Letting agents across England who take on responsibility must get their Right to Rent procedures in place within the next six weeks.
The warning, to get checks of all prospective tenants wanting to move in by February 1 done by early January, came at yesterday’s NALS conference.
It was held at the Mermaid Conference Centre next to Blackfriars Bridge in London, and followed the theme of ‘Sourcing business in a crowded market place’.
Over 100 delegates packed into the event for a lively programme of fast-paced presentations that never failed to keep the audience involved and entertained, especially when covering the ever-changing PRS legislative landscape.
Kate Faulkner, as always enthusiastically and eloquently waving the flag for the ‘good guys’ of the lettings industry, gave her own presentation on the outlook for the private rented sector before continuing in the role of conference moderator and managing the difficult task of keeping proceedings to time.
Kate foresees risks to the already diminishing level of rental instructions but is confident that agents offering comprehensive and proactive services to potential and existing landlords will win business.
She warned delegates to watch what is happening in Wales and Scotland as changes in legislation affect their markets. Such changes could well extend into the rest of the UK in future and lettings businesses will need to react.
Tim Rymer, the deputy director for Home Office policy, spoke on the roll-out of ‘Right to Rent’ from February 1, 2016, following
trials in the West Midlands. He confirmed that the required checks are not retrospective so agents and landlords will not be under any obligation for checking on tenancies that start before February. However, as pointed out by solicitor Robert Bolwell in a later presentation, there will be a 28-day window prior to the commencement of a tenancy in which the checks must be made.
This effectively means that agents and landlords should have their checking procedures in place and active from the beginning of January if it is anticipated that the tenancy in question will start after February 1 2016.
It is often the case that legislation concocted and enacted at speed contains inexplicably odd omissions or inclusions. So it was instructive to see Rymer react with some surprise when questioned by Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, representing Winkworth.
Why, Dunsmore-Hardy wanted to know, would agents making checks on a new prospective tenant not be under any obligation to make a report to the Home Office if they found the individual did not have right to rent, when there would be such an obligation upon them when making a follow-up check (12 months from the start of the tenancy) that identified a tenant who no longer had the right to rent.
The anomaly means that ‘illegal’ prospective tenants who fail the right to rent checks can simply disappear – and presumably try their luck with less scrupulous agents or landlords. Rymer was unable to explain the wisdom of this bit of the legislation. He also declined to answer a question from your correspondent about how they propose to enforce the legislation and what additional funds have been allocated to that enforcement. One suspects that neither matter has been addressed in any detail.
Robert Bolwell, from solicitors, Dutton Gregory – purveyors of fine legal advice and even finer jelly beans – gave one of his informative high speed round-ups of new and impending legislation and regulation, remarking tongue-in-cheek that these days it seems all letting agents need to be fully trained solicitors.
With agents under the obligation to give tenants a copy of the government published ‘How to Rent’ guide, Robert strongly advocates that agents send it at the first opportunity and that they record not only the date upon which this was done but also the version of the Guide that was sent as new editions come out from time to time.
He also highlighted the importance of interim inspections of tenanted properties by agents as the consequences of an agent missing an inspection or missing an important repair item can have serious repercussions if the end result is a Repair Notice to the landlord from the Local Authority.
Rightmove’s Miles Shipside graphically illustrated the squeeze on new instructions in 2015. Although they were up in the last quarter there is no telling if that will continue. He spoke on the need for agents to identify (using RM tools of course…) potential letting properties and then to target them for instructions and also to use existing contacts for new business. For example, 7% of tenants are also landlords. Who manages their properties?
Richard Rawlings, fresh from publishing his open letter to the Housing Minister on how to make mortages ‘portable’ showed a picturesque series of his holiday snaps in Canada and the USA and related what he had seen to best business practice. His motivational talk centred on entertaining, educating, and stimulating a target audience in order to win business. And if you want to know what ‘Mutton Busting’ is, ask Richard.
From DCLG, Mark Nicholas, a senior policy officer and the team leader for the PRS consumer protection team, provided details of what the government is seeking to achieve in the sector, summed up as ‘A bigger and better PRS’.
It was encouraging to hear him say that the contribution of NALS and other industry bodies in driving up standards is recognised within the department. Within the Housing and Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament there are provisions for the creation of a database of ‘rogue’ landlords and agents and scope to ban them from renting out properties.
Work is ongoing to try and bring mortgage lenders on board with the Bill proposal to allow the creation of three-year tenancies.
Again the subject of enforcement came up, with a Trading Standards delegate highlighting from the floor that they are severely constrained by lack of resources.
In the final presentation of the day, Jon Stroud of Jist Productions gave a highly entertaining talk on the increasing use of video online and its growing importance in standing out from competitors. According to Stroud’s figures 62% of consumers would rather watch a video ‘pitch’ than to read it; and by 2018 80% of internet traffic will be video.
Your correspondent is delighted to report that the conference catering was well up to standard.
A pleasingly generous portion of very tasty fish pie, with an excellent balance of fish and sauce to potato topping, was followed by a light and creamy chocolate mousse, washed down with a glass of apple juice. A few more tables at which to eat would have been handy but overall the lunch – and indeed the conference – was excellent.
- EYE note: Our legal guru David Smith has given us the advice that the Right to Rent checks should be conducted within 28 days of the start of the tenancy agreement, not of the start of the tenancy itself. Agents should also note that the 28 day requirement actually expires the day beforehand. We will seek to get extra clarity for our readers as soon as possible, but meanwhile, agents are strongly urged to get their own professional advice from specialist law firms. David Smith is contactable on firstname.lastname@example.org