I am thinking of changing my business card to read “Damiano of the Yard” since Government seems determined to turn landlords and letting agents into officers of the law. Already we must check that tenants have a right to reside in the UK and face big fines or imprisonment if we default. The latest consultation paper from HMRC suggests imposing a statutory duty of care on landlords where a tobacco offence has been committed. This includes the sale of tobacco products upon which tax has not been paid.
Aside from the fact that we already have clauses in our tenancy agreement relating to illegal and / or immoral activities at the property, I am at a loss to understand how we are supposed to comply with this proposed legislation. If a tenant is involved in the illegal import of tobacco they might be reluctant offer their landlord cheap smokes and we are really not equipped for dawn raids on our tenants.
Once again new legislation appears to duplicate efforts already being made by responsible landlords. Nobody wishes to see criminal or immoral activity carried out at a property they own or manage and we have relevant clauses in tenancy agreements to allow us to act upon any breach of the law.
There is a small ray of light among the deluge of new legislation the lettings sector has experienced this year. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 will protect some of the most vulnerable tenants by compelling Council housing departments to act swiftly in the event of an eviction notice being served.
Until now, the advice from Council officers to tenants facing eviction is to hang on until the bitter end. Once a County Court Judgement has been obtained for possession of the property. ‘the bitter end’ involves police, bailiffs and the evicted tenant out in the street with their possessions. Only then would the Council act to help.
Given that an eviction is often the result of social, medical or mental health problems, the effect of this bitter end approach can only be imagined. As a result of this new legislation local authorities will be required to treat tenants as homeless at a much earlier stage. This may see tenants rehoused prior to landlords instructing a bailiff, thus saving stress for the tenant, cost for the landlord and distress all round. The Government has committed to provide £61 million to local authorities to meet the additional costs of providing the help needed to comply with this Act.
Evictions are an absolute last resort and nobody would wish them on anybody. But on the rare occasions it becomes absolutely necessary, landlords and agents will be able to advise that help is available to the tenant from the Council.
Unless of course the tenant has been involved in the sale of questionable tobacco products. Then they may fear the clink of handcuffs as Damiano of the Yard strides purposefully up the path.