Over the last ten days or so, landlord and tenant issues have been in the media spotlight.
Our very own Stuart Williams, of Northwood Dulwich, was approached by Channel 4 to appear in an item about Government plans to speed up the eviction process. He is pictured below visiting a flat with the camera crew, to see damage done by evicted tenants and the financial implications of unpaid rent.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported on how some unscrupulous letting agents are fraudulently taking thousands of pounds from tenants as a holding fee, not letting them move in and keeping the money.
Trading standards authorities in England said 487 such cases were reported from January 2011 to September 2013.
We caught up with Stuart Williams to find out more about his thoughts on these topical issues:
Q: What was your Channel 4 News item about?
SW: Channel 4 had some information about the upcoming working group with the Government to look at speeding up the eviction process and how landlords might be able to get their properties back faster. As a professional Landlord myself, and letting agent, Channel 4 asked me for my opinion.
Caption: Stuart explaining to C4 Reporter Cathy Newman the implications of non-paying tenants who have modified the property
Q. Currently it can take up to six to eight months to evict a non-paying tenant, even after serving the two months notice, so its positive to hear that the Government may be looking to speed up this process.
SW: This was one of the points I made on the film, that , of the entire process, most of the time is taken up waiting for the Courts to do their job, not waiting for the rent arrears to reach the level when the process can be started.
Q. One of the points that resonated with me was your comment that the average landlord in this country is just a “small” landlord with one or two BTL properties, not greedy rich landlords with multiple properties, as so often portrayed by the media. Small landlords cannot afford these rent arrears. Does this message deserve more media attention?
SW: Yes, most defintely! I wanted to get across the point that most of the landlords who we work with only own one or two properties. They have their life’s savings ploughed into this, because they don’t believe in pensions, or they are worried about their pension and this is their back-up plan. Most of them are only looking to break even for this period and are in it for the long term. They are not lying around on a beach somewhere scooping up millions, and neglecting their tenants. If these type of landlords walk away from the sector, then the Government has even more of a housing crisis, as these smaller landlords are supplying the bulk of accommodation.
Q. This is especially important with the recent news that private landlords now provide more accommodation than social landlords. Its a key issue that smaller landlords should feel confident about gaining possession of their properties. Meanwhile, the BBC ran a story about rogue lettings agents who are taking holding deposits, not supplying accommodation, and not returning the deposit. This is a great opportunity opportunity for us to stress the importance of both landlords and tenants letting through an accredited agent.
SW: Yes, the timing of this BBC item was very prescient. According to the latest English Housing Survey, of 22 million households in the country in 2012-13, 18 per cent (four million) were private renters, while only 17 per cent (3.7 million) were social renters, meaning that private landlords now provide more accommodation than social landlords for the first time ever.
This issue of agents taking holding deposits, and indeed rental deposits, is a surprisingly common story. Northwood is proud to be a founding member of SAFEagent, and anyone looking to let through an agent, should look for the SAFEagent badge, which indicates that their client money is protected. Without client money protection, if the agent makes off with the deposit, the landlord becomes liable to reimburse the tenant. So the message to take away from this is to let through a SAFEagent to ensure monies are protected.
Q. Just to finish, it seems that quite a high proportion of Northwood agents are also landlords themselves. Do you think this enables you to empathise with the worries that landlords experience and provide a more tailored service?
Absolutely. I was already a landlord before I joined Northwood and I wanted to find a way to help serve landlords as a letting agent. The way we work at Northwood, by guaranteeing the rent, we actually become the landlord to the tenant. We know how to work with both tenants and landlords to manage each party’s responsibilities to each other. So there is protection on both sides. The tenant knows that they are not letting from a “rogue” landlord who is going to kick them out, not maintain the property, etc. Meanwhile, the landlord knows that Northwood will ensure that there is not rogue tenant in the property and that the rent will be paid on time. If we do encounter a bad/difficult tenant, as happens on the rare occasion, and to me recently, then the landlord knows that we will take care of everything ourselves and protect the landlord during the process.
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