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Issue No. 87 Winter 2008 RED TAPE NIGHTMARE

Muriel Guest-Smith, former Chairman of the FPRA, writes of her exasperation as she deals with the Landlord & Tenant Act S20Z procedures.

In October 2005 Siobhan McGrath, Senior President of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) told those attending the FPRA AGM that her staff could fast track urgent cases, and an application coming in on a Monday could be out by Friday. The reality in 2008 is somewhat different.

On May 15, I applied to dispense with the full S20 procedures as water was coming into a third floor flat and determining the repairing the problem would require scaffolding, the cost of which was outside our S20 limit. Quite apart from having to endure water ingress every time it rained, a young resident suffers from asthma and the increasing damp was adversely affecting her health.

The five-page application form (which can be downloaded from the LVT website) requires a copy of the lease, a list of service charge payers and a fee. The cost depends on the number of flats in the block and ranges from £150 to £350. A three-page list of Directions was issued on May 22, 2008. This required me to inform each of the other 28 lessees of the application, send a copy of the Directions and lodge a copy of these

notifications with the LVT. Lessees were required to respond by June 11. As usual, apathy ruled and only a few responded, in favour.

The next stage was to send a statement to the Tribunal setting out the grounds for making the application and the circumstances in which it first became apparent that the work became necessary. I also had to confirm that all leases were in a broadly similar form, otherwise a copy of each different form of lease had to be supplied. A copy of the application, work specification, estimates for the work and correspondence between the applicant and lessees also had to be provided, in triplicate, indexed and numbered page by page in chronological order.

Formal approval was issued on June 24. Would I do it again? Definitely not. It was time-consuming, extremely complicated (because unfamiliar) and cost us £350. The whole process took almost six weeks – hardly the fast track promised by Ms McGrath and scarcely less than if we had followed the usual S20 procedures. This seems another example of legislation enacted with the best of intentions, but which turns into a bureaucratic nightmare.

(FPRA has invited Siobhan McGrath to respond to this article in our next newsletter.)

NEW IDEAS for landlords and tenants

Proposals to improve the private rented sector for both tenants and landlords have been welcomed by the FPRA. FPRA are responding as many of our members now have one or more “buy to let” leaseholders who rent out their flats. Also, many new developments are mixed use to comply with planning rules.

The independent review into the Private Rented Sector (PRS), headed by Julie Rugg of the University of York and published in October, recommends a new drive to improve the quality of the sector through:

• Introducing a light touch licensing system for landlords and mandatory regulation for letting agencies, to increase protection for both vulnerable tenants and good landlords.

• Introducing a new independent complaints and redress procedure for consumers, to help end long drawn out disputes.

• Tax changes to encourage good landlords to grow, including changes to stamp duty to encourage them to buy more properties.

• Looking at ways for the PRS to be more accommodating towards households on lower incomes, including considering more support for landlords prepared to house more vulnerable people.

• Local authorities taking steps to better understand the sector and support good landlords whilst tackling poorly performing landlords and promoting tenants’ rights.

FPRA Chairman Bob Smytherman welcomed the report and said the Government must do all it can to improve the sector for both landlords and tenants. He commented: “Leaseholders in the

private rented sector play a really important role in the current housing market and it’s crucial that we have a high quality sector that works well for both landlords and tenants.

“This report has provided a comprehensive and authoritative look into the issues our sector faces, as well as a number of practical recommendations we would wish to see implemented.

“While many people are satisfied with their experience of renting, there is still much more to do to protect the most vulnerable tenants from those unscrupulous landlords in our sector.

“At the same time, this report shows we all need to look at how we can raise our standards and improve the services across the board in the private rented sector.

“I hope we can now move to a new agenda for the industry and look to establish policies that work with the strengths of our sector. I also hope this report will signal the Government’s intention to seek a better working relationship with our sector. Now we have an evidence base to inform policy it will be interesting to see what will happen next.”

The FPRA has already welcomed the Government’s introduction of measures such as the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, which has so far safeguarded £1 billion of tenants’ deposits.

Federation of Private Residents’ Associations Newsletter 3

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