ARLA reveals market concerns

Amanda Jarvis

February 9, 2006

This year is a crunch year for the rental market, as it must implement the requirements of the Housing Act and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and, at the Annual Conference of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, ARLA, in London, delegates were asked if they are ready.

Officials from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Disability Rights Commission asked delegates to consider, “2006 is crunch time. Can you cope with the new regulatory regimes coming into force?”

These new regimes will affect landlords, tenants, buy to let investors and property management companies in the private sector, as well as local authorities and housing associations in the public sector.

The new laws re-define Houses in Multiple Occupation, HMOs, and sets out those HMOs subject to mandatory licensing. In the main, these will be shared and typical student properties and bedsits. Checks will be made on the landlords and property managers of licensed properties to confirm they are fit and proper persons.

Penalties for breach of these laws are severe, with fines of up to £20,000 for failure to get a licence or for breaching permitted numbers. Other consequences can include no rent to be paid by the occupants of unlicensed premises, no repossession and the clawback of housing benefits by the local authority.

In addition to licensing, a new regime – the Housing Health and Safety Rating System- will come into force to monitor housing standards. This will enable local authorities to check for the obvious poor standards – in hygiene and in sanitation. However, there are a total of 29 hazards. They range from the danger of explosion or structural collapse to the potential hazard of a glass panel at the bottom of stairs.

“Hazards will be judged in relation to the average for the type of property and in relation to the elderly and the vulnerable. Local authorities will have the powers to enforce improvement notices and, if necessary, prohibition orders,” explained Andrew Griffiths, Principal Policy Officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Mr. Griffiths warned the ARLA delegates that the new laws governing Houses in Multiple Occupation and for Housing Health and Safety come into force in less than two months time, on April 6th.

There is more time to prepare for the Disability Discrimination Act. That does not come into force until December, the Conference was told.

However, suggesting that landlords should already be working towards implementation of the Act, Simon Pickering, Practice Development Officer for the Disability Rights Commission, started by defining disability discrimination. He said it is defined as treating a person less favourably because of a disability.

“Landlords and letting agents cannot refuse a tenant because of disability and may have to make changes to their rental practices and to provide auxiliary services,” he warned.

“For example, a copy of the tenancy agreement with large print should be made available for somebody who is partially sighted or a no pets rule should be waived for a guide dog or any other type of assistance dog,” Mr. Pickering said.

However, landlords would not be expected to make adjustments to physical features in a property, although they should not unreasonably withhold consent if the tenant is willing to pay for any changes and to use a properly qualified builder.

Consent would also depend on the scale of the work to be carried out and the length of a tenancy.

“In making adjustments, landlords and their agents will also need to take account of the effect any changes may have on other tenants in a property.

There will be different expectations for both large and small landlords and agents. The Act will not require a ‘service provider’ to take steps that would fundamentally alter the nature of the service usually offered,” he added.

All landlords and agents will be expected to adjust the way they provide assistance to disabled tenants or applicants.

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