ROGUE LATEST: Landlords in Warrington and Brighton prosecuted for ignoring law

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A Warrington letting agency boss has been fined for putting his tenants’ lives at risk in three HMOs.

Kristian Johnstone, 28, a director of Easylet Residential, admitted 38 offences relating to the property he owns and rents out in Evelyn Street, and two he rents out Goulden Street and Algernon Street.

He was convicted at Chester Magistrates Court for fire safety offences and failure to licence a HMO, and was fined £19,000, plus £1,000 in legal costs and a £181 victim surcharge.

The magistrate said the offences showed a complete failure to grapple with the regulatory regime and that there was a “significant number of people exposed to serious risk of death”.

Fire safety

Another Warrington landlord, David Cooper, 70, of Thorneycroft Drive, appeared at Warrington Combined Crown and Magistrates Court Centre to deny six HMO offences for letting out an HMO for offences relating to fire safety, the production of gas and electrical safety documentation and failure to provide documentation. He was found guilty and fined £1,895.

Councillor Maureen McLaughlin (pictured), cabinet member for housing, public health and wellbeing, says the properties posed a significant risk of danger to the tenants. She adds: “We’re satisfied that we were able to drive these cases to the point of two successful convictions and bring awareness to landlords of what measures must be taken to ensure the safety of their tenants.”

ROGUE LANDLORDS UPDATE: Meanwhile, a landlady has been prosecuted in Brighton for ignoring an enforcement notice after she unlawfully converted a family home into an HMO.

Shirley White, 56, divided up the property in Bevendean Crescent without planning permission. Her retrospective application and subsequent appeal were refused but White, of Friars Walk, north London, ignored a recent enforcement order preventing her from letting it out. She was fined £7,830 and ordered to pay £2,003 in costs at Brighton Magistrates Court.

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Join me on 9th December 2020

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I am really pleased to be part of something very exciting this month. Simon Zutshi, the founder of property investors network (pin), has invited me and four other industry experts to join him for the first-ever National pin Meeting!

There are no local pin Meetings held in December

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Crown Estate commits to net zero carbon by 2030

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The Crown Estate is one of the largest property managers in the United Kingdom, administering property worth £14.1 billion, with urban properties valued at £9.1 billion.

It’s an independent commercial business, created by an Act of Parliament, with a diverse portfolio of UK buildings, shoreline, seabed, forestry, agriculture and common land – over the last 10 years it has contributed £2.6 billion to the government’s Consolidated Fund.

The sovereign is not involved with the management or administration of the estate, it being overseen by an incorporated public body headed by the Crown Estate Commissioners. As reported by the estate is home to countless hospitality businesses across the UK.

The Managing Agents’ Partnership (BPP) says:

“Managing agents have a critical role to play in improving the sustainability performance of the buildings they manage. They are an intrinsic part of the day-to-day management of commercial property and often at the ‘coal face’ of addressing sustainability in the built environment.”

A major thrust in The Crown Estate’s green energy drive is the potential make more use of the seabed, a resource which it manages around the coats of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s green targets include:

1) To become a net zero business by 2030 and be climate positive thereafter, aligning with a 1.5°C climate scenario. This commitment includes all Scope 1-3 emissions associated with the operation of directly managed assets.

2) Rapidly decarbonising its real estate portfolio across the country by reducing carbon embodied in development, improving energy performance of existing assets and procurement of 100% renewable energy across the portfolio.

3) Championing a comprehensive approach to sustainable investment, including application of the TCFD (Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures) framework and an internal carbon price.

The estate aims to be completely fossil-free as soon as possible and will be working with the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) to agree appropriate decarbonisation targets in line with its 2030 1.5°C trajectory. Progress against these green targets will be reviewed annually.

As manager of the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Crown Estate is committed to develop of offshore wind to help enable the Government’s goal of delivering 40GW by 2030 and enabling new technologies like floating wind, all in a way which protects marine biodiversity and the natural environment.

Dan Labbad, The Crown Estate’s Chief Executive says:

“The impacts of Covid-19 and the wider volatility we face today only underline the importance of businesses like ours stepping up with purpose, pace and ambition to address systemic challenges facing our society and environment.

“This cannot wait, and we make our commitment to net zero today, knowing that we don’t have all the answers. We understand there will be big challenges to solve along the way and to succeed we will need to rapidly innovate in areas like technology and digital, to think differently about how we optimise the green potential of the seabed, as well as find new solutions by collaborating with our many customers and partners who share our ambitions.

“We are committed to investing to support our goal and pushing ourselves to work as hard and as fast as we can towards it, adjusting accordingly if we need to, as we better understand the opportunities and challenges further in the years ahead”.

Anyone managing a property business, of whatever size, can now see the direction of travel vis-a-vis environmental issues – in their own interest they should be looking to play their part. Soon renters and buyers will become much more conscious of the merits of environmentally efficient buildings and the benefits to themselves, so now is the time to plan your own green drive.

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New Year student halls rent strike gathers pace, but will it spill into PRS?

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Thousands of students have threatened a rent strike in the new year in protest at being charged for their empty rooms in halls of residence and a lack of face-to-face teaching.

Strikes on campuses including Oxford, Sussex and Edinburgh are being planned when they return from the Christmas break in what’s been labelled the biggest wave of student renter militancy in more than 40 years.

Nearly 200 students have pledged to withhold their rent in Sussex, while in Cambridge more than 400 students have promised to join a rent strike.

At Bristol University, more than 1,400 students have been demanding rent cuts, more support and no-penalty contract releases.

Strike success

So far, the protests are having an impact; Manchester has now cut rent in its halls by 30% for this term after a mass strike, and Bristol University has announced a similar rebate for seven weeks to account for the staggered return to campus next year.

Rent Strike, a student-led umbrella campaign group, is overseeing the action planned for the new term, backed by the National Union of Students (NUS).

It’s been holding training sessions to encourage protests after research found the average rent for student accommodation formed 73% of student loans in 2018, up from 58% in 2012.

NUS president Larissa Kennedy (pictured) says students have been encouraged to move into halls because universities are heavily dependent on rents and tuition fees, but after finding that almost all teaching has been online so far this year, students feel like they been trapped on campuses so universities can collect rent and fees.

She told The Guardian: “Universities have turned into mega landlords, collecting millions of pounds in rent every year. A massive chunk of the inadequate maintenance support, most students get is funnelled straight into these institutional landlords.”

But will this rent strike spill into the PRS, as it threatened to in April?

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Stamp Duty holiday cliff edge – “I understand concerns”

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Over the past few months, The Guild of Property Professionals along with other industry bodies have been lobbying the Government to extend the Stamp Duty Holiday on behalf of both consumers and the property sector. Along with a letter sent to Government with the backing of several industries bodies and major players in the industry

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘We must take the lead on possessions for the sector to survive’

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While Covid-19 has dominated all our lives since the start of the year the Government is expected to push ahead with its plans for reform the PRS as we enter 2021.  

Plans to abolish Section 21 repossessions – so-called ‘no fault’ evictions’– were announced in December last year as part of the Government’s Renters’ Reform Bill.  

The response to the proposals for the bill can, at best, be described as mixed, with landlords rightly worried about the impact that repealing Section 21 will have on their ability to repossess their rental homes should they need to.  

However, the Government is adamant that this is the direction of travel, and it is now up to us to put forward compelling, evidence-based plans detailing how these changes can work in a way that can benefit landlords and tenants.  #

Legitimate reasons

Essentially this means keeping good tenants in their homes, while retaining the ability to repossess where there is legitimate reason for example anti-social behaviour or non-payment of rent.  

It is with this in mind that we at the NRLA have drawn up our own proposals outlining how the scheme should work, following extensive consultation with our landlord members,  partner organisations and senior members of the judiciary.  

In our submission to Government, we have included a clear and comprehensive list of grounds upon which landlords may legitimately regain possession of their properties. 

These include circumstances in which the landlord or a family member want to move into the property, or they want to sell it or carry out major renovation works.  

They would also be able to repossess where the tenant had built arrears, or was committing antisocial or criminal behaviour, where the terms of the tenancy agreement had been breached or where the tenant has caused damage.  

A full list of all the proposed grounds and their conditions can be found here.

Conciliation service

We also want to see the creation of a new, publicly funded conciliation service, similar to the employment dispute body, ACAS to offer support when problems arise.  

This would seek to resolve disagreements between landlords and tenants without the stress and costs associated with going to court – with legally binding consequences should either party breach any agreement reached.  

Where landlords failed to abide by the terms of the agreement, they would be banned from being able to re-possess the property on the same grounds for six months. Where renters did so, the case would be fast tracked through the courts.  

Throughout the process both parties would be able to access the advice and support they needed to make their case, ensuring it is fair.  

Backlog cleared

There is currently a huge backlog of possession cases and the conciliation service is one way to reduce the pressure by keeping cases out of court where possible.  

While the abolition of Section 21 was the aspect of the Renters’ Reform Bill stealing the headlines, it will also include commitments to strengthen landlords’ rights to repossess, with valid reason, improve access to the database of rogue landlords and agents and improve standards.  

Lifetime deposits

The Government is also looking to introduce lifetime deposits – an idea first mooted by the NRLA – which would allow tenants to ‘move’ their deposit between tenancies, rather than trying to raise a ‘second deposit’ when moving.   

While we are supportive of the idea in principle, we have stressed in our submission it is vital the new system in no way discourages landlords from making valid claims for damage to properties, or leaves them out of pocket when deposits transfer.   

Landlords cannot be expected to give up their right of recourse to a security deposit until such time that they are satisfied there will be no need to make a claim against it.   

Get involved

Now our proposals have been sent to government, the next step is for you to get involved.  

If you support the work we are doing we’d ask you to give your feedback and spread the word via social media.  

We also look to share landlords’ stories to showcase real life examples of the challenges landlords face, so if you have a story to tell, please get in touch.  

It is important Ministers know there is support for this approach on the ground. It is in all our interests to keep tenants in their homes where possible and we need to show we are willing to engage to ensure the reforms are ones that will work for landlords and tenants alike.  

To read the proposals in full click here. 

©1999 – Present | Parkmatic Publications Ltd. All rights reserved | LandlordZONE® – EXCLUSIVE: ‘We must take the lead on possessions for the sector to survive’ | LandlordZONE.

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