In recent months, we’ve seen headlines dominated by changes to tenancy rules, government consultations and more than a few scare stories.
Landlords could be forgiven for feeling bewildered - there’s a lot of information, much of it conflicting.
Of course, those landlords who employ letting agents will be looking to you to keep a tab on upcoming legal shifts, monitor changing sentiment and safeguarding their interests.
Changes to Section 21 legislation, in particular, have drawn notable media interest, with commentators clamoring for an end to ‘no fault evictions’. It’s a concerning time for landlords, particularly against the backdrop of Labour proposals for a BTL sell-off and Lib Dem support for the scrapping of Section 21.
While there are, unfortunately, unscrupulous operators out there - and regulation to expel those individuals from the market is to be welcomed - the wholesale rights of landlords should not be diluted in a misguided attempt to tackle poor treatment of tenants by bad landlords.
The protracted media focus on landlord and tenant rights - and unhelpful speculation by political parties - has created a climate of worry and uncertainty. Some are fearful of being labelled a ‘bad’ landlord, concerned that their rights won’t be protected in the event of legal intervention.
When it comes to initiating Section 21 or Section 8 proceedings, letting agents must be able to advise landlords knowledgably and in a timely way before issues escalate, spotting tell-tale red flags and any early warning signs.
At LegalforLandlords, we have seen an increase in Section 8 evictions in recent months which should have been tackled at a much earlier stage. Landlords aren’t acting fast enough - in relation to unpaid rent, in particular- and concerns about being criticised for evicting tenants is exacerbating the issue.
The fact is, most landlords are good landlords - agents must advise them knowledgably on their rights, and the do’s and don’ts of ridding themselves of problem tenants who will not only impact their finances and their property, but potentially also their health if the situation continues to deteriorate.
Late payment of rent is often one of the first warning signs of a problem tenant. Protecting your client from any future issues should be top of the list for agents and, while agents cannot discuss rent arrears with the landlord, they can make sure they’re protected from future issues at the outset of a tenancy.
Payment terms are a good example - monthly payment terms are preferable to quarterly terms, which will allow landlords to act more quickly should a tenant fall into arrears. Make sure that landlords appreciate these differentials and what it might mean for them should issues arise with unpaid rent.
Letting agents also have a crucial role to play in making sure landlords understand the behaviors that warrant a Section 8 eviction, giving landlords confidence to regain control of their property - whether rent is paid or not.
The most common issues prompting a Section 8 notice are rent arrears, causing damage, or nuisance behaviour. However, circumstances vary wildly, and often demand a certain level of sensitivity and care.
In recent weeks, we’ve handled a variety of cases, from a property where a client was arrested for GBH, anti-social behavior and domestic violence against his partner, while also being in rent arrears, to a case in which a tenant had erected sports equipment outside of the home on the pavement, damaged the property and had an animal living with him.
Do you have a legal representative with whom you can put your client in touch, along with a policy for dealing with rent arrears and strategies to be employed should the issue arise? While letting agents can initiate Section 21 or Section 8 proceedings on behalf of landlords, it’s always preferable to take legal advice.
We frequently receive calls from letting agents and landlords when Section 21 proceedings have gone awry. Getting the right paperwork in place is essential, and to do that agents do need to have a thorough understanding of the requirements of the Deregulation Act.
Make sure that landlords understand the timescales involved and manage expectations - depending on the terms of the lease, notice can vary from as little as two weeks to as much as two months. And it’s not unusual for tenants to refuse to leave, which will mean applying to the court for a possession order.
Taking possession of a property can feel like a minefield for landlords, and in many ways it is - particularly for those who have never before encountered such issues.
Lettings agents are an important ally for landlords, and can smooth the process by advising on the do’s and don’ts and the pitfalls to avoid.
Above all, agents must support landlords in understanding when they’re justified in using Section 8 to evict tenants - and the importance of defending their rights as a landlord.
*Sim Sekhon is managing director of LegalforLandlords