Private Landlords, Regulation and Accreditation

Private landlords should comply with the rules or accept that worse could be yet to come says David Lawrenson of www.LettingFocus.com.

On many occasions I have said that now the private rented sector has grown so big and become so important, landlords must expect there to be no let up in the raft of legislation effecting what they do and their businesses.

Indeed, two new such changes – effecting energy performance certificates and the operation of the tenancy deposit schemes – come on board in a few weeks time – from 6th April 2012.

I’m on record as saying that I think the tenancy deposit scheme apparatus, as it exists, is ludicrous – a strange Antipodean-designed sledgehammer to crack a nut.

It might have been a better bet to have had a system that was entirely focussed on fast resolution at the time of dispute only. So, if a tenant felt that a landlord held back their deposit unfairly, they would complain to an appropriate body and the landlord would immediately have to pay over the deposit to that body, pending fast and fair resolution.

The situation we have got, where every single deposit must be protected hugely increases costs for landlords – and these are naturally passed onto the tenant as higher rents.

I’m not convinced of the value for money.

On New Rules

Landlords may baulk at all the new rules and regulations, but I take a different view.

I’m of the opinion that the business of letting property is an important one. By letting property landlords are responsible for other people having that most important of things – shelter.

So, we as a society simply cannot have a situation where landlords do not carry out their obligations under the law – whether that involves having proper gas safety checks done or protecting tenants’ deposits.

If people who are thinking of letting a property think they can just “get by” in a “Rigsbyesque” fashion, then they should be made to think again. To make them “think again” we need strong laws that more heavily penalise the type of lazy “accidental landlord” who has simply not bothered to find out what it is they should be doing.

I don’t take such a position in order to sell more copies of my book.

Rather, I take this position because I believe that unless we can show that there are high and constantly improving standards in the private rented sector, private landlords will eventually suffer a much more draconian regulatory environment of the type that is often demanded on the forum pages of “The Guardian” and “Inside Housing”.

Heavier Fines on Non Compliant “Accidental Landlords”

In a sense, we are where we are – and we are stuck with it.

And given that we have the current tenancy deposit scheme, private landlords will just have to “put up with it and deal with it.”

So, though I don’t much like the tenancy deposit schemes and I feel something could have been delivered that was better, I would still like to see far heavier fines on landlords who don’t comply with the rules that we have  – whether that is on gas safety, safe electrics or deposits.

On tenants’ deposits, landlords who don’t protect deposits will now face fines of between 1 and 3 times the deposit.

It should be much harsher than that, because knowing that there are harsh penalties, “the honest but lazy” type of landlord would have a real incentive to make sure they comply with all the rules.

A Possible Future of Heavy Bureaucracy for Landlords

If private landlords don’t comply with the rules that exist today, the calls for all landlords in England and Wales to be “licensed” or to be “accredited” will surely grow.

Naturally, it is likely that any such universal scheme would be administered by a hefty organisation, possibly run by local government.

It would probably be quite a job creation scheme and come at great cost, and like the universal landlords licensing scheme in Scotland, it would involve many civil servants busily running about ticking boxes and making sure every landlord is registered.

And while their focus and the whole attention of these administrators is on ensuring compliance of the many, the minority of really bad rogue landlords (see “Sheds with Beds” story reported here) will be totally ignored, off the radar and freer to flourish with impunity.

So, for the good of society, I would suggest that private landlords get in compliance now and ask the government for heftier fines for those among their number who don’t do the basics right.

If private landlords don’t do this, much, much worse will surely follow.

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