10 August 2018
My name is George McLoughlin and I am a specialist housing lawyer. I am passionate and committed about trying to help my clients.
I often find myself, I believe, with justifiable cause, criticising the incumbent Government, regardless of their political persuasion, in respect of their record in helping the most disadvantaged and deserving of tenants.
So I am very pleased to be able to applaud and bring to your attention the ‘How to Rent..Guides’ produced by HM Government. They are well worth a read.
There are four Guides in the series
- ‘How to Rent’
- ‘How to Rent a Safe Home
These are for current and prospective tenants in the private sector.
- ‘How to Let’
This provides information for landlords and property agents.
- ‘How to Lease’
This is intended for current and prospective leaseholders.
These are apparently updated regularly. The most reason version of the ‘How to Rent a Safe Home’ was only updated on the 6th July.
I like both the format and the layout. I like the excellent use of clear language to convey what can be complicated information. They are colour co-ordinated – I even like the various colours!
It explains were tenants will be able to find further information. It explains how to access this by way of ‘hyperlinks’.
The obvious problem I foresee is that you need access to a computer and the ability to be able to ‘print off’ the guides-and, therefore to be able to truly appreciate the colours – just like me.
The guides suggest that if you don’t have access to a computer you can ask your local library for help. I thought all the libraries had been shut down due to ‘austerity’.
Opps there I go again complaining about the government.
Examples of crucial information that can be found in the ‘How to Rent’ Guides:
Gas Safety Certificates.
These must be provided by the landlord at the start of the tenancy and within 28 days of each annual gas safety check.
All properties must have working smoke alarms on every floor used as living accommodation.
Carbon Monoxide Alarm
These are required in all rooms using solid fuels – such as a coal fire and wood burning stove It is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure that these alarms are working on the first day of the tenancy. However, it then becomes the tenant’s responsibility to make sure that they carry on working and to replace the batteries where needed.
Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)
A landlord can no longer rent a property that has an EPC rating below E. A copy of the EPC certificate must be provided to the tenant before or on the day they move in to the property.
Landlords have a duty to make sure that electrical installations, (for example, sockets & light fittings) and equipment (for example, cookers) are safe and kept in good working order.
If a property is one of ‘Multiple Occupation’ (HMO) then a 5 year Electrical Safety Check is also mandatory.
The Government in February published a white paper consultation on extending this requirement into the general private landlord sector.
I am not aware that they have published a formal response as yet; but I predict some resistance. Hopefully, I am wrong.
I really like the wording of the following two sub-sections, which seems to me to be an ‘official’ (HM Government recognition) of the often severe and debilitating ill-health that can be caused by damp and the cold, particularly to the young, old and vulnerable; and, also the increased financial burden on those trying to make ends meet on limited budget or wage.
I will let the wording of the paragraphs speak for themselves:
‘Damp and Mould'
Damp and mould can cause or worsen respiratory problems, infections, allergies or asthma. It can also affect the immune system, particularly in young children. Damp also contributes to excess heat loss and puts up heating bills, as well as causing damage to building fabric and contents, including clothes and furniture………..
A cold home is one that cannot be maintained at a temperature between 18 C to 21 at a reasonable cost to the occupier. Excess cold can lead to flu, pneumonia and bronchitis; heart attacks or strokes, hypothermia and even death.'
• How to Rent – The checklist for renting in England
There is, in fact, a fifth Guide in the series. This is very important. This is for people who are about to rent a house of flat on an assured shorthold tenancy – and have limited security of tenure
The latest version of this one was published on the 9th July.
Again it is written in a plain and straightforward [non-legal jargon way} language; and, contains important information about the rights of the incoming tenant, but also their responsibilities.
A landlord must provide you with a copy of this booklet at the commencement of the tenancy.
If you have been paying attention above you will also recall that the landlord is also required to handover, a gas safety certificate, an EPC certificate, and (I know I have not talked about this requirement) prescribed Deposit protection information – so 5 important documents additional to the tenancy agreement.
In basic terms this means that if a landlord has not provided a tenant with any of the above documents then that landlord cannot evict their tenant unless they have breached their tenancy agreement – if a tenant has not paid the rent then they can still be required to leave by order of the Court.
There is an obvious gap in the series in my view. I believe there is a need to add an additional ‘How to Guide’ – to explain to a tenant their rights when faced with an intimidating landlord and the threat of retaliatory eviction. That said thee is only limited protection.
It seems clear that if a tenant has placed a landlord on notice of a genuine disrepair claim, and there has not been an ‘adequate’ response from the landlord, then the landlord should not be able to remove a tenant.
As part of the process the tenant is also required to lodge a complaint to their local authority to investigate the disrepair – with a view to them inspecting and then serving an ‘improvement’ notice on the landlord. However, as we all know, all local authorities are strapped for cash, and their housing departments have had to face commensurate cut backs. How will this impact on the ability of the Council to be able to respond to such complaints? I fear not very well.
George McLoughlin is a Solicitor and is Head of Housing Disrepair at Cutis Law Solicitors LLP and a member of Liverpool Civil Litigation Committee.
He can be contacted on George.firstname.lastname@example.org
The above views represent my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Curtis Solicitors LLP or Liverpool Law Society.