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Dark Amusement and Nice Biscuits

Saturday June 1, 2019

Half way through 2019 and it seems every month I rail against tenant protection legislation that turns out badly when put into practice. Cynics in the lettings sector suggest this is a cunning plot to free up rental properties for the hard-pressed first-time buyer. But a three-storey mid terrace in Heaton is beyond the means of a first-time buyer.

The fact is, many landlords are simply cashing their chips and looking for other investments. A recent survey by website This Is Money indicates one in four landlords plan to sell in the next year. It predicts this will result in a 3% rent rise due to a shortage of rental properties.

The latest target is Section 21 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Section 21 provides a relatively quick way for landlords to remove a bothersome tenant. The move was greeted with joy on social media as tenants believed this would give them security of tenure.

Mainstream media was quick to unearth tales of rogue landlords using section 21 to evict tenants who had complained to their Council. While these cases are reprehensible, they are a tiny fraction of the rental market where responsible landlords and their managing agents do all they can to ensure a smooth tenancy. But good landlords and reputable agents rarely make the headlines.

For good landlords there is an overarching imperative at work. It is called common sense. If a tenant is paying rent and looking after the property, why on earth would the landlord want to evict? On the contrary, a landlord will do all in their power to ensure a good tenant remains in the property, ideally for years.

Another factor missed in the media frenzy is, Section 21 can protect tenants from rogue landlords. If a landlord has ignored the Tenancy Deposit Scheme or tries to charge money unlawfully under the new Tenant Fees Act, they lose the right to serve a Section 21 notice.

In a fair and well managed landlord – tenant relationship, Section 21 should never be an issue. In fifteen years as managing agents we have never had to attend court to evict a tenant using this piece of legislation. Our secret weapon is Lavazza coffee and some nice biscuits. A resolution is always agreed about the time the biscuits run out.

But while the focus has been upon tenant protection, the rights of landlord and neighbours are ignored. Nobody wants an anti-social tenant. Councils struggle to act upon anti-social behaviour due to lack of resources and the threshold for convincing judges to evict a tenant creating anti-social behaviour is incredibly high. So, the small proportion of tenants who choose to ignore social norms may become unchecked should a landlord’s ability to use Section 21 be removed.

I do hope this will be the last column I write this year where I report ill thought out legislation in our sector. I also hope to win the Lotto and be welcomed into the House of Lords. Odds on any of the three appear about the same. I leave the last word to writer and producer Charlie Brooker who said “The logical quandaries thrown up by well-meaning systems are clearly something I find darkly amusing”.

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