New laws lean on landlords

Man fixing a boiler © iStockphotos
Landlords had better get busy fixing up properties

A round-up of the latest news stories that affect property investors and homebuyers.

In just a few weeks, landlords could be sued by tenants for providing cold and mouldy homes. The law will only apply to new tenancies signed after 20 March, but existing tenancies will be covered by the act at a later date. The act makes it a requirement for all private landlords (or agents acting on their behalf) to ensure a property is “fit for human habitation” at the beginning of, and throughout, the tenancy.

Under the new rules, a property can be deemed unfit for habitation if there is a “serious” problem with any of the following areas: repair, stability, damp, natural lighting, ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitary services, and facilities for food preparation/cooking.

If landlords fail to meet their obligations in these areas, tenants will be able to issue court proceedings to force landlords to do the required work, and claim compensation. At present negligent landlords can only be forced to make repairs by local councils.

Furthermore, under new government plans landlords will soon be legally required to hire “competent and qualified” inspectors to undertake safety checks of electrical installations in their properties every five years. There will be tough penalties for landlords who don’t comply, but the government has yet to publish further details about the requirements and the implementation period.

Home reservation agreements trial

The government is to trial “reservation agreements” later this year to try to reduce the number of property transactions that fall through. Housing minister Heather Wheeler announced the plan at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers conference, saying buyers should not be able to pull out of transactions without financial repercussions “just because they decided they do not like the avocado bathroom suite”.

Reservation agreements are contracts between buyers and sellers that both sides enter into when an offer is accepted.

The government is reportedly looking into how these agreements would work in practice, including “how much money should be put down” as a commitment towards the deposit, and what extenuating circumstances – bereavement or loss of a job, for example – would justify a party pulling out of the agreement, says Matt Prior of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The government acknowledges that it would need to get estate agents and conveyancers on board with its plans.

Landlord checks are discriminatory

The “right to rent” scheme, which puts the onus on landlords to confirm the immigration status of their tenants, is discriminatory and breaches human rights laws, according to the High Court.

Designed to prevent illegal immigrants from renting property, the rules have in fact had “little or no effect” in this regard, but have instead resulted in landlords discriminating against potential tenants because of their nationality or ethnicity.

The rules were implemented in England in 2016 following a trial in the West Midlands, but the High Court says it would be illegal to extend them to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without further consultation. The Home Office has been given permission to appeal the court’s decision.

disfi.com