To Be a Rogue – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #7

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

9:36 AM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

To Be a Rogue – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #7

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To Be a Rogue – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #7

When a tenant has a beef with their landlord, I’m the guy they go to. My job is to either negotiate or prosecute, depending on the circumstances. This occasional and random series aims to let landlords know the common complaints that are made about them, the laws that cover them and how to deal with it.

The problem with ‘Rogue Landlords’

A slight departure for this one. No cautionary tales but an open question really. I am asking this of the landlords who read this and am talking to lawyers and others to find an answer.

Having been in this business since 1487 I have seen a lot of trends come and go and have been intrigued in the past year by a new phrase being bandied about….the “Rogue Landlord”. You read it in papers, you hear Jon Snow talk about them on TV and I am even starting to hear it in council meetings. I am very wary of phrases like this being picked up casually, thinking, ‘How come we didn’t talk about this a year ago?’, as if it’s a new phenomenon.

Shelter are using it rather a lot I notice. I recently wrote an article for The Guardian about Shelter’s campaign but in legendary Guardian style they misspelled the title to read “Rouge Landlords”, demonising them further by conjuring an image suggesting they all look like Quentin Crisp.

The phrase has a neat sound to it for some journalists searching for snappy handles, like ‘Neighbours from Hell’ or ‘Bankrupt Britain’. The sort of thing that only gets thrown up occasionally, where everyday words, when stuck together, conveniently sums up a commonly shared image or belief. In this case a new and previously unknown social evil, like ‘Meow’ or whatever cattle tranquiliser disguised as the latest ‘Rave’ drug happens to be these days.

Shelter responded to my critical article by asking me for my recommendations. I wrote 12 pages for them……I have a lot of ideas……and one of the things I mentioned was how unhelpful the term ‘Rogue Landlord’ could be and that it needed a more precise definition.  The reply I got on this point was that although they acknowledged the definition was a bit vague they felt it helped raise the profile of the problem which in turn could help add leverage to political and social engagement.

To be fair to Shelter we are coming at it from slightly different angles. They are trying to publicise a hidden problem, and for that they do have my support but I have to work with it on a daily basis on the front line where I don’t find it at all helpful to have every bit of landlord behaviour categorised as simply Good v Rogue.

Landlord hits tenant with baseball bat. You don’t need a TRO wall chart to identify them as a definite rogue, in fact I would suggest that Rogue is too weak a term, as ‘Rogue’ is often doubled up with the word ‘Loveable’, as in Arthur Daley and baseball bats are rarely an object of affection.  “Out and out b*****d” would be a more fitting legal description. And trust me, there are still enough of those people doing the rounds.

A few weeks back a Croydon landlord called Chyna Grey (named after a drug but sounds like a singer in a new romantic band) kidnapped her tenant, tied him to a chair and repeatedly stabbed him in the back with a scalpel over rent arrears. Now that’s what I call a ‘Rogue’, although distinctly un-loveable.

So what do you think defines a ‘Rogue Landlord’?

Is it acts of violence done to a tenant? Threats of violence?

I think we would all agree with those but even in my neck of the woods, South East London, where the girls look like women, the women look like men and men look like psychos these kinds of incidents only account for a handful of complaints each month.

In case you don’t know I work for a council investigating and prosecuting harassment and illegal eviction cases and I’ve been doing it since 1990. I am best placed to see what is going on. I would say that the vast majority of complaints made against landlords are in the area of:-

  • Landlord has sold the property but hasn’t gone to court for a possession order and is expecting the tenant to move out on Friday when contracts are to be exchanged. Tenant goes to council who rightly advise them that they still have a legal right to remain and they won’t pick them up, contrary to the advice of Dave down the pub. Locks get changed in a panic.
  • Landlord served notice, tenant didn’t leave and landlord hasn’t got a clue what to do next so they keep pressurising the tenant to leave.
  • Tenant owes huge arrears, landlord serves papers but they are all over the place because they haven’t got a clue how to do it and don’t want to pay a solicitor to do it for them.
  • Landlord keeps letting themselves into the tenant’s home when they aren’t there, batting aside tenant’s complaints.
  • Tenant owes thousands in rent, landlord takes their TV and computer and won’t give them back until paid or, in the alternative, disconnects the electricity and gas.
  • Landlord serves occupier with a ‘Licence’ agreement and doesn’t realise they have actually created a tenancy and then can’t understand it when the occupier doesn’t leave when asked.

These are the most common kinds of things that get my phone ringing all day long. Around 75% of my cases are one of the above. I often think I would like a pre-recorded message to go out to stop me having to explain the same bloody laws over and over again like a CD with a thumb print on (we’ve moved on from the broken record metaphor, don’t you think?).

The rest are the baseball bat ones in one form or another, although it can occasionally be in the form of a curse, which I came across last year carried out by one Nigerian Landlord against his Nigerian tenant. 3 piles of salt, a pool of chicken blood and a carving knife outside the tenant’s door had him absolutely wide eyed with fear. I suggested to him that it may have innocently resulted from a random black pudding making accident……………the joke didn’t go down well!

The majority of complaints of landlord’s actions brought to my door by tenants are committed recklessly and in ignorance of the law. The vast army of buy to let landlords and reluctant or amateur landlords don’t understand the rules that govern their business and that is where the problem lies. A smaller amount does know but couldn’t care less. To my mind, THAT is where the term ‘Rogue’ should apply.

I would also personally use the term ‘Rogue’ where a person acts recklessly but then doesn’t heed the advice given by people like myself or a solicitor after they have acted. In my book, if you have been advised but you still go ahead, then you deserve what you get.

In deciding whether to prosecute or not I have to take into account a lot of different factors;-

  • Resources available,
  • Credibility of the tenant as a witness,
  • Hard evidence,
  • Whether my tenant/witness will be around in 2 years’ time for the trial,
  • Finding the perpetrator,
  • The chance of complex and arcane case laws sinking the claim.

One key criminal law factor that I also have to consider is if the perpetrator/landlord shows suitable remorse. Mostly clueless amateurs don’t know the ramifications of what they do and apologise and set things straight. This means my legal department will soft pedal on prosecution, deeming it not in the public’s interest.  I will usually sit down and help these ones out.

So my definition of a Rogue landlord has 3 categories:

  1. Those who use violence or threats of violence against their tenants, (Reasonably easy to evidence)
  2. Those who know the law as it relates to a landlord/tenant situation but ignore it, (Difficult to prove prior knowledge)
  3. Those who make genuine mistakes but when advised still go ahead anyway (A bit easier to prove than point 2)

That for me would make more sense legally and also as a definition that a TRO, housing adviser or lawyer could work with.

Using the term in all its vagueness might generate discussion and highlight the very real problem but it doesn’t help anyone to legislate it or work with it in the real world. Also, if you label all slightly off-centre landlord behaviour as ‘Rogue’ then working in my job you cant separate the real rogues from the overall mass and decisive action is made all the more difficult.

Come on you lot, you’re mostly landlords, what do you think the legal definition of a ‘Rogue Landlord’ should be? I’ll pass this on to Shelter.



Comments

Sharon Crossland

11:53 AM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Nice piece Ben 🙂

I've always been a bit uneasy about the term 'rogue landlord' but those I deem as such (for want of a better term that doesn't include the word 'b******s) are those that:

Put tenants into flats knowing that they are going to suffer all sorts of problems in the winter because the roof leaks, simply choosing to paint over the water stains in the summer months before they re-let (note that since we took it over, much of the roof has been repaired);

Don't carry out any health and safety checks, put their tenants into a flat where they know the gas meter doesnt work property and put them and the rest of the block at risk of a gas explosion( this happened a few months ago);

Deliberately don't pay their service charges since we took over management, despite being fully aware that they go straight into repairing twenty years of neglect cause by an absent freeholder and negligent managing agents, (all too painful to see but they live in much nicer homes in better areas), despite not increasing the service charge budget for the last three years and despite block management being carried out by freeholders who only want to restore the building and make it nice for everyone who lives here, rather than take the p**s!

Do nothing about the anti-social behaviour of their tenants (a particular ongoing situation that impacted on the whole block, the surrounding neighbourhood and which should have left me nearly bald, had I given in to the urge to tear my hair out!;

Don't bother asking for permission to sublet, despite it being a covenant of the lease, then don't manage the property (or if they do they use crap letting agents), forcing the tenants to come to me for assistance and for which I do my best, at least in terms of advice.

There are probably more but this is depressing me!!

Whilst we are a block of flats in the private sector, these leaseholder landlords have dual responsibilities, as leaseholders abiding by the terms of their leases and as landlords. When neither of these roles are carried out properly, well, there's plenty on my site that covers that!

Sharon

HMOLandlady

12:40 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Another excellent article!

I think your 3 indicators fit the bill - haven't Shelter got their own definition of Rogue Landlords?

Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:44 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Good stuff. As the holder of the manifesto I will certainly add letting dangerous properties in terms of gas safe and health and safety checks to the list.

Not sure about not asking permission to sub-let. I can see that this would be personally annoying but doesnt necessarily qualify in the rogue stakes for me. Breach of contract shouldnt, in my opinion be necessarily classified as Rogue behaviour, similarly with your suggestion about non payment of service charges although I am open to persuasion.

Also a landlord not acting to restrain his tenant's anti-social behaviour may fall flat. Landlords arent generally responsible for tenants behaviour unless they in some way support or encourage it. I would have a problem lumping the word Rogue on a landlord who failed to control their tenant, although I might lean on them to evict if it was my day job. Funnily enough I just interviewed a landlord with a tenant who he is terrified of. The landlord is elderly and the tenant is quite an aggressive young guy.

I think its important to seperate annoying actions and basic breach of contract from actions that can be easily labelled offences. This is exactly the crux of my argument, if too much behaviour gets labelled as ';Rogue' then pretty much everyone becomes one and so it becomes legally meaningless and makes it more difficult to isolate real rogues.

Like back in the 1990s when the Criminal Justice Act outlawed gatherings where music was played consisting of ''Repetitive beats', which desribes all popular music, which subsequently rendered that portion of the Act useless and cops didnt bother prosecuting

Mary Latham

19:04 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

"Having been in this business since 1487" I need to know which face cream you use Ben?

I haven't got a problem with the term Rogue landlord - we have been called much worse - but I have a real problem with what people perceive as a "Rogue".

In my opinion most landlords who get it wrong do so because they haven't taken the trouble to find out what it means to be a landlord and if you don't know what you should be doing in the first place the chances are you will at some point fall foul of the law.

Being a landlord means that you have chosen to take on the huge reponsiblity of providing a decent safe home for another human being and for managing that property and tenancy in a way that makes that home a good place to live. Too many people see our business as a passive investment and as I have said many many times

THE LAW DOES NOT ALLOW LETTING PROPERTY TO BE A PASSIVE INVESTMENT.

Once a property that you own is let you become a landlord and with that you have taken on all the many responsibilities that go with the job - and yes it is a job regardless of what the tax man says! A landlord cannot devolve his legal responsibilities to a Letting Agents because the Agent is working on behalf of the landlord and if he gets it wrong the landlord may be placed in a difficult legal position - as happens when an Agent takes off with Tenants deposits and the landlord is made to pay them back.

So anyone who has taken the decision to become a landlord ( a property investor who lets a property for rent) must learn all he needs to know in order to comply with regulation and legislation and additionally he must develope the many skills needed to manage the tenancy and the property effectively.

In my opinion local authorities should be using their limited resources to educate landlords or to insist that they go away and educate themselves through a recognised learning scheme - like landlord accreditation that is based on education. Early on in my career, as a Sales Manager, I was told not to expect anything from anyone unless I have made certain that the persons knows what is expected and how to carry it out. A lesson that has never left me and one which I apply to my tenants as well as landlords who attend my seminars.

Education works better than castigation and name calling is for school playgrounds.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

19:27 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Wow Mary you seem more hardline than me!!!

I think my view is also coloured by my experiences trying to train housing workers in housing law and seeing them melt on even the introductory level courses and I understand when landlords dont know everything they should. Having said that I am constantly surprised at how little landlords often grasp about the ins and outs of their chosen route. You have been in housing since forever too and it is surprising how much you pick up as the years go by. Thats why I get to train lawyers without having a law degree myself, because this one thing is all I do.

I can forgive people for not knowing the fine detail of obscure case laws that I use to harass landlords in my job 🙂 but I think there should be a basic level of knowledge, like passing a driving test. This was what the Rugg report was pushing for in a way but the RLA said it might put people off from getting into the game and I think they might be right.

I have alwasy thought that one of the key problems with letting in the UK is that people treat it casually and think that everything should be done on a handshake and a gentleman's agreement and they are so, so wrong. And what annoys me is when landlords kick off at me for simply pointing out the law to them, as if I am just being difficult for the sake of it.

Education is all and to my mind they only need to know about eviction procedures, basic rules on what a tenancy is and repairing obligations, depressingly even that basic knowledge is lacking most landlords and even their agents

Mary Latham

19:51 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Yes I probably am Ben because it landlords like me who are discredited by the bad boys.

The first thing all landlords need to learn is respect for their tenants as I said here

http://www.property118.com/index.php/the-boomerang-effect-for-landlords/18587/

We must break the chain and marginalise the bad landlords and bad tenants if the PRS is going to move forward in the way that it must in order to fulfill the desparate need for more decent homes for decent people

Ben Reeve-Lewis

19:55 PM, 17th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Nobody seems to have one HMOL thats the problem. If you are going define a whole bunch of people and behaviours you need more than 1 word to do it. If Eskimos have 40 different words that describe different qualties of snow shouldnt we in housing have a better vocabulary for the different elements in our world?

The importance of it in housing is for the legal side of things, thats why I think Shelter's adherence to a broad grouping actually works against what they want people like me to do, tackle rogue landlords. If Rogue behaviour has a wide definition how do I seperate the clueless amateur from the more wilfull perpetrator?

Maybe we need profiling descriptions like Myers Briggs? Rogue but with a hint of compassion or Clueless but with a touch of sadism. Actually thats starting to sound like a cocktail menu

Sharon Crossland

7:29 AM, 18th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Hi Ben,

I always find it interesting that landlords are not responsible for their tenants anti-social behaviour.My local authority definitely thinks they are. So do I because in private blocks of flats, the freeholder has the contract with the leaseholder but the leaseholder landlord has a contract with the renting tenant, not the freeholder. In fact my local authority has clearly stated that it is the failure of private sector landlords to deal with their tenants behaviour that is a constant source of problems for them. This I can understand.

Whilst not getting permission to sublet may not be one of your headings that 'rogue' come under, (fair enough) the PRS impacts heavily on block management. Getting permission to sublet is usually a covenant of any lease and it is continually ignored in the conveyancing process. It is so galling when not only do they not have permission but they turn out to be the type of landlord who refuses to deal with with their tenants, whether it be their anti-social behaviour or their complaints (which is outside of the remit of a block manager other than writing letters to the landlord). The majority of my block is sublet, and everything I have suggested for what constitutes a 'rogue' are not separate acts of behavour but most of the list being committed all at the same time by most of our landlords (bar one).

Having said all that, that I am not anti-landord. I had a great landlord for 7 years before I moved into a leasehold flat. I acknowledge that there are undoubtedly many landords out there doing a great job and like you I would rather work with them but I don't get any of them here!

I hoped that when some of them got repossessed that we would have some decent ones in their place but we still get more of the same. I can therefore only conclude that I live in the most problematic private block in the south east!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

8:18 AM, 18th October 2011
About 9 years ago

Individual councils might have different working relationships with their landlrods, different expectations and policies but that is a world away from there being a proper 'Legal' resposnibility although there are certain areas of nuisance abatement that could count.

There is a detailed article on Nearly Legal here http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2010/07/landlord-liability-for-nuisance/ the only real posibility being Sedleigh-Denfield v. O,Callaghan

Your angle/involvement in this is slightly diferent from the common problems that Shelter are highlighting in that you are effectively called the 'Superior Landlord' Sharon, which I am sure you really are 🙂 and in the nicest possible way. Your complaints/beefs seem more like those a standard landlrod has with their tenants. Maybe a different Rogue definition needs to be created for your area of work but I dont know what enforcement action is possible for block managers.

Through this dialogue I am coming to the idea that to be 'Rogue' behaviour there should be an illegal, or at least Tortious action and some form of intent or willfullness behind it. This is a non lawyers view of course and wouldnt exactly create a watertight legislation but probably better than the hash job that deposit protection turned out to be.

Sharon Crossland

8:55 AM, 18th October 2011
About 9 years ago

I certainly take your points. The only enforcement action open to us is forfeiture of the lease but this is expensive, and often difficult.

I seem to be a lone voic that actively link the PRS with block management but I've also had to add the impact of local authorites and their lack of communication with us too.

Sorry, went a bit off topic there but as usual I agree with much of what you say.

Sharon

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