Letting Dilemmas - Ask the Finders Keepers Experts
The letting and management of a property can be very complex. Ambiguous situations often arise which require a mix of legal knowledge, tenancity and common sense to resolve.
We include some questions below which our Director Frank Webster has answered in the Sunday Times.
We hope you find these Q&As useful.
If you have your own question about letting then contact your Property Manager and we'll endeavour to help.
Q. My boyfriend lets out his property to two tenants. One of the tenants has complained that the other drinks far too much, despite paying his rent on time. Yet the tenant who is complaining keeps his room like that of a squatter. If we get evidence that the boozing tenant's behaviour is antisocial, would we have to give him notice.
DW, by email
A. Depending on the nature of the tenancy, your boyfriend may have the right to evict the tenants. You can seek possession during a fixed-term tenancy only in certain circumstances, when one of the grounds for possession apply and the terms of the tenancy make provision for it to be ended. These grounds are reasons why you need your property back. He would have to apply to a county court, which will look at the reasons and decide if a possession order is fair – ie, if there is a nuisance to neighbours. It is a criminal offence to evict tenants other than by court action. Often, these situations can be improved by speaking to the tenants.
Q. My son lives in a rented house with extremely steep stairs to the cellar, and no handrail. Given that allthe fuses are down there, I am concerned that he will have an
accident when trying to restore power after a short. I consider this a hazard. What is the legal obligation of the landlord?
P Robertson, Guildford
A. Any property, rented or otherwise, should pass current fitness standards, which use a risk-assessment approach called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The underlying principle is that residential premises should provide a safe and healthy environment for any occupier or visitor. Landlords should therefore review conditions regularly to see where and how their properties can be improved and made safer - handrails, the state of repair of the treads, lighting and so on. Slip and trip hazards pose a real threat to health and safety: falls on stairs account for about 25% of all home falls. Given that frequent access will potentially be required to the cellar, the landlord would be well advised to provide handrails either side of the staircase. In the event that the landlord is non-responsive, any enforcement of the HHSRS system would lie with the local authority.
Q. In 1982, when I started renting my flat, I installed central heating with the landlord's approval, but at my own expense. In the past 10 years, the landlord has paid for the maintenance of the boiler. It now needs to be replaced, but he claims it's not his responsibility. Is he right?
W Stacey, by email
A. In 1982, it would have been more acceptable for a tenant to pay for the installation of central heating in a rental property; I assume that no formal agreement was reached on future maintenance. Yet because the landlord has maintained the boiter over the past 10 years, and presumably the annual gas safety inspection as well, he has in effect "adopted" responsibility for the system and is liable to provide a replacement. You can enlist the help of your local authority, which will refer to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Local authorities are under a duty to take action in the case of Category 1 hazards, and ultimately may carry out any necessary remedial work themselves, reclaiming the costs from the landlord.
Q. My student son is renting a one-bedroom flat. He has not had heating or regular hot water since moving in six months ago, the washing machine is faulty and the extractor fans don't work. The landlord refuses to authorise repairs. My son is moving out next month, and his final payment of Â£1,100 is due. Can he withhold it?
Glynis McGurk, by email
A. Your son has been very patient. Whether or not a tenancy agreement is in place, landlords have certain obligations under housing legislation and tenants' rights to live in a property in a good state of repair. Your son's landlord is in breach of tenancy and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Your son has the right to pursue this in court for damages, but it's best to resolve the dispute amicably. He should write to his landlord, stating why he feels forced to withhold payment and clearly setting out the issues and timescales. By not paying his rent, your son will be in breach of his legal obligations under the tenancy agreement. The landlord could counter by retaining this sum from the deposit which should have been registered under a Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme. These provide a free service to resolve disputes. If the landlord does not agree to use this, cases usually go to the county court. I hope that common sense prevails.
Q. My rented home is freezing - although the heating technically works, I can't get the house warm. The boiler and windows are ancient and ineffective, and insulation is basic. The landlord won't spend any money and says I knew the property was old when I rented it. What are my rights?
K Lawson, Oxfordshire
A. If you rented the property after October 2008, your landlord was required by law to have an energy performance certificate drawn up, with a copy given to you when you moved in. The condensed A-G graph information shows G as the least efficient. Also, when you viewed the property, the age of the house, type of windows, boiler and so on should have given you a general idea of how warm the house would be in winter. The rental value set by the agent should reflect these factors and be considerably lower than for comparable properties in the same area with A-rated heating systems and double-glazlng. If the boiler and radiators are working properly, the landlord has fulfilled his legal responsibility. The landlord cannot be legally compelled to install a boiler system or double glazing.
Q. We have been letting out our property for three years while living abroad. Recently, our estate agent informed us that the rent had stopped and the place had been abandoned. We now learn that, although our contract states the rent must be paid via standing order, the tenant cancelled this three months into the tenancy; "random" people used to pay the agent by cheque. We are Â£10,000 out of pocket for replacing stolen furniture and repairs. Do we have a case against the estate agent?
J. Noble, by email
A. Check your contract to confirm the service the agent was engaged to deliver. The agent could not have prevented a crime, but it has a legal duty to show that its vetting procedures were rigorous. Where references are provided, the agent should try to validate their authenticity. Despite the Tenancy Agreement, the agent can accept payments by other methods, but it should inform you of this. If the agent is a member of a professional body, such as ARLA, NAEA or the Property Ombudsman, you can use the relevant complaints procedure. If not, contact your local Trading Standards Officer or the Citizens Advice Bureau. It sounds as if the service was a rent collection only; for absentee landlords, we recommend a full managed service with regular inspections.
Q. We rent our home under an assured shorthold tenancy. The landlady recently died, and my bank tells me it is unable to keep paying the standing order for the rent into her account. Her son says he wants us to stay in the property and is in the process of buying out his brother's share. In the interim, should we pay rent to the son and ask for informal receipts or insist that a new contract is drawn up?
A Travers, Suffolk
A. Although your landlady has died, your tenancy continues under the same terms, without the need to draw up a new agreement. You should contact the solicitor who is handling the estate and request formal instruction, in writing, on payment of rent. Until you have this, I would advise that monies should not be paid informally to your landlady's son, as he may not be an executor of the will. In most cases, a separate account is set up by the solicitors and the rent is sent to them. If your tenancy needs to be renewed before the estate is settled, this could be done in the name of the estate and signed by each executor. A new agreement can only be drawn up in the name of your landlady's son once he has acquired legal title to the property. Again, you would need to have formal written proof of this from the solicitor.
Q. I own a three-bedroom townhouse that I've been letting for several years to different groups: a family, a couple and a colleague or three professionals sharing. What does the new HMO (houses in multiple occupation) planning legislation mean for me?
H Rodgers, Newcastle
A. The creation of "student ghettos" in some towns and cities has led to the creation of a new planning law, which came into effect on April 6. This will affect many landlords such as yourself, as properties to be rented to three or more sharers will now require planning application to obtain "CLass C4" status. A property that was already let as an HMO on April 5 automatically assumes this status; conversely, if the property was let to a family, but you now intend to let to three or more persons (made up of more than two households), then a planning application will need to be made - at a cost of about Â£300 and plenty of hassle. I suggest that you speak to your local planning officer for more information.