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Strictly come letting

Strictly come dancing imageFinders Keepers’ Vice Chairman, Frank Webster, knows how to enjoy himself, he took part in the annual Strictly Oxford dancing competition. To his surprise, he and his dance partner, Jane Holmes were runners up – raising £4000 for Vale House, a care home for dementia sufferers, in the process… but when the dancing stopped, it was time to get back to the day job, as there’s much more than the quickstep to concern letting agents at the moment.

“Bombshell” and “shock announcement” were just a few of the hyperboles used in reaction to the news that David Cameron intends to introduce a mandatory licensing regime for private landlords. The who, what, when and how and, indeed, whether it will include letting agents has since been clarified, at least to a certain extent, in that it will only apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation or shared housing.

It will be agents who have to cope with this endless barrage of fragmented legislative tweaks.”

In effect this extends the existing statutory licensing regime for HMOs, but as usual the devil will be in the detail. The government says it will consult on the amendment of the definition of a mandatory licensable HMO.

In addition, the Prime Minister said that his government, unencumbered by their former coalition partners, will launch a national rollout of the ‘right to rent’ pilot scheme established in the Immigration Act 2014, which has been running in the West Midlands, where landlords and their agents have to check that their tenants have the legal right to live in the UK.

POLITICAL POSTURING

Meanwhile, those of us at the coalface are asking if this is just political posturing; will it peter out in the long term as it proves unworkable; will amateur landlords cope (or even bother) and who is going to police the whole shebang?

It is reminiscent of the days when someone, (Who is that someone? I’d like to meet them and have a word), coined the phrase ‘letting in the course of business’ – namely, that landlords and their letting agents would be the ideal people to police the furniture world. Do you remember? I do, my back is still suffering from lifting hundreds of mattresses, sofas and armchairs searching for that crucial label – which half the time wasn’t there! The original concept of this legislation was never, in my mind, meant to involve the landlord or his letting agent; rather, it was aimed at the manufacturer.

I suspect the same theory applies to HMO selective licensing… “ah yes… if we come up with legislation that allows Local Authorities to restrict ‘studentifcation’ of areas, we’ll be really popular with the locals – I know, we’ll make landlords and their letting agents responsible.”

Then came the sudden realisation (where Local Authorities have introduced this licensing) of the unintended consequence – the now greatly diminished number of homes suitable for sharers, as landlords move away from the hassle of these HMO restrictions.

As letting agents are going to be part of this immigration control, I may suggest to my co-directors that our staff be issued with uniforms embroidered with ‘Border Control Assistant Agent’.

CHANGE FOR CHANGE’S SAKE

On a serious note, it is good to see some focus on improving the Private Rented Sector (PRS), but one has to ask if the Prime Minister’s plans to clamp down on illegal immigration have anything do to with improving the rapidly growing PRS and indeed whether this ‘push’ has been properly thought through.

Yes, it will be us, the guys on the ground, who already have to deal daily with over 100+ pieces of legislation, who will have to cope with yet more of this never ending barrage of what is, it is fair to say, disconnected and fragmented legislative tweaks.

So, we ask why the Prime Minister is confirming a roll out of the plans before assessing the impact of the West Midlands pilot? Does the proposal to make it easier to evict illegal immigrants now clash with proposals to permit sub-letting and changes brought in under the Deregulation Act, which appear to make it easier for tenants to resist eviction.

The plans also fail to answer whether this would override the relatively successful, tried and tested laws that have enabled landlords to regain possession of their properties, within the 1988 Housing Act. Yes, the devil will be in the detail.

Perhaps, just maybe, we might see letting agents realising their worth and maintaining a sensible fee for their services, instead of the madness of under-cutting, often to the bone, as was the stupidity of the sales agents in the 1980s, who have never recovered their former 2.5 per cent fee levels.

But I won’t hold my breath!

Frank Webster has worked in the property industry for over 35 years and has focused for many years in the UK Private Rented Sector. Based in Oxfordshire he is a director of the award winning Finders Keepers.

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