JUSTICE FOR LANDLORDS!

by Dr Rosalind Beck

19:05 PM, 21st September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

JUSTICE FOR LANDLORDS!

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JUSTICE FOR LANDLORDS!

The sustained attack on private landlords has intensified during the Covid-19 epidemic and is now off the scale in terms of the injustice being perpetuated against landlords.

Some of the key injustices are identified below. These merit a decisive response from the bodies representing landlords and letting agents. They need to urgently investigate every conceivable legal action against the Government:

  1. Justice delayed is justice denied, but even more so for landlords who perhaps uniquely face accruing debts for each month the legal process denies us possession of our own property.

In my article last week I estimated a minimum of 14 months to evict non-paying tenants: Click here

However, although the Government had made a point of ‘conceding’ 4 weeks’ notice would be sufficient when the tenant is 6 months in arrears, it is now clear this was a false promise. In fact, in another directive to the courts, it was stated that only when arrears reach 12 months, should the court prioritise the case. In other words, cases will be put at the bottom of the pile until that point.

This means landlords will lose at least a further 6 months’ rent, making a total of 20 months, or £16,000 arrears. This is an outrage, especially as in most cases landlords will never recover this money that the Government is forcing us to lose.

  1. Where is the legal and moral justification for legislating that one party in a dispute should have an in-depth knowledge of another’s affairs and circumstances?

The Government now expects landlords to have an in-depth knowledge of their tenants’ experience of Covid-19.  Interestingly, knowledge of other illnesses such as terminal cancer is not required – and never has been.  It is not clear if the landlord is to be punished with an adjournment if they are unable to obtain this knowledge; which is highly likely as it is completely against the interests of the other party to comply if it means they are more likely to get evicted.

The implication is also there that if a tenant has had any misfortune related to Covid-19 (something it would be unlikely for someone to NOT have) they may be given a stay of execution of a possession order, regardless of the level of their arrears. This introduces the idea that non-payment of the contracted rent is no longer a ground for possession. Given this, why would a tenant who already has a poor credit rating ever pay rent again, when they might be able to get at least 2 years rent-free accommodation?  (see the case below)

The Government hasn’t legislated for the same rule to apply to landlords’ mortgage payments, where contractual arrangements will not be undermined by Government edict.  Indeed, in the retail sector it has been pointed out that, ‘while landlords are constrained from collecting what is owed to them, there is nothing to stop banks becoming more aggressive.’ Click here

For both residential and commercial sectors the Government seems to be acting on the principle that if a tenant is experiencing difficulty of any kind, they no longer have to pay their bills, possibly indefinitely.

So now one party in a dispute (tenants) can have their ‘illnesses’ and other misfortunes (real or lied about) taken into consideration, whilst there is no consideration of the other party’s (landlords’) experience of covid-19.

  1. Who is the implied victim according to these measures?

Is the victim the one who owes thousands of pounds and in many cases is wrecking the property they live in which doesn’t belong to them or is it the person who is owed thousands and has to wait, helpless, losing hundreds or thousands more every month?

To take a real example, landlord, Bansi Soni explained the predicament she is now in:

‘So I have the tenant from hell. She hasn’t paid any rent for 5 months (totalling over £8k) and refuses to tell me what benefits she’s on. She says she doesn’t care if she gets a CCJ as she has bad credit anyway. She says it’s no skin off her nose and she’ll stay put till she’s thrown out. I offered to forgive her her rent arrears and return her full deposit if she leaves but she’s refused.’

Bansi goes on to say that she is unwell and on dialysis. At the time of writing, she had a fever of 40 degrees but was unable to sleep it off because of the worry.

Another landlord on social media said her tenant hadn’t paid a penny in 16 months and that as a consequence she has nearly lost her home. This landlord said the worry – along with nursing a sick child during the pandemic has nearly killed her.

Similar stories are to be found all over social media and comments sections under newspaper articles.

  1. This is one-sided legislation which will lead some landlords to lose their property.

The Government is fixated on tenants – quite likely for purely political motives – and is not giving landlords’ concerns one iota of consideration, not even acknowledging the intolerable strain many landlords are under. Instead, it is introducing actual communist policies, as an assault on private property rights is. This is no exaggeration as a landlord effectively has their property expropriated when they lose all power over it. In this situation, the landlord can’t earn an income from their property, they can’t move into it and they can’t sell it. They have lost all power over it.  At the same time, they must pay the bills on it and follow all the legislation, even repairing responsibilities in cases where tenants are not paying and may even be wrecking the property.

As has been seen, some landlords face also losing their own home as they struggle to pay their personal outgoings and also foot the bill for others. Finally, they may have to sell losing all their previous equity because of the huge losses from unpaid rent and damage, combined with the effects of Section 24 (often paying tax on an imaginary profit).

  1. What about impartiality in the law?

How can the Government get away with this knee-jerk, one-sided legislation, unchallenged?  Where has the principle of impartiality gone?  Unfortunately though, even if these laws had to go through parliament – which they don’t at the moment – the politicians would still wave them through as they pathetically chase the tenant vote.

The Government, however, needs to be reminded that impartiality is a principle of justice, holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.

The Government has clearly abandoned that idea, showing no consideration for how many landlords will be ruined by its actions. It is also working in tandem with Shelter, Generation Rent and even Momentum, with its attack on the basic premise of protecting private property rights; behaving like a bastardised version of Robin Hood – bastardised, because many landlords are far from wealthy and some tenants are very well-off indeed.

In addition, as has been pointed out elsewhere in the context of the retail sector, ‘there is concern that extending the [eviction] moratorium until the end of the year undermines the concept of rent as a contractual obligation.’ Landlords quake as the roof falls in on values  So the Government is undermining property rights as well as contractual rights and responsibilities.

  1. The Government is now proposing tenants can remain for a longer period, not paying rent, if their particular landlord is less dependent on the rental income than another landlord.

We now have the idea that the length of arrears needed before a landlord can take action depends on the landlord’s income. How is that relevant? Why should rogue tenants get longer in properties (12 months minimum) if their landlord is a bit better off, but be out more quickly (with 9 months’ rent arrears) if the landlord is worse off? That the Government thinks it is okay for landlords to go without rent for 9-12 months before starting possession proceedings is already unprecedented. Supermarkets aren’t being told they must supply their services for 12-24 months, free of charge, so where is the legal and moral justification for forcing landlords to do this?   Means-testing landlords in order to make a decision about how much their rogue tenant is allowed to rip them off really demonstrates how off-the-scale the Government has gone with its lunacy.

  1. Further attempts to undermine justice.

As if this is not enough, it is almost laughable to see that an SNP MP, Chris Stephens is trying with a private members bill to prevent evictions of anyone on Universal Credit for rent arrears. In other words, if a landlord has a tenant on benefits they could look forward to never being paid, indefinitely.

Rather amusingly this somewhat clashes with Shelter’s campaign to force landlords to accept people on benefits, with the argument they present no greater risk than working tenants. They will do if Chris Stephens gets his way and although such a law would be absurd, this offers no comfort to landlords as we are now used to Alice in Wonderland legislation, that one would expect from a ‘lunatic dictator.’ Click here

With new, inscrutable procedures added, including delaying tactics of ‘review hearings’, and a new demand that landlords ‘reactivate’ cases they never deactivated (many will be caught out by this), do they not realise this will most hurt the worst-off tenants as landlords will be completely paranoid about whom they are able to trust with the keys to their property?

To conclude, with injustice piled upon injustice and thoroughly biased legislation being brought in with an almost frenetic frequency, it is time to act.  I already have a name for this campaign – ‘Justice for Landlords.’  And I now call upon the landlord and letting agent bodies of the UK, both national and local to challenge the legality of these measures.  All landlords and letting agents should be calling on their representative bodies to do this.

I would add that there is no point in these associations asking their members to write to their MPs – which seems to be a stock response. This has got us absolutely nowhere. It is also not enough to ask for funds to compensate some landlords for unjust legal measures applied to them. We need to force the Government into a u-turn, using the full force of the law.


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Comments

Elisabeth Beckett

8:50 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

My apologies.. a couple of typos were edited but didn’t save .... I meant NRLA and ‘stucco’ outside the front door
The joy of writing on your telephone!

Dr Rosalind Beck

8:55 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by David Price at 22/09/2020 - 08:46
In the future David councils will have to offer to pay the deposit, first month's rent and indemnify the landlord against losses and damage - basically serve as a guarantor for people they are trying to house who may have already 'screwed over' landlords in the past.

Even then it might not be worth the trouble of taking on people who have shown they aren't reliable payers and/or have had addiction problems etc. - as it would still be a hassle getting the council to meet their obligations, just as claiming on an insurance policy is rarely trouble-free.

They're already on the route to this, with many councils now offering the first month's rent and deposit upfront for people they are trying to house - desperately trying to not have to pay a fortune on bed and breakfast. This offer alone though just won't cut it.

As you say, it is far better to have some empty properties for a while, and wait for the right tenant. Better to lose a few months now with a void than face 2 years or more of potentially no rent, someone damaging the house and all the stress of a court case trying to evict them under the new, punitive regime.

Many landlords are in their 70s or older and already facing lots of worries at this stage of life. It is important to avoid any additional stresses for the sake of their health.

Dr Rosalind Beck

9:03 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Elisabeth Beckett at 22/09/2020 - 08:42
Thanks Elisabeth.
Something certainly needs to be done. We can't go on like this. This is a crisis time for landlords and we need to make a stand - if our representative bodies won't. This isn't the first time they've dragged their heels. We were already let down by them with Section 24. We couldn't get the landlord or letting agent associations - national or local - to even circulate a petition to members. It was the worst attack on us in history (at that point) and they wouldn't put a link to a petition in their emails. It was then a struggle to get them to take any part in the application for Judicial Review. They came late to the plate on that one too.

Happy Landlord

9:20 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

What an excellent piece by Dr Beck - it really brings home the state we are now in. I for one would be happy to contribute to group funding if we can move forward in a constructive way - I am getting really fed up with the constant landlord bashing which seems to come from all the main political parties. Clearly none of them understand housing, they just try to point score from each other forgetting that people need to live somewhere and that the private rented sector provides this service - for the most part very well.

Robert Mellors

9:25 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris @ Possession Friend at 21/09/2020 - 23:11
I joined Property118 as a lifetime member because they said they were going to take on legal cases where an injustice was being done to a large percentage of landlords (this was just after their success with the West Brom Mortgage case), but they do not appear to be challenging these government policies.

I joined the Residential Landlords Association (now the NRLA) as they were supposed to represent the interests of private landlords, but they have been ineffective in challenging government policies that are putting landlords out of business.

I joined the National Landlord Alliance (Larry Sweeney) who was very vocal about the ineffectiveness of the NRLA in challenging unfair legislation, but even he appears to be silent.

All three of the above "unions" (for want of a better description), combined, only represent a very tiny minority of the total number of private landlords, so they have very little "clout" when it comes to political campaigning, but if they combined their efforts they could potentially have a lot of clout within the legal field, i.e. raising legal challenges to unjust legislation.

WP

9:29 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris @ Possession Friend at 21/09/2020 - 23:11
ME< ME< ME!!!!

Robert Mellors

9:33 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Peter at 22/09/2020 - 08:49
I believe Judicial Review is the legal process for challenging the acts of government (local or national). If successful at Judicial Review it may lead to the legislation being deemed unlawful/invalid (and unenforceable) which could then prompt a change in the legislation.

WP

9:35 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Dr Rosalind Beck at 22/09/2020 - 08:55
Thanks exactly the 'package' I am being offered by local councils and they still wonder whey I don't jump at it!! I have said all along if they offer a full guarantor status then no problem, I'll take anyone. If they can't take the risk out of it then I'm not prepared to take their tenants on. If they want to still pay £30 plus a night to keep a person in a B&B/hostel then so be it. If they can't see that paying me £450 a month for a one bed is better deal by a long shot (at the same time as taking someone off their housing list ) then so be it. Let them pay through the roof until they see sense.

John McKay

10:26 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert Mellors at 22/09/2020 - 09:25
Hello Robert
The Landlords Alliance (of which I was a member) did indeed get off to a good start and Larry challenged several injustices. He took on the Alliance unpaid and alas not enough landlords joined IMHO. He has since stepped down and the current incumbent seems to be only interested in making money so I have discontinued membership as have several other landlords I know.

Paul

10:44 AM, 22nd September 2020
About 4 weeks ago

I have to agree with most of the comments on here. I have already commented on another forum the governments inability to recognise that the UC system is broken and that most of the problems associated with it could be cured with a few simple adjustments to bring it into line with accepted practice in the PRS, ie rent in advance. full payments direct to the landlord, not changeable back to the tenant at a whim etc.
I also applaud Dr Beck for her lucid and constructive articles and agree she would be an ideal candidate to put our points to the government. I have to agree though that they are unlikely to take any notice unless sufficient numbers of all the bodies involved in the PRS are backing up her message. As has been pointed out none of the organisations which I and a lot of others joined and paid subscriptions to ( and probably still are )
have shown any teeth or inclimation to get into a dispute rather than discussion with this government whose policies appear to be the complete opposite to what I always believed they stood for.
In conclusion I would be happy to contribute to a judicial review if some one more qualified than I were to review the likelihood of a positive result.
I have forwarded some of Dr Becks articles to my MP, who says she understands landlord's situation!

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