The evolution of the Private Rented Sector – Deed of Assurance

by Mark Alexander

0:36 AM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

The evolution of the Private Rented Sector – Deed of Assurance

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The evolution of the Private Rented Sector – Deed of Assurance

TMW now agree to three year AST's - Stupidly in my opinionWhy on earth would The Mortgage Works “TMW” agree to three year AST’s?

More to the point, why would landlords and tenants?

It has always been legally possible for landlords to offer AST’s for up to 3 years and indeed in theory for any fixed term though a term longer than 3 years, even by one day, means the agreement must be executed as a Deed and witnessed. However, until now, you would almost certainly be in breach of your buy to let mortgage conditions if you agreed to a tenancy of more than 12 months. TMW have broken the mould by agreeing to allow landlords to offer 3 year AST’s. However, in my opinion they are doing nobody any favours including themselves.

I have read Shelters arguments about offering stable rental contracts and to some extent I can see where they are coming from. However, I think the concept of longer term AST’s are potentially dangerous for landlords, tenants and mortgage lenders. Perhaps the most compelling evidence for this belief is that Shortholds first made their appearance courtesy of The Housing Act 1980 in the guise of Protected Shortholds. These tenancies had to be granted for a minimum 5 year term and came with other restrictions on notice being given and rent increases.

Although an improvement on the then Secure tenancy regime The Protected Shorthold was not popular with Landlords and the lesson was surely learned with the improved terms applying to Assured Shortholds as introduced in the Housing Act 1988 and amended since.

The concept behind 3 year AST’s

three year AST conceptPeople with children in schools and also retired people want more security of tenure but not at the risk of being tied to one property if their circumstances change. What these tenants don’t like is the idea of a landlord having the ability to serve notice on them after just six months regardless of whether they have been model tenants and just got settled or not.  I sympathise with that and I’ve met several people who have been in that exact position. Indeed one of my former employees was forced to move twice in less than 18 months through no fault of her own. She was a model tenant but in one case the landlords decided to move back to their former property and in the other case the landlords decided to sell. My employee had a disabled daughter and it was very important to her to keep her daughter settled in the same school. She had done nothing wrong but had to deal with a lot of stress and worry, not to mention the expense of having to move.

The problems with three year AST’s

If a landlord grants a three year AST there is no ability to gain possession on “no fault” grounds under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 unless there is a break clause that can be operated to shorten the originally stated fixed term. This of course defeats the object of a longer term tenancy, certainly from the tenant’s viewpoint. What this means is that there is absolutely no way to legally evict a tenant during the first three years unless the tenant is in breach of their tenancy agreement as mandatory possession will not be available to the Landlord.

What’s wrong with that? I hear you say.

Well just consider a few “what if” examples:-

  1. What if the landlord falls ill and needs to sell to raise cash?
  2. What if the landlord dies?
  3. What if the landlord goes bankrupt?
  4. What if interest rates go up and the landlord can’t afford to pay the mortgage and needs to sell?
  5. What if the landlord desperately needs to move into the property due to an unforseen change in circumstances, e.g. a marriage breakdown?
  6. What if the landlord get’s divorced?

The list is a very long one already and I could go on. The killer blow for me from a landlords perspective is that if the tenant doesn’t comply with the tenancy agreement the only way to get possession before the end of the fixed term is by mutual agreement with the tenant, or by serving a section 8 notice for the breach. This can be and often is challenged though the serious arrears Ground 8 is a mandatory ground, whereas a section 21 notice cannot be challenged other than on its legal validity and ability to enforce it. The reality though is that possession cases under section 8 can be challenged and dragged through the Courts for several months. That could mean months of no rent or a tenant who abuses a landlords property or occupants of neighbouring properties.

My advice to all landlords is not to offer more than a 6 months AST in most cases, 12 months for some student type accommodation where re-letting part way through the academic year is more difficult.

Why would a lender agree to three year AST’s?

Why would a lender agree to three year AST's?To do so is crazy in my opinion.

I’ve read David Lawrenson’s points of view and whilst I concur that a lender “could” appoint a receiver of rents until it is possible to serve a section 21 notice I just can’t see why lenders would agree to that. Perhaps they are doing it just for a bit of positive PR from the do-gooders and hoping that landlords aren’t stupid enough to actually offer three year AST’s?

The mind boggles!

The bottom line for a mortgage lender is surely the ability to be able to recover their debt as quickly as possible if they need to isn’t it? Agreeing to a three year AST not only devalues their security but it also massively limits their recovery options for up to six times longer than they need to commit to, i.e. 3 years instead of six months.

Is a three year AST really that attractive to tenants either?

What if their circumstances change? Do they really want to be tied into paying their landlord for the full three years? Do they really want their estate to be charged rent for the entire contract period if they die? Committing to a three year tenancy cuts both ways. Most tenants would prefer the flexibility of a tenancy with a Council or a housing association because they are not tied in for a fixed period but do enjoy greater rights of tenure. However, Housing Associations only provide around 50% of the UK rental stock with the other half being provided by the Private Rented Sector.

Deed of Assurance could be a far better alternative

A Deed of Assurance is a relatively simple legal agreement which sits alongside an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement “AST”. It is a separate agreement between landlord and tenant which does not affect the landlords rights to serve notice or to obtain possession, therefore it does not affect the rights of a mortgage lender either. However, it does offer tenants peace of mind.Deed of Assurance

From a tenants point of view, a Deed of Assurance provides far more flexibility than a long term tenancy because they are only tied in for 6 months and can then move on if they need to. What a Deed of Assurance offers in addition to an AST though is peace of mind.

A Deed of Assurance is a document in which a landlord promises to pay an agreed level of compensation to a tenant if possession is obtained within a given time period. I have never had to pay out compensation and because I’m in the business to provide quality tenants with quality accommodation long term I see absolutely no reason why I would ever need to.

The compensation amount offered by the landlord can be anything but obviously the idea is to agree something which is meaningful to both parties. For example, I offer to pay anything between £1,000 and £5,000 compensation if I obtain possession within the agreed period, providing the tenancy conditions have been observed impeccably by the tenant of course.

Similarly, the agreed period can be as long or short as makes sense too. Typically I offer 3 or 5 year terms but I would happily consider a longer period if the circumstances were right. What this means to the tenant is that if I obtain possession within the agreed period I will pay out compensation. This doesn’t stop me serving notice on a model tenant, it just means that if I obtain possession the tenant is compensated for their inconvenience.

But what if the tenant has not complied with the tenancy? Well that’s covered too. If the tenant does not comply the compensation isn’t payable, that’s very carefully worded into the Deed of Assurance by the solicitors who drafted it. Obviously there could be a dispute over whether the tenant had complied with all of the reasonable conditions in the AST and in that case the tenant would have to make a claim against the landlord for the compensation through the Small Claims Courts.

Deed of Assurance is not for everybody – by offering a Deed of Assurance a landlord is agreeing to pay compensation if they obtain possession of a property within a time scale they commit to with their tenant. It doesn’t always make sense for a landlord to make such a commitment but in some circumstances it can pay dividends. If in doubt, take professional advice.

What do others think?

The simplicity of the Deed of Assurance is its strength. Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith confirmed this by saying “The Deed of Assurance clearly sets out what the tenant can expect from the landlord and vice versa. In a sector where clarity might be lacking, this is a fantastic development”.

What’s the point of offering a Deed of Assurance?

Demand is very high from tenants who want/need greater assurance from their landlord that they are not going to have to move after just six months even if their tenancy has performed impeccably. Whilst a Deed of Assurance doesn’t actually provide tenants with any greater security of tenure, it’s certainly the next best thing. It’s a landlords opportunity to put his money where his mouth is, or perhaps more to the point, it’s a tenants opportunity to ask a landlord to do so when a landlords says words along the lines of “if you comply with your tenancy you can stay here for as long as you want”.

In practice, by providing properties which appeal to the types of tenants who want extra peace of mind in terms of stability they are also prepared to pay for that peace of mind. Many of my properties are typical family homes near to good schools, otherwise they are suburban bungalows which appeal to baby boomers and retired people. When I explain what a Deed of Assurance is to them they love it and often choose my properties over comparable properties for that reason alone. In many cases I’ve had several people bidding against each other to move into one of my properties despite there being plenty of comparable alternatives at lower prices. The reason they are prepared to pay more is for that peace of mind and legally documented assurance.

Conclusion

If you have the right type of properties to attract long term, good quality tenants, don’t stitch yourself or your tenant up with a long term AST or Shelters Stable Rental Contract. Consider the benefits to all concerned of offering a Deed of Assurance instead. Give your tenants the peace of mind they want and an incentive for them to perform to your requirements impeccably. It’s then a true win/win situation. Tenants know that if they perform you will have to pay up if you take possession of your property. On the flip side you may well stand a far better chance of being able to attract the tenants you really want, a premium rent and less voids periods too.

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Comments

Mark Alexander

14:45 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

@Julian - and neither should they!

David Lawrenson

14:45 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

My reasons on why I think longer term tenancies are a good idea in some selected circumstances (and how I think they should and could actually work in conjunction with annual rent increases) are explained in full here at our last blog post:

http://www.lettingfocus.com/blogs/index.php/2013/06/longer-term-tenancy-contracts-and-the-mortgage-works/

As I say in this blog piece, it would not suit the majority of cases; indeed offering longer term tenancies is something only portfolio landlords might like to consider (because they may be completely unlikely to need the property back) and even then, it should be offered only to tenants a landlord fully trusts, based on past experience with that tenant.
(This is because the current long timescales under Section 8 make Section 21 and a shorter tenancy agreement somewhat less risky for the landlord).

Indeed in our work with lenders, I have advsed other lenders to only allow longer term tenancies to experienced portfolio landlords and then require landlords use a "mark to market" approach via annual rent reviews.

It is not clear whether or not TMW have done this, in this case. I suspect they have not done so.

Re the "What if I die" argument.
A client I was pitching for work once said to me, "What if you die whilst doing the assignment?" (I am a two man consultancy)

I fired straight back to him, "What if you die?"

That ended the argument... (and I got the work by the way)
As Keynes said, "In the long run...we are all dead."

I like the Deed of Assurance idea, Mark, as another way to potentially solve the issue. Worth exploring further.

Andrew Taylor

14:50 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

Why do the Nationwide and Shelter not get together and thrash out a solid cheap RGI product. To me that's the key issue - they help protect me from tenants not paying the rent, and I'll help them with longer tenancies.

To me this offering is nothing but cheap PR spin on the part of Nationwide - "we're not the bad guys... its those nasty landlords who wont let you stay"

How great of them to give their 'permission' for what we can do with our business assets.

Bob Dunn

14:57 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

I have 4 BTL facilities with TMW. The concept of a 3 year AST does not bother me in the slightest because it is just an OPTION that I now have. I would never offer a new applicant a long term tenancy as the real truth about what they are like usually only comes out in the first 6 months of occupation. Following an initial 6 months where all went well and if the tenant wanted longer term security I would probably offer a 3 year AST that incorporated a break clause at each 6 month interval in favour of the landlord just in case adverse circumstances came about. Would also have to sort out some rent increase schedule as I would not want to be stuck with the same revenue should my costs change due to a movement in the base rate and subsequently my borrowings.

Mark Alexander

14:58 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

@Michael5 - this carefully crafted response to some of the questions often raised about the Deed of Assurance was prepared for us by our legal advisers. I trust it will more than answer your questions.

"Statutory Compliance – the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989

This simply sets out a list of requirements which must be fulfilled by anybody who wishes to create a valid and enforceable contract for a disposition of an interest in land. If you fail to comply with the requirements you just end up with an attempt to create an interest in land which cannot be enforced. The interest in land that we are concerned with is, of course, the term of years granted to the tenant under an AST. Typically an AST is completed by the production of two identical copies of the tenancy agreement, one of which is signed by or on behalf of the landlord and the other of which is signed by or on behalf of the tenant; however, it is equally possible (but less common) for both copies to be signed by or on behalf of both parties.

Whilst it would be technically possible to modify (by addition) the AST so as to include words equivalent to those contained in the deed of assurance, our legal advisers chose not to recommend this for two separate reasons:

(i) the terms of the assurance are not in fact terms of the AST. The AST is one agreement (which creates an interest in land) while the assurance is a separate collateral agreement which does not create any interest in land. The assurance sets out the landlord’s intention as to the extension of the minimum term provided in the AST and in particular provides for certain consequences that will follow in the event that the intention to extend is frustrated or not performed for some reason.

(ii) the AST is complete and whole and enforceable under the statute because it does not refer (and does not need to refer) to any other document for its terms. The deed of assurance on the other hand does refer to the AST and hence (by virtue of section 2(2)) is deemed to incorporate the AST. Thus (for the avoidance of doubt) the AST is, for the purpose of the statute incorporated in the deed of assurance, although the deed of assurance is not incorporated in the AST.

For those reasons neither the deed of assurance nor the AST would be struck down as unenforceable by reason of the provisions of section 2 of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989.

(B) Why utilise two documents instead of one?

This is where the position of the mortgagee comes in. Although there are countless criticisms that one can validly raise against many of the large buy to let mortgage lenders, nevertheless they are to be regarded as a necessary evil. In very many (albeit not all) cases the ability of the landlord to own the property is entirely dependent upon the mortgagee advancing a large part of the purchase price. Typically such mortgagees are imperious and unyielding and often unreasonable in their attitude to the issue of letting so that they (under their terms and conditions, to which the landlord is forced to subscribe whether he likes it or not) will only permit the creation of ASTs with a short primary term, usually six months and almost never more than 12 months. Their justification for that stance is that they will not sanction any arrangement which might hamper or abstract their ability to obtain possession of the property and sell it with vacant possession in the event that the landlord defaults under the mortgage.

Given that the object of our exercise is to provide maximum comfort to the tenant in terms of the prospect of securing an extension in the effective term of the AST (with compensation available if the extension fails) the arrangement must avoid infringing the landlord’s mortgage covenants and the requirements of the mortgagee while still furnishing an enforceable remedy in the event that the tenant does not enjoy the full benefit of the extended term. Although there is some variation from lender to lender, it is in our experience generally the case that if the terms of the deed of assurance were directly incorporated within the AST itself, then the AST would no longer be acceptable to the mortgagee, resulting in a situation in which either consent would be refused or, alternatively, the landlord would all make breaches in mortgage covenants by entering into the (extended) AST. Obviously, we could never advise a landlord to breach mortgage covenants; apart from anything else it would render him liable to immediate adverse action if he were to do so. The reason why the mortgagees would not consent to the extended AST wording is that, if they were to do so, the tenant would or might have a sound argument against the granting of an order for possession and sale in the event that the landlord were to default under the mortgage.

By keeping the terms of the assurance in a separate deed, the possibility of valid objection by the mortgagee is eliminated. The landlord and tenant enter into a separate arrangement (outside the AST although referring to the AST) and the objectives of every party are achieved.

While we are not exactly “worried about lenders”, we cannot ignore them nor the rights and powers which they enjoy.

The problem is that if a mortgagee approves a document which contains an indication that the tenant will or may enjoy an extended term of tenancy, then, whatever protective wording you may put in, it would always be open to the tenant to argue in court (if faced with the prospect of premature eviction by reason of a landlord’s mortgage default) that he entered into the tenancy agreement specifically in reliance on the expectation of that extension, so that the mortgagee who had approved the wording would be unable to recover possession by reason of the rules of estoppel. That problem does not even arise as long as the mortgagee does not consent to nor approve the document which gives rise to the expectation. In other words, however good your wording might be, the “two separate documents” approach is inherently preferable.

(C) Why utilise a deed (as opposed to a simple agreement) for the assurance?

The decision to proceed by way of deed for the assurance was a “belt and braces” election, based on principles of precaution rather than necessity. When we were setting this up we did consider the possibility of having the assurance contained in a simple agreement, not by way of deed. However, it was perceived that in that case there would possibly be some element of risk or prejudice to the tenant. The problem is that it is arguable that a simple agreement not effected by way of deed might perhaps be unenforceable by the tenant. That is because it is not obvious that the tenant provides any “consideration” for the various promises and obligations undertaken by the landlord which form the core of the assurance. In other words, the landlord undertakes responsibilities that go well beyond his responsibilities under the AST while the tenant does not undertake any recognisable responsibilities or obligations beyond those already contained within the AST. In general under contract law a party can only enforce a promise given by another party if the enforcing party has provided some consideration in return for that promise. That rule does not apply where the promise to be enforced is contained within a deed. That is one of the distinctive features which differentiate between a deed on the one hand and a simple written agreement on the other hand.

The use of a deed might be regarded as overkill and unnecessary but it is safer and better for the tenant to have the assurance terms contained within a deed. There is no downside or disadvantage (apart from the modest requirement that signatures be witnessed) from the point of view of either party by employing a deed as the mechanism for the assurance and so that is what our legal advisers recommended."

Mark Alexander

15:04 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

BREAK CLAUSES - these have been mentioned a few times now. What's the point of a long term tenancy from a tenants perspective if the landlord has an option to break every six months?

Bob Dunn

15:41 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

There is no point Mark, but it gives the perception to the tenant that they have security of tenure. This in turn keeps them happy and as the landlord you would be happy as well having the best of both worlds.

Mark Alexander

15:46 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

@Bob, Perhaps it's a difference in the intelligence levels of tenants we are dealing with but mine would see straight through that.

16:04 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

Understood legal response. However, if AST in its entirety were reviewed then a solution CAN be found. Its merely a matter of will.

The status quo seems to be; Tenants (& their reps) castigate Landlords; Landlords blame lenders and all agree lenders are the 'big bad banks'. And nothing changes.

There's no need for 'break clauses' to review rent levels. There is need for break clauses to allow a landlord (or lender in possession) to sell if they NEED to.

I emphasise need because if you've committed to a longer term tenancy you should honour it unless circumstances take a turn for the worse meaning you HAVE to sell. Afterall, with mortgages, lenders can't simply say "we agreed to lend you £xk for 25 years, but now we've decided we need it back early..." The mortgage deed contains clauses allowing for interest rate changes, why can't a tenancy agreement include clauses allowing for rental increases? Are landlords really so lazy they can't run a diary to remind them to review rents...?

A standard AST means a lender can stipulate the form of tenancy required without having to 'approve' every single one - exactly as occurs in the current situation.

The rental market has evolved since inception; why is everyone so reluctant to evolve with it? The ability to choose must be a good thing, even if you only ever stick to what you know.

I know what I like, and I like what I know...

16:50 PM, 27th June 2013
About 7 years ago

My suggestion is purely based upon pragmatism , practicality and what "really " works.........

The nub of the matter, simply put, is that if a Tenant is going to let you down , bluntly, in the real world , and if the Tenant has no funds to attach a Court Order to, it matters not a jot how long the actual term of the AST is : 3 months or 3 years .........

Thus the comment of the correspondent to the effect that we should try to keep the law to one side in this argument , if we can, as further complicating an already muddy pool is, I suggest, a good one !

I suspect that here TMW have merely made this move as a Commercial one designed to attract mew mortgage business, and steal a march on their competitors . It really has no effect on the Law, does it.....

I am indeed a Solicitor : my firm does undertake quite a bit of Landlord & Tenant work, and indeed as suggested, I do colour all of this , and the advice we give to our instructing clients, from my own personal experiences as a BTL Landlord over the last 20 years !

Roger Buston
Colchester
buston@apblaw.co.uk

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