Imagine if a failure to carry out repairs meant that a landlord could not regain possession of their property at the end of a tenancy. On 30th March 2015 the expected grant of Royal Assent to the Deregulation Bill marks a large step in that direction.
What happens now?
Now, unless a tenant is at fault the landlord has to follow a prescribed process to regain possession of the property. This process involves serving a notice pursuant to section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (s21 Notice).
What is changing?
In broad terms a landlord will not be able to validly serve a s21 Notice to regain possession of their property if:
their tenant has made a complaint about the condition of their property; and the landlord or their agent has not provided an adequate response within 14 days; and
the local authority serves an improvement notice (Cat 1 or 2 Hazard) or an emergency remedial action notice.
a tenant must submit their complaint about the condition of their property in writing
What does it mean to you?
First, in order to benefit from protection from retaliatory eviction a tenant must submit their complaint about the condition of their property in writing unless they do not have an effective method to communicate in writing with their landlord or their landlord’s agent.
Having a complaint in writing is of benefit to both the tenant and whoever manages their property as it provides a clear record of the exact complaint and the trigger point for providing an adequate response. This means that it is in your interest as a property manager that your tenant knows how to contact you in writing.
Secondly, a landlord (or their agent) must provide an adequate response to a complaint within 14 days. An adequate response is one that states the remedial action that will be taken and sets out a reasonable period for that remedial action.
This means that it is crucial that the tenant’s written complaint contains sufficient detail for the landlord (or their agent) to understand the issue in order be able to provide that adequate response. Without the legislation having any obligation on a tenant to provide this level of detail, it is of increased importance for landlords and professional property managers to equip their tenants with the tools they need to provide them with this information.
What are the limitations?
In order to protect landlords from vexatious complaints a tenant a s21 notice will not be invalid if:
the tenant failed to use the property
in a tenant like manner; OR
the disrepair is due to a breach of a tenant’s obligation in their tenancy agreement; OR
a mortgagee is seeking recovery of a property under a mortgage that was in place before the tenancy commenced; OR
when the s21 notice is served the property is genuinely on the sales market.
In addition by using the local authority as the arbiter for the materiality of the disrepair landlords should be protected from being unable to regain possession for minor issues of disrepair.
What’s the upshot?
Any failure to deal with repairs properly could become a lot more expensive. From your client’s perspective, unless a property is properly maintained they may not be able to re-let their rental property for six months from the date on which a local authority serves an improvement notice (Cat 1 or 2 Hazard) or an emergency remedial action notice. From your perspective, the liability and reputational consequences of missing repairs have become far more serious.
The Fixflo 2014 Rental Repairs Survey (carried out before this amendment was proposed) highlighted that 56 per cent of property managers knew a landlord who changed letting agency due to a repair related issue. This number is likely to rise unless agents put in place robust processes for handling written repair requests. There is also a high level of public awareness of retaliatory eviction with over 17,000 signatories in favour of a recent (but unsuccessful) Bill to prohibit retaliatory eviction and widespread press coverage. This means that letting agency staff are likely to be asked about the changes by existing clients, prospective clients and tenants.
The new law will also affect block managers and estate managers, as disrepair of common parts that a tenant can use and in which a landlord has a controlling interest can prevent a landlord from regaining possession of their property. This means that the relationship and information flow between letting agents and block managers will need to be robust in order to protect their mutual clients’ interests.
What can you do?
Don’t panic but do prepare. If you manage properties on behalf of landlords/freeholders you should review your repair management processes; we suggest this checklist to get set for the new law:
Get prepared for written repair requests to become the norm. Put a written repair reporting structure in place so your property management team does not have to wade through flowing prose to work out what has actually gone wrong.
Consider how written repair requests will affect your team if your tenants speak a range of languages. The legislation provides for tenants to report repairs in writing but doesn’t say that it has to be in English.
Make sure that you have processes in place to ensure that no repair is ever missed. An audit trail of each repair request from start to end will help to show not only that you acted correctly but allow you to evidence that you have done so.
Fixflo’s smart repairs software helps thousands of tenants and hundreds of letting agencies across the UK every month.
Book a free 20-minute remote demonstration of Fixflo today to find out how we can help you!