A quick update: Jobs, advice and evictions.

A few quick things

The first three bullet points below have been borrowed from a newsletter put out by our colleagues in the Black Country Area Department of Work and Pensions. Although these aren’t really landlord issues – they might be helpful for your tenants.

• As the lock-down lifts, the government is keen to help people who’ve lost their jobs, back into work. Job Centres are promoting various activities and resources, especially through social media, particularly Twitter. As a 54 year-old dinosaur who misses rotary dial telephones and black and white telly – I’m not a Twitter enthusiast. However, the Black Country Job Centres Twitter account does look like a really good resource for anyone seeking work. https://twitter.com/jcpinthebc?lang=en. It has all kinds of events and information and is well worth a look.

• Extra resources are also being provided to different advice agencies that the public might turn to. The overall message going with this is that if you have a tenant or client in any sort of difficulty – particularly financial, due to COVID-19 – please encourage them to get the right help and support.

• Evictions and possessions: We blogged on this just over a week ago and how the government has extended the ban on evictions until the 24th of August. Two things to add. Firstly, the government announced yesterday via a response to a written parliamentary question, that there will be no more extensions and come the end of August – courts will start hearing possession hearings again. Second and it might be quite important; the government has also confirmed – through Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that although the ban on serving notices will be lifted – the government also wants to add new elements into the legal/ courts process to give more protection to ‘vulnerable’ tenants. We don’t as yet have any specifics about what Mr Jenrick actually meant. But perhaps this should serve as a warning to landlords to be even more careful than usual about following all legal requirements which could affect the ending of a tenancy. Don’t forget – there are already all sorts of legal obstacles where if a landlord has got something wrong – a section 21 notice is automatically invalidated. See our post on this subject https://sandwelllandlords.wordpress.com/category/section-21/. The government guidance we have talked about more recently since the COVID-19 crisis started does expect landlords to be reasonable and understanding where tenants already have difficulties and although I can only speculate about Mr Jenrick’s precise intentions I would guess that any new rules he intends to introduce will add some weight to that expectation. We will obviously blog on this again once we have more detail.

Oliver

Unpleasant and hazardous to health

Nasty smelling, unsightly, germ-ridden and likely attract to every type of vermin imaginable. No – not me – despite what the blog’s co-editor, Liz Mooney says about me in private. We’re talking about domestic waste that isn’t disposed of properly. It’s a problem that always gets worse at this time of year. Hot weather speeds up decomposition and just makes everything that bit more horrible. So it’s time to remind landlords about the issue again.


As we always say, (and we mean it) we know the vast majority of landlords we are in contact with are decent, responsible and deal with these issues correctly. But you need to stay aware; especially if some of your tenants might be a bit less careful than you would hope. And often the law will hold the landlord responsible for any issues – particularly in houses in multiple occupation, whether or not they are HMOs that need a licence. Quite apart form any legal penalties (and they can be steep), you risk reputational damage, poor relations with tenants and damage to your property if problems occur

So we are just putting out the very simple reminder to landlords. Please check that you have adequate waste storage and disposal facilities at any property you own or manage; whatever type of tenancy is in place and that you and your tenants are complying with any regulations that might apply. All of this becomes especially important as we still going through a national health crisis with COVID-19. A cause for extra concern when you think about coming into contact with other people’s waste or even possibly very high risk material like used PPE which might have been needed to care for or protect someone in one of your properties.

For information about landlords, waste and HMOs, see http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200223/housing/4319/housing_in_multiple_occupation_hmo/20

For information on waste and COVID-19, see http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200223/housing/4486/covid_-_19_and_landlords

For more general information on waste in Sandwell, see http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200160/bins_and_recycling/4023/household_waste_refuse_collection

Oliver

Ban on evictions extended until August and Housing Benefit payment notices by email.

A double blog covering the ban on evictions being extended and how landlords with tenants on Housing Benefit can get their payment notices by email.

Last week the government announced that the temporary ban on evictions it brought in as part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis has been extended until 23rd August. You can find full details on gov.uk at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ban-on-evictions-extended-by-2-months-to-further-protect-renters

We understand the difficulties that can lead to an eviction and that almost all landlords see them only as an absolute last resort. But remember that any landlord, who is desperate or provoked evicts someone illegally, is committing a criminal offence. It could even earn them a prison sentence under the Prevention of Evictions Act 1977. It’s very rare things get to that stage. Once the authorities get involved, most landlords back away from any rash action or allow the tenant back if the eviction has already occurred.  But it still happens. I’ve just done a very quick google and already found five cases from 2019 where landlords received suspended prison sentences and hefty fines.  (I’m sure there are more). I can also recall one West Midlands case from a few years ago where the sentence wasn’t suspended and the landlord actually served time.

It’s so important that landlords do everything they can to protect themselves from arrears occurring or to keep them under control if they happen.  

The official government advice notes that ‘Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability’ and then goes on to make the following points:

• An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help both parties to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent. This can include . . . a plan to pay off arrears at a later date.

• If a landlord and tenant agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important they both stick to this plan, and that tenants talk to their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.

• If a tenant is worried about being unable to pay their rent, or if landlords become aware of tenants who may be in difficulty, advice is available from specialist providers such as Shelter, Citizens Advice or The Money Advice Service. (And Sandwell Council also has its own Welfare Rights Service).

The last point is the most important. If your tenant has problems – encourage them to get help or advice as soon as possible. It’s not nagging – it’s simply recognising that financial problems only get worse the more you put them off.  

We would also stress (apologies if I sound like a stuck record on this – I mention it a lot) how important it is for landlords to stay professional when dealing with rent issues. That means keeping all records bang up to date, including contacts with your tenant. If you do make some sort of agreement about delaying payment or clearing arrears at some future point by installment – it’s always best to it in writing. You don’t know what disputes might crop up in future! You might also want to get some specialist advice for yourself about making sure your position is legally water-tight and you are doing everything to protect yourself.  Advice is available from the various professional landlord organisations (get googling – you can find them very easily) or if necessary think about checking with a solicitor. That may well mean a cost but it could prove worth it. 

And remember that protecting yourself from rent arrears usually means that you are protecting your tenant too, by enabling them to stay secure in their home.

To see the full government guidance, please go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ban-on-evictions-extended-by-2-months-to-further-protect-renters

Email payment notifications and the landlord portal.

I’m afraid that our landlord portal is still out of action. (Although it has definitely not been abandoned and we are still working to restore it). In the meantime – we are still sending out payment notices (or schedules) both on paper and by email. We are keen to get all landlords who receive direct payments of Housing Benefit to sign up to get these notifications by email. You will get your information quickly and then of course you have it to keep on your computer. If you haven’t already done so and would like to sign up to get your notices by email – please go to http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200145/benefits_and_grants/3564/landlords

Oliver

A tragedy next door.

Modern day slavery and Cannabis factories.

There are two issues we unfortunately have to post about from time to time – cannabis factories and the harm they do to innocent property owners and the awful subject of modern day slavery – something which I’m afraid our own region has plenty of examples of.


A very upsetting story in the press this weekend combines the two and it’s about events that happened just over the boundary between us and our neighbours in Dudley.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-52949750


A man, who the police believe was working as a modern-day slave in a cannabis factory, was killed when the premises where destroyed in a fire. The police think that he and one other victim had been trafficked into the country and were being held against their will. They had been locked inside so had no chance of escape when fire broke out. In this case – the property was actually an industrial unit, but we know (and have blogged on this very recently) that most cannabis factories are in privately rented houses. About 90% according to police estimates. And there has recently been a rash of these discovered in Sandwell.

I won’t apologise for being repetitive this subject. It’s too important. We need to remind ourselves of the issues involved.

A landlord who has the misfortune to find their property has been taken over by criminals faces massive costs when the issue is discovered. Cannabis farmers can completely gut an ordinary house. Although from the outside, nothing looks wrong, inside it’s a shell with huge and dangerous structural alterations. Any feature that gets in their way will simply be ripped out, irrespective of the damage done. Your insurance may or may not cover some or all of the harm. But whatever happens – the consequences for you as a landlord are awful and can take a long time to recover from.

But more important; is the human cost. Many cannabis factories rely on slave labour and you can imagine the shocking mistreatment of those forced to be involved. But it’s not just cannabis that we need to be concerned about. The criminal gangs who outwardly appear so respectable when they contact you to rent your property, can be up to all sorts of things that rely on trafficked or slave labour. In Sandwell, we have had it all. There have been brothels, bases for pick-pocket and begging gangs and homes that have been used as illegal, hideously over-crowded and insanitary dormitories for slave labourers working in local factories, or just down the M5 on agricultural sites. Living and working conditions can be appalling for the people we find in these houses. They are often kept there through naked intimidation or outright violence. This is a very real issue and it is happening in our communities.

So it is essential that landlords and agents are vigilant about who wants to rent their properties and to make sure that mid-term inspection clauses are locked into their tenancy agreements. Obviously, it goes without saying that the vast majority of lettings are not made to criminals – but still, this sort of problem is common enough for anyone involved in the industry to need to be aware of it.

For more information on modern slavery – please see
http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200208/crime_prevention_and_emergencies/3944/modern_slavery


And there is a good article here on cannabis farms https://news.rla.org.uk/going-to-pot-cannabis-farms-and-your-rental-homes/


Always make sure that you vet potential tenants carefully and make sure you check their references. And don’t forget – the biggest warning sign of a potential problem is when someone offers to pay you their rent for several months in advance. Be suspicious – are they trying to keep you away from the property? If so, why? Don’t let another tragedy happen in a property you own or manage.

Oliver