an order for costs given if application had been made to the LVT a more limited costs regime would have applied. This would have limited the costs which the LVT could have ordered the leaseholder to pay to the freeholder and the court should have had regard to this. The judge referred to the fact that prior to the appeal no objection had been taken to forum chosen and that no doubt the leaseholder had hoped to recover her own costs if she had been successful in resisting the landlords claim. All of this being said the Court determined that there was nothing wrong with the order made by the Judge at first instance. The Judge had made the declarations sort (which this appeal upheld) and it followed he could make an Order for costs as he had done. The barb in the tail for the landlord was that the High court Judge did say that it would be open to the leaseholder to argue in any costs assessment hearing that the costs should be limited to take account of the LVT costs regime.
So what does this all mean? It leaves open to freeholders the right to apply to the county court. Tactically careful consideration needs to be given and certainly if there is no clear provision within a lease for costs recovery then a freeholder may be better advised to apply to the court rather than the LVT. The plus of the LVT for a determination is that often a hearing and determination can be achieved quicker allowing a freeholder to have any breach dealt with sooner.

Certainly any leaseholder who finds themselves threatened with any form of breach of covenant declaration or determination proceedings would be well advised to take urgent advice. Both to consider the merits of any such claim and the best tactics to adopt. A declaration can have fairly devastating effects given that ultimately it could lead to a forfeiture of the leasehold interest leaving the leaseholder owning nothing and potentially still owing any mortgage or other loan they had taken out!

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

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