Landlord Licencing – Why Residential Management Needs It

There is currently plenty of opposition to the idea of private landlord licencing by their powerful lobby organisations with objections ranging from a blanket ‘we don’t need any more legislation’ to ‘it’s just a scheme to make more money out of landlords’.

What we rarely hear about is how the lack of private landlord information is impacting on the residential management sector.

There are two types of private sector landlord – freehold and renting.

The Land Registry is usually the first place to go for information on both but has to be paid for. It has already been pointed out from some that a licence will duplicate information already held there but the Registry is by no means an ideal information source. For example, we have been led to believe that our freehold landlord is deceased leaving us to assume that the freehold has been willed (or even sold) to someone else. The Land Registry however has not been updated to reflect any changes, if indeed any have been made.

With regard to renting landlords, most of the flats in our development are sublet and on taking over management we needed to have their contact details. Again, the Land Registry was checked (because what contact information we had was gathered piecemeal) but when property is purchased with the intent to sublet there’s no mechanism in place to mark the purchase out as such so there isn’t usually any alternative contact information.

Our ability to manage effectively has been further impacted upon by landlords failing to advise us that they have entered into a contract with the local authority (usually for 3-5 years) and given up the property to them under their Private Sector Leasing Scheme. The council supplies the tenants and their managing agents look after the properties. Because the scheme is designed to temporarily house the homeless whilst their housing applications are being assessed, tenant turnover can be very rapid.

When I approached our council to find out what flats came under their remit (we had been relying on hearsay and continual fly tipping as indicators up until then) they not only cited Data Protection but they also asked me why should any landlord have to tell anyone else who (s)he was sub-letting to, private or otherwise. To make matters worse it was of no interest to them that a legally recognised management company was requesting the information.

When we had to ask one of our leasehold landlords on the scheme for additional contact details because the council had placed an anti-social tenant in his flat it took a lot of digging on our part before we established it wasn’t even our local authority that had placed her there, it was another one!

Having had to deal with the fallout caused by a ‘rogue’ freeholder and now ‘rogue’ leaseholder landlords in a managed block, it is evident from this particular perspective that the PRS and leasehold sectors are inseparable. Nevertheless it may surprise you that at the time of writing, the proposed landlord register does not include the leasehold sector despite the obvious link. Having written to the CLG querying this I have been advised that ‘the conditions of the licence haven’t yet been worked out but they have noted my concerns’.

So how will a landlord register help us?

It will at the very least deal with two key issues affecting both sectors – visibility, which Dr Julie Rhodes in her Review took into consideration and information provision. Of course you won’t get every landlord out there to register but a significant majority will come to the surface if it becomes a statutory requirement. Currently the only people that hold any information on private landlords are the organisations that they belong to but membership figures only scratch the surface of the number of private sector landlords in operation. It should also be remembered that these organisations are in competition with each other and therefore, as far as I am aware, don’t cross refer member information amongst themselves.

The big questions for the residential management sector is,

‘how are we supposed to manage effectively when we are in effect being held to ransome by landlords who are not compelled to provide information?’

We are a block of 22 flats with our Right to Manage company, our managing agent, individual leasehold landlords, their letting agents, and now two local authorities!

We should not be expected to be reliant on the ‘goodwill’ of landlords when it comes to information provision particulary as they often hide behind letting agents, and, as we have experienced in the case of local authories, Data Protection. We have heard plenty from landlords and as there are two sides to every story, this is ours.

Written by Sharon Crossland

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