As a landlord, you’ve probably come to think of the local authority as an adversary. They’re the ones who collect the council tax on empty properties. They’re the ones who carry out inspections and issue (or withhold) licenses. And worst of all, your tenant can appeal for the local authority to interfere with your business if they believe your property isn’t up to scratch.
But all this time you’ve had it backwards, the local authority wasn’t punishing landlords by cracking down on those who let out unsafe, miserable dwellings and refuse to fix the roof. It was shielding them.
But that’s set to change thanks to a new private members bill which passed through the house of commons this week, and is currently winging its way to the Lords.
The Homes (Fitness) For Human Habitation Bill is the work of Labour MP, Karen Buck, who represents Westminster North, and the law, if it passes unscathed through the furnaces of the upper house, will give tenants the right to sue their landlords directly. Without involving the council. Without an appeals process.
You see how this is potentially bad news?
The grounds for being sued by your tenant are that the property is “unfit for human habitation.” It’s a fairly vague definition, and one into which Ms Buck believes that around 750,000 privately rented homes currently fall.
She interprets it as, a “cold, damp, or unsafe home.” Again, uncomfortably broad.
And it’s not as if tenants are completely uninterested in seeing their landlord from the other side of a courtroom. Some quick research using the ‘Google Trends’ tool showed us that “Take landlord to court” is a perennially popular search term.
And there is worse to come.
With every new piece of legislation which affords consumers the right to sue or to demand compensation comes an entire flotilla of ‘legal experts’ willing to help them demand the thousands they think they deserve in compensation.
And surrounding that flotilla are the sharks known as ‘claims management companies.’
You know the ones. You’re sitting in your bathtub with a glass of wine at 10 in the evening when the phone rings. Who could it be? Your mother? Your boss? A long lost cousin?
Nope. It’s a robo dialler, which may or may not transfer you to an offshore call centre.
“Have you or a family member ever worked in the coal mining industry?” They ask. “If so you may be entitled to compensation.”
“We’re calling about your recent car accident.” Whether you’ve had one or not.
Claims management companies put up fliers in the Accident and Emergency wards, encouraging Timmy, who gouged out one of his own eyes with a spoon while on meth, to sue the surgeons who reinserted it.
“Have you or a family member ever experienced delays on public transport?”
For many people, hard up and desperate for a ‘life-changing’ payout of a few grand, it’s easy to say yes, whether there’s merit to the claim or not. Some companies offer a few hundred quid up front. Others begin calling in the run-up to Christmas and promise the latest Playstation as a bonus for committing to sue some business or individual for everything they’re worth.
Claims management companies are already buying up lists of private renters and rehearsing their scripts.
““Have you or a family member ever caught a chill as a result of living in a property with poorly fitted double glazing?”
Image credit: Chris Beckett