MINUTES OF THE NLCE FORUM HELD ON 12 October 2016
MINUTES OF THE NLCE / SOMERSET PROPERTY NETWORK FORUM
HELD ON 12 October 2016
PRESENT: The following members signed the attendance record for the meeting.
S. Jackson NLCE
P. Routledge NLCE
S. Boyd NLCE
S. Petrou Landlord
J. O’Shea Landlord
K. Hale Landlord
G. Earl Weston Mercury
K. Perrett Landlord
J. Cooke Letting Agent
P. Fox Landlord
L. Osborn NSC
H. Evans NSC
K. Bennett Landlord
M. Haines Landlord
R. Deville-Hallam Landlord
R. Cutler Landlord
A. Garland Landlord
S. Ashley Landlord
P. Jakiro Landlord
M. Reading Landlord
C. Woodbury Landlord
A. Mackenzie Landlord
J. Orme Landlord
R. Osborne Letting Agent
A. Badman Landlord
M. Terry-Short Landlord
J. Hunt Letting Agent
R. Winkworth Letting Agent
Clifford Elliot Letting Agent
D. Lewis-Owen Letting Agent
M. Thorne Landlord
D. Elkins Letting Agent
S. Swords Landlord
D. Swords Landlord
K. Blay Landlord
M. Paphitis Landlord
S. Laws Landlord
G. Laws Landlord
K. Huxtable Landlord
H. Brown Landlord
M. Hullah Landlord
M. Bateman Landlord
R. Hunter Landlord
S. Fongho Landlord
M. Fox Landlord
N. Turner Landlord
R. Sharp Landlord
S. Fowkes Landlord
G. Middle Landlord
J. Morrissey Landlord
D. Buckingham Landlord
D. Seaton Landlord
S. Whiter Landlord
S. Yorkas Landlord
J. Smith Landlord
R. Southcombe Landlord
A. Mason Landlord
J. Hughes Landlord
S. Hicks Landlord
A. Patel Landlord
G. Langan Landlord
N. Morris Landlord
T. Danobrega Landlord
J. Strachan Landlord
J. Hiu Landlord
D. Sharkey Landlord
C. Elliot Landlord
S. Lamb Landlord
A. Abderaman Landlord
M. Orme Landlord
B. Goldsmith Landlord
B. Oxley Landlord
J. Barron Landlord
J. Barron Landlord
S. Routledge Landlord
P. Roberts Landlord
K. Staunton National Landlord Association (NLA)
K. Dodd Alanbrookes Accountants
Wood, D. Skyrme, R. Mathews, T. Gibbons, R. Kelley, W. Beacham
2. Minutes from previous meeting – none taken
3. Matters arising (28/07/16) –
– SPN organisers to collate the costs and time scales to take NSDC judicial review.
4. Points of order
We’d like to draw your attention to the couple of sponsors in the room this evening. They aren’t necessarily going to be talking but they did help to fund tonight’s venue so that we could come and update you on what’s going on. So please welcome the NLA with Ken Staunton in the corner and Alan Brookes, a local accountancy firm. So for those of you who may still be burying their heads in the sand about Section 24 coming in next April you might want to go and have a chat with them after as well as lots of other reasons. You’ve also got Tenant Referencing services behind you, so please visit them for further information on how they can also help you.
5. Update on where we are since the last meeting (28th July 2016)
A group of landlords came together, because they were upset about the subject of Selective Licensing. We’re not going to dwell too much on the history of what’s happened but we’ll give you a thorough update on where we are today on where we were then and where we want to go. So I’m going to hand over to Paul who’s going to explain to you where we are at the moment, which is the NLCE; the National Landlords Code of Excellence. It’s something that Paul and I have worked on together since the Selective Licensing reprieve that we’ve had.
First and foremost I’d like to thank absolutely everybody for what you’ve done, it’s amazing. Not only did we put forward a case which gave us the opportunity to prove to North Somerset that there was an alternative to a way forward instead of Selective Licensing. But, most importantly, I think that what really came out of it was that when you all put your money in (obviously we offered it back to you), most of you realised that we could move forward together as a real voice for landlords and create something which would be fantastic and fund it. Out of all the people who raised the funds to go to stage 1 of judicial review, only 3 asked for their money back and quite a few people said they’d like to put more money in. So first and foremost, congratulations on funding up the NLCE which is your company which you all have shares in. All of the share certificates have been issued and they are here for you to collect at the end of the meeting.
6. The National Landlords Code of Excellence Ltd
One of the problems we originally had with the name was using the term ‘accreditation’, as Companies House deemed it a ‘sensitive’ term. They didn’t seem to like the term ‘England’ either, but what we realised was that there are so many accreditations in this country at the moment. Even in this area one of the accreditations run by the local authority, The West of England Accreditation, didn’t seem to be enough to stop selective licensing. So for us, the question was:
- Why are they still Selective Licensing?
And not just North Somerset, you see it going on in 3 areas of Bristol, Romford, Hastings, Bournemouth, etc. And I’ve been contacted over the last month and a half now by, probably, 10 different areas that are asking ‘How can we stop Selective Licensing?’ and I said Well, it’s not a case of whether you can stop it, it’s why Selective Licensing was introduced into this country in the first place.
So we decided, although the NLCE is effectively an accreditation, what we needed to do was go a little bit further. Because we set the precedent in not only stopping selective licensing in our area and letting the council give us an opportunity to do something different, but also what they said was quite clever; they put the boot back on our foot and asked us to prove that we could do something different. Because we’ve seen accreditations, the big associations have accreditations but actually they’re still selectively licensing. So we had to bring in something which was a little bit different but actually gave the tools to our members in order to make a difference in our community. So when we set up the NLCE that was about the code of excellence.
People say to me every day ‘What’s the difference between mandatory licensing and selective licensing?’ Does anybody here not know the difference between mandatory licensing and selective licensing? …Ok, one.
Rentsmart Wales, for instance, is a Mandatory Licensing scheme across the country, therefore every landlord needs to be licensed and that way the entire Welsh population know who landlords are. What happens under a mandatory scheme is that you, in effect, are licensed as a landlord. So it’s up to you to prove that you can be a good landlord. So it doesn’t matter whether you have one property or 100 properties, the onus is on you to be a landlord; because they work on the principle that if you’re a bad landlord all your properties are going to be bad or if you’re a good landlord that all your properties are going to be good and vice versa.
With Selective Licensing what makes it unfair is that you can be a bad landlord with 1 property and pay £320 or be a good landlord with 100 properties and pay £32,000; it doesn’t make sense. Selective Licensing simply does not make sense! Because the end result is that the fee is passed onto the tenant.
If I had a show of hands here to turn round and ask which one of you in this room were not going to pass the cost on to their tenants I don’t suppose many of you would be putting your hands up!
So, Selective Licensing is a dangerous tool in so much as that it never really achieves anything. It’s like walking into the middle of Dubai and turning round to every chap with a brown face and saying ‘YOU ARE a bomber!’ They’re not actually, they’re just great people who walk around Dubai – but we are tarring people with the same brush here. What we need to do is target the rogue landlords. Mandatory Licensing gives local authorities the opportunity to gather data and use that data to focus on individual sections instead of just blanket licensing us all.
I was never really a lover of Selective Licensing, so what we decided we were going to do is try and set up the NLCE in a way that it gave us the opportunity to deal with different aspects of the problems North Somerset had brought to us. There are several issues:
- Anti social Behaviour,
- Low Housing Demand.
For those who don’t understand the term ‘Low Housing Demand’, it almost sounds hypocritical – if there’s low housing demand, why is that a problem? What it actually means is that the properties in an area are so bad that nobody wants to live in them. If you look at streets in Toxteth for example, that are all boarded up; that’s low housing demand.
So what could we do to bring something different to the table, which gives us the opportunity to prove to the local authority that we can deal with our own problems?
Is there anyone in this room that thinks that we can’t deal with our problems, that we can’t unite together to deal with problems of this town without being selectively licensed? No? Ok.
So then it comes down to how are we going to do that?
Does anybody here know how we can deal with anti-social behaviour in this town?
Landlord: Call the police?
P.R: They don’t arrive anymore!
Landlord: Proper Referencing?
P.R: Proper Referencing is a fantastic way forward. And if anybody knows me, and I’m not going to harp on about this for too long, but they’ll know that for the last 7 years in this town there has been a system that simply stops you taking one another’s bad tenants. So we need to use that tool…
Does anybody know how to conduct themselves properly on the Right to Rent? Do you know what the law is on Right to Rent? No? Ok. So if I gave you a system that was actually the easiest thing in the world, to make sure that you comply with the Right to Rent would that make sure that you complied with the Right to Rent?
How does anyone check their Gas Safety Certificates, do you all just put it in your phone or computer and hope you’ll remember it or do you have a proper management structure? Does anyone know that you must tell your tenants your contact details?…
See, the problem is that what we’re seeing here is the apathy that landlords don’t understand the current legislation. So what we want to try and do is bring you the National Landlords Code of Excellence. Your ability to understand the legislation that you are supposed to and have to by law, adhered to on a daily basis; that’s why accreditation is there.
Can I just add that there are over 17 different types of legislation that relate to how you should be managing your property today. They might not have necessarily only just come in but they are still relevant in different sectors and to different tenants on how you should be managing your tenants today; over 17 points of law that you should somehow know.
The point is, the days of renting your property out and hoping that you comply are over and done with. So we can either do one of two things; we can either bail or we can get better and prove to the council that we have a tool with which we can adhere to legislation, we can offer our tenants the best accommodation but on the same way we don’t turn into 5 star hoteliers for 2 star money; because that’s the problem we have here.
So with the NLCE, what we’ve done is launch a website and we are working with the Codes of Conduct with which you can become accredited, you can attend accreditation days, we can teach you the regulations and we can teach you the legislation.
The biggest problem at the moment in housing is damp. Most landlords don’t understand that there are 3 types of damp; rising, falling, penetrating; that’s it. And then you have damp within the property. If you don’t understand what damp is, how will you get a tenant to understand why, when they’re in a sealed room with intumescent strips on the door, with the Vent-Axia they’ve switched off to save electricity, with double or triple glazed windows; they’ve created a box. And the human body expels 7 litres of water a day, which includes their ironing, their cooking, their washing and everything else – where does that water go? If you don’t understand that, your tenant will never understand it. So the first thing they’re going to do is call the council. So what we’re trying to do is, first and foremost, by accreditation get you guys to understand principally what you are there to produce and why you have to produce it. Whether you like it or not, in today’s society in the private rented sector you now have to be knowledgeable. And what we want to do now is take the individual people that don’t have that knowledge and give them that knowledge through a day course accreditation.
We should also add for those of you that are sitting there thinking ‘Well I do know it all’ or ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I do know what I’m doing’, it isn’t just aimed at new landlords who don’t know what they’re doing or landlords who perhaps think they do but haven’t been updated on the latest legislation. This is aimed at landlords who’ve been doing it for 20 years plus, who have managed multiple properties and do it professionally but don’t want to be selectively licensed because they’re good landlords. It’s about joining a group, a scheme, where good landlords look after themselves, educate themselves, train themselves and leave the council to go after the bad landlords – charge them triple if they like! Because actually, that’s what the bad landlords should be charged as that’s the reason we all get charged when we’re not doing anything wrong. So please don’t think that this is all just about if you don’t know what you’re doing as landlords. I’ve been a landlord for 10 years. I hope/I think I know what I’m doing but I don’t want to be selectively licensed!
So with the accreditation that we’ve put together, what we intend to do, first and foremost, is intend to try and give you the opportunity as a network, which is why we’re not necessarily calling it an accreditation as such. It’s called an Accreditation and Networking Day, where you guys can come along and we can all talk. Because, you know, all of us have never been in this room together before. We’re only in this room because North Somerset Council have given us the benefit to put us all in this room; otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
On top of that, what we’re going to do is offer you the tools. Something as simple as this:
5 years ago, perhaps a bit longer than that, I had a conversation with Spencer Jacobs (NSC) and he said to me: ‘We’ve had all these complaints about your property.’ I replied with ‘Really?! Let’s have a look…’ and then I saw them. So I said ‘Spence, this is absolutely ridiculous. The problem here is if they (the tenant) want a council house, they come to you and complain about me (the landlord) and you log it. And if they want anything, they come to you (the council) because you’re there as their whipping boy.
What you need to do, and I’m going to do this for you, is set out a form which is basically a maintenance form and when they come to you to make a complaint you say to them have you been to Paul and filled out the maintenance form? No? Then you say well you have to go to Paul before you come to me, and fill out his maintenance form. That way, what will happen is that they won’t then be able to moan.’
And that worked really well, and as far as I was concerned after that Spence and I got on very well. Because actually, what happened is, if when they turned up at Spencer’s office and said ‘where’s your maintenance form’ and there wasn’t one; they came straight to me.
Talking of bad housing, put your hands up if any of your tenants have said that they’ve made a complaint to you over the years, which you never heard about.
(10-15 put their hands up)
Now, how many tenants have complained to you that you never replied to?
(No hands up)
So what we needed to do was to regularise the fact that if your tenants had a portal that they could go and make a complaint on, so you turned round and said to them ‘Don’t complain to me direct, this is the tool you have to use to make a complaint.’ So, if you gave your tenant one of these Emergency NLCE Contact Cards, which had your name, email address and telephone number on it and gave one to all your tenants and said ‘If you want to make a complaint, please use the QR code or go straight to the website on this card and fill in the online form’ and when they clicked the submit button it would automatically send you a maintenance report informing you that there is an issue with the property – how simple would that be?
This system creates a paper-trail immediately. Suddenly, what that does is eliminate the 750 complaints that North Somerset Council got (RE: the NSC Selective Licensing Consultation statistics). And once they do this, if you (the landlord) don’t answer it they can then escalate it to the NLCE; how simple a system is that? That means that for every single one of your tenants, you have a system that all you’ve got to do is give them this card and say if you have a maintenance issue you simply report it to me through that.
Who here isn’t on email?…
(No-one puts their hand up)
So, that comes through to you, you don’t deal with it; the tenant has the ability to escalate it to the NLCE and then has the ability to complain to us after a period of time that you haven’t and then we can escalate it from there. The council don’t get 750 complaints anymore, because I’ll guarantee you overnight, that exactly like me and Spence, they didn’t complain anymore.
The really important reason for this form is, those of you are hopefully aware of the Deregulation Act that came in last year, which basically aims to prevent retaliatory evictions when tenants have complained. Obviously the tenants have to prove that they have done this in writing if it goes to court, there needs to be a paper-trail and this eliminates any issues over that. If you are accredited and your tenant is using this system, it’s all logged for you; it’s all emails, it’s all printed out – there can be no question that they didn’t know and there can be no question that they didn’t tell you and you didn’t respond. So it does remove a lot of the ambiguity, if it comes to you wanting to issue a Section 21 for other reasons.
The other thing with this is that we’ll be putting conditional logic in. So, for example, their problem is: ‘My boiler will not ignite.’ They tick a box on the form and then it drops down and asks them questions like: ‘have you checked the pressure; Yes? No? I don’t know how to check the pressure?’ If they then tick ‘I don’t know how to check the pressure’ up comes a visual and written description on how to check the pressure on the boiler. So as it builds and we all use it, it will create more and more conditional logic so that when it comes up/ they ask a question or tick a box it will ask ‘do any of these apply to you?…’ Which will also stop you being in a position whereby you will be called out unnecessarily if they say things like ‘I do not understand what the pressure is.’
How many of you in this room, when you’ve put a tenant in, have explained to your tenant where the consumer board is?
(10-20 hands shown)
How many of you in this room have explained that when a trip on a consumer board goes, a way with which the tenant can easily overcome the issue?
Not many really, what have we got; 10 out of a 100?
So that means there are 90 complaints ready to go to the council straight away, on the fact that the electric doesn’t work.
How many of you in this room have got gas in your properties?
(Half hands up)
And how many of you in this room have explained to your tenants how a pressure gauge on the boiler works?
(less hands shown)
And that if the radiators are cold at the top, the chances are that it needs bleeding.
Landlord: They don’t listen though!
P.R: Exactly! But it doesn’t matter that they listen, this is about whether you do it!
Landlord: I do!
P.R: Ok, you do it. But the point is, I need every single hand in this room to go up, not just one or two. I understand about the listening…
Landlord: What if you have told them but you’ve done it verbally and have no proof? They could just deny it. Like when I told my tenants something and they have completely ignored me…
P.R: That is fantastic point and by close of business tomorrow I will have a form on this website, and this is why we’re going to be different, because I’m going to have a form on that website and it will have a bit on there that you can print off and get your tenant to sign it to show you’ve done it if you like…
Landlord: Yes, please!
Not all tenants, not being funny, are going to feel confident enough or understand, even if you do tell them, that they’ll want to touch it. But this empowers everyone and allows tenants to complain just to you, it doesn’t get escalated to NSC, it keeps the 754 complaints that were used towards us getting selectively licensed. For you to then email them and go ‘sorry you’ve forgotten what I’ve told you. If you have a problem, call me.’ It’s a paper-trail, it’s reminding them and it’s keeping North Somerset Council out of the loop of the complaints that aren’t genuine.
Landlord: It gives them more time to do their job as well…
Of the 754 complaints they received, I’ve percentaged it; at least 20% were related to absolutely nothing to do with property problems. So this excludes that, it gives them no reason; it gives them somewhere to go, they’re told where to go, they’re encouraged to go, they know if their landlord is a bad landlord so they can escalate it. So bad landlords; be aware that we’re not out to shield bad landlords, because that’ll get escalated. But it means that we’re looking after ourselves, good landlords are looking after themselves so we don’t have to pay the price of bad landlords.
The way we’re going to be different is that we’re going to find ways to make a difference. We’re going to create tools to make a difference. We’re not some sort of dinosaur accreditation that’s going to turn around and go ‘It’s going to take me 6 and a half years to build that’, we’ll build that in an afternoon! I’ll guarantee you that we’ll have those new forms on the website before it’s even launched within the next week. So, the point is, exactly the same with the electricity; you can turn around and say ‘Have you been shown the diagram of the consumer meter?’ ‘Yes’; sign it off. I know it’s more paperwork at the outset, but its paperwork which will prove that you’re in the right. And guys, the world has changed! Landlords are now accountable. The local authorities have to prove that they have a reason for selectively licensing us and if we put these tools in place and we deal with the referencing and the anti-social behaviour and we stop the drug dealers from moving around our town and we say to the tenants ‘you’re not going anywhere, because actually if you do wreck my property or create mayhem I physically have the ability to tell every other landlord in this town that you’re a bad tenant. I’ll be able to tell them that you deal drugs and you won’t get anywhere.’ It won’t take long for it to get around.
We have got legislation being bought upon us to prove that we’re accountable, and in that vein we have to use the tools available to be able to show that we’re accountable.
This also empowers good tenants. It’s not just about good landlords and bad landlords, it also empowers good tenants to be able to be passed on if perhaps they don’t pass the financial checks but they’ve got good landlord references. They can then go onto other properties. Just because perhaps they’re financial multiples don’t stack up, they may have 5 years of tenure with a landlord who gave them a good reference, so that’s how it also empowers good tenants.
It enables us for tenants to move to be able to work together and say to one another ‘he’s a good tenant.’ I’ve got a tenant now who’s a policeman, who was bankrupt, his wife ran off with the money, blah, blah, blah…he’s been with me for 7 years, he’s a bankrupt but actually he’s never missed a month’s rent ever and I would be more than happy to pass him onto anybody in this room. But if you did a credit reference on him through an estate agent he’d fail. So it is about being decent to our tenants, but drawing a line in the sand.
Then we have the other issue, so what we’re doing here is turning around and saying there’s the tenant referencing but what about the Right to Rent act? I’m not going to go into it, but actually you can do it in 5 minutes and we can give you a certificate that gives you the Right to Rent. It shows the immigration status of your tenant and whether you are allowed to rent to him. I don’t need to tell you, but it started off as a £3,000 fine but now there is also the possibility of going to jail if these Right to Rent checks aren’t carried out. Nobody put their hand up when I talked about Right to Rent, which is a shame, because you didn’t realise that actually if you don’t do the Right to Rent checks and you do take somebody who does not have the Right to Rent in this country you can go to jail. The chances of that being an individual landlord are slim, there are some referencing companies out there at the moment who are saying ‘we’ll pay the fine’, I don’t know whether they are actually now saying ‘we’re going to do the ‘bird’ for you now’..! But let’s assume that they’re not going to do the jail time for you and you’re going to do it, but it’s something you can do. Again, we give you that tool and you can do that; the Right to Rent checks are really easy.
A lot of landlords, it’s a little bit like your MOT. I don’t know whether anyone owns HMO’s here, but of course within your HMO there are certain things that you need to check on a regular basis; one of them being the fire alarm.
How many of you in this room check your fire alarms on a regular basis?
(Majority of hands shown)
How many of you have gone round and checked your intumescent strips?
(10-15 hands up)
How many of you have gone round to check your door-closers?
(10-15 hands up)
You go round to your rooms too often to check your door closers and you’re going to get done for harassment! So you need a record of how many times you go round there. So the fact of the matter is, what we also offer is a management system where you can put in the dates of your Gas Safety Certificates, your EPC’s, your door-closers, your C02 alarms, your fire alarms, absolutely everything and it comes up here and you can put it all in there like that and you can put ‘remind me’ and we’ll email you to remind you that they’re due, as an Accredited Member or as a ‘Free Member’.
The tools are there for you to do all of this and it’s all free of charge.
You don’t have to use any of this. If you’re using a letting agent or doing everything yourself you are not obliged to use any of these tools. But the NLCE is offering you these tools free of charge, if you want to use them.
Why is it important to get these reminders? Well when Mr Council comes round and asks you whether you’ve checked your alarms you will have a transparent record of this with through your NLCE account. It’s a maintenance schedule and record, to show the council that you’re in touch with it.
I can take a horse to water but I can’t make it drink, but what I’m doing here is giving you the tools outside of the normal accreditation to be able to carry out and do these jobs. And that’s why we’re going to make the NLCE a little bit different. Because we’re not going to be a conglomerate, we’re not going to be an accreditation which pushes you into being accredited and tell you how good you can be as a landlord – we’re going to try and make you as good as we are, we’re going to learn together, because believe me I don’t know it all! What I do know is that none of us in this room are as clever as all of us together.
Landlord: Can we go back to the original form, please? I think that may encourage people to play with things they know nothing about…
S.J/P.R: How do you mean, play with?
Landlord: Well you have tick boxes; have you checked the pressure, have you done this, etc, etc – I think that’s dangerous, and is telling people who don’t know what they’re doing to play with it.
P.R: Let me rest assure one thing, if you have nothing they’ll be playing with it anyway. What we’re doing is … Are you saying that they’d go on there and because they didn’t understand it…
Landlord: You’re encouraging tenants to play with things they know nothing about…
P.R: No we’re not. What we’re trying to do is encourage tenants to be educated. So what you need to do, you the landlord, you turn round and you say please use the maintenance form but if you have a problem with your pressure or you don’t understand it you come straight to me. It’s as simple as that. We’re not giving them instructions on how to fix their boiler, we’re asking them whether they have one bar or two bar and the reason is because how many times do you get called out when the boilers out because the tenant has no money on their gas card and doesn’t know how to ignite it? We’re trying to find out, before you go round there, whether there’s any spurious claims going on.
Landlord: You’d tell them over the phone, wouldn’t you?
P.R: You can tell them over the phone, as I’ve said you are not obliged to use this system. But the problem is that when you tenant calls you and says ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand…’– unless it is in writing you will not be able to issue a Section 21, you will not be able to take them to court for an eviction because when he says I complained about my boiler, I spoke to the landlord but the landlord didn’t turn up you’ll be left high and dry.
The council have had 754 complaints and they’ve based their figures on the complaints they’ve had…
S.J: That’s why you’re getting selectively licensed because of those 754 complaints. If you want to see the breakdown, a shocking 40% of those complaints don’t even represent poor property standards. They are people phoning up saying ‘there’s a noise next door’ or ‘somebody hasn’t put the rubbish out.’ So we’re trying to stop being selectively licensed by formalising proper complaints and tenants feeling able that they can give proper complaints, and getting rid of spurious complaints where they just want to get back at their landlord because they owe thousands in unpaid rent or want a council house.
P.R: So when they put on their form ‘I don’t know how to check my boiler’ and then submit it, it comes through to you and lets you know. So when they go to the council and say ‘my boiler isn’t working’ and you haven’t replied to them – the point is, it gives you the opportunity to then turn round and say ‘they don’t know how to check their boiler, and I went round there two days after…’ It is about transparency, it is not about how to educate tenants on how to repair their boiler. And the problem that you’ve just highlighted for us brilliantly; ‘you can do that over the phone’. When you do something over the phone there is no record and when it comes to court and issuing a Section 21 or it comes to that tenant going down to the their local authority, the last person they’re going to believe is you. I do understand your concern though, but it actually says at the top of the forms already; ‘Do not tamper with your electricity, do not tamper with this… call 115 or call the gas board, etc.’
S.J: It also gives tenants the option if they don’t understand how to contact their landlord; ‘if you don’t know your landlord please press here.’ It is a very valid point though, we are just 2 landlords who’ve put this together because we don’t want to be selectively licensed. So we’ve come up with something that North Somerset Council are talking to us about and listening to us on. We’re still developing it alone really, so we will definitely take your point on-board; it’s a fair point. I wouldn’t want somebody messing with the little gauge and sending my boiler pressure over 3 because it would blow my boiler up and that’d cost me £1,800. So yes, it’s a fair point. We can’t presume everyone is stupid, so it has to be a fair balance.
P.R: All of the accreditation days and the networking; that’s why we call them accreditation and networking. Networking is about us all having the ability to turn round and raise questions like that and we can turn round and go ‘you’ve got a good point.’
S.J: The bottom line is the NLCE is just two landlords who sat in front of you a few months ago, saying we’re livid about Selective Licensing because actually we don’t think we’re crap! And why should we all be tarred with the same brush and why should I pay £3,200 overnight? Which means I can’t carry out my other regular maintenance and I’ll be increasing my tenants rent. Well, the only way we’re going to stop it from coming back to our door is by self-regulating ourselves and proving to the council that we can do the job. We’re not trying to sell you this, we’re just landlords; we don’t gain from this. 57 different landlords put their money in as shareholders, but there’s no gain for us. This is us trying to say to North Somerset Council ‘we’re trying to do better; please give us time and don’t selectively license us.’
P.R: And you’re part of the development, which is why we structured it in the way that 57 landlords invested and became shareholders. We’ve already got 63 landlords in Bristol, we’ve got a Rotherham landlord whose come to this evenings meeting who’s seen what we’ve achieved with selective licensing. I’m going up to Lincolnshire next week to talk about Selective Licensing there and how we can roll out the NLCE there. It’s a code of conduct, it about our ability to be able to unite together and do something together to make a difference; united. Because we don’t need to be told anymore and what we can do is, we can allow local authorities to get on with the business of hunting down the bad landlords. It then doesn’t reflect on us or the tenants through rent increases and what have you.
Just to say, one of the issues there is with landlords who data share is that people think benefit tenants will suffer because of this. I’ve just finished a website that’s taken 2 years to build, called The Ark. At the moment we’re seeing a lot of local authorities displacing tenants into other areas in order to get housing in the private rented sector. So we’ve just built a product, which is going to be rolled out in 2-3 weeks which is underwritten by an insurance company called Acaster – which is called The Ark. And The Ark is a passport for tenants, where if you take a benefit tenant they go through the referencing process – showing entire transparency working with local authorities on this – and then what will happen is that we will be able to offer you rent guarantee insurance up to £25,000 and all the legal eviction costs should that tenant turn bad. It works through Mastercard, who we’ve tied up with. Tenants have change accounts, so there are jam jar accounts where they’re locked in and have no ability to change that unless they go to the DWP; if this is changed through the DWP that’s when the insurance clicks in.
In about 2-3 weeks’ time we’re going to have the opportunity of offering that to every local authority in the country; that if they want to find places for benefit tenants within the private rented sector we can guarantee your rent and your legal eviction costs as well as show you the most thorough referencing in the country. So when we had a lot of spin back from local authorities who’d gone ‘this is a bit of an issue, because there are obviously people who may be judged because they’re on benefits, we have created an instrument that will actually turn round and give those tenants better opportunities. In lots of places where councils are paying £1,000 in cash to put tenants in, they can then buy an Ark Passport, and we’ve had an awful lot of private rented sector landlords actually say ‘I think that’s a better option than taking a working tenant, who’s only 1 day away from his P45’, due to our ability to show their transparency. It’s done through a company called Benefit Assist, so it’s not just a case of ‘suck it and see’ in referencing. It is calculated on room sizes, how much they get in benefits, previous benefits, overpayments, etc, etc. It is a thorough task, it shows transparency and what it does is when you get benefit tenants who pay their rent and are now being judged by all of us; what we’re doing is showing local authorities that as long as they’re good tenants, we can give them financial and social inclusion into the private rented sector over and above what they have at the moment.
A key point about anti-social behaviour and the private sector is the local authority not really wanting the problem; wanting to disperse it into the private rented sector. And selective licensing makes you sign that you’re a fit and proper person and makes you say that you’ll deal with antisocial behaviour. So they give you the problem and then they say that it’s your problem to deal with. So another part of NLCE (just a couple of landlords, not looking to gain but simply not wanting to be selectively licensed) let’s make the right people deal with the problem tenants and lets deal with the good ones ourselves.
P.R: So, anyone here from Bristol?
(5-10 hands up)
I’ve been approached by an awful lot of people who have already got Selective Licensing in place – and we could still have. So the point is, is that all is not lost because the thing about selective licensing is – and I love this! – in so much that you see the guys at Acorn with their arms around the council officers saying ‘Whoopee, we’ve won!’ But the point is, they’ve won nothing!
S.J: They’ve won a rent rise!
P.R: They’ve won a rent rise but they’ve also won nothing. The reason they haven’t won anything is because at the end of the day, tenants are paying the price and they’re going to pay the price.
Selective Licensing means, in Stapleton Road (Bristol) for instance, they’ve licensed 1,100 properties. Government guidelines are 20%, . In Stapleton here, out of the 1,100 they’ve said that 199 properties were in need of improvement notices served to rectify serious health and safety problems. Well I don’t know if you know, but if there is a serious health and safety problem that the council should certainly issue a notice of improvement as well as a Category 1 notice of improvement. We asked them how many out of that 199 people had official improvement notices served, but we haven’t heard back from the Freedom of Information Request yet. But even if you look at that figure, and assume that that figure is right, that’s 18.9% – Government guidelines is 20%. So when you bring something in for 1,100 people and you’re charging £400 a pop and the government guideline is 20%, 18.9% doesn’t really stack up does it?
Then you can also turn round and say; then we’ve got ‘Breaches of Management Regulation have been rectified’ – well what does that even mean?! So the jury’s out on this at the moment, but the interesting part about all of this is that there were 3 prosecutions for ‘Breach of Licensing Conditions’. 3 OUT OF 1,110! But there was 8 for failure to license! So there were more prosecutions for failing to license than there was for the reason for licensing! So Bristol Council boasted this, but I believe that if there was ever a case of perfunctory consultation that’s got to bring it to the forefront, hasn’t it?
So Bristol Landlords, fear not!
Because now it is Bristol Council who has to prove to you that when they took your money, they made a difference. Now all you’ve got to do is prove that any of those figures are incorrect; inadequate. And what comes alongside inadequate is maladministration. And if there’s a case for maladministration you as an individual person are entitled to ask for your money back. Their intentions of selectively licensing 2 million landlords in this country means that only one of us; ONE to set the precedent has to get his £400 back and then the whole house of cards tumbles. So before you think it’s all over, watch this space! Because don’t forget now that you can take the ombudsman on, but not like a judicial review. As an individual person all you’ve got to prove is that there was no reason to selectively license and if the ombudsman find in your favour they’ve got to give you your money back. Then one of you gets your money back, there’s your case in precedent.
S.J: The point is that the NLCE is an organisation set up by a couple of landlords that were really fed up of being classed as bad landlords and charged as bad landlords, when they really didn’t feel they were doing a bad job. If we don’t do something together as landlords, and prove we are, we are going to get selectively licensed. The council have every power they need, today, to go into bad properties and deal with bad landlords. They don’t need selective licensing, they have the prohibition orders, they can go and inspect, they can do improvement orders; they have every law they need. The only reason they do selective licensing is because they can’t find the bad landlords (and they need the money!) What we’re saying is, the NLCE is not here to shield bad landlords because it won’t because your tenants will be promoted to complain if there’s a problem. Because we need to be transparent, there’s no point in bad landlords joining this thinking ‘Oh, that’ll keep me away from the council’ because that’s rubbish; because your tenants will tell them as they’ll complain to this. Then we’ll have to escalate it. It means that we’re proving that we’re trying to run our properties properly and we shouldn’t have to pay the price for the bad ones.
P.R: I’d like to see the council turn round and say ‘If you don’t join the accreditation, and we can prove that you should have been selectively licensed, you pay £1,000 per property for being a bad landlord. It hasn’t got to be because the boiler didn’t work for 24 hours, it’s got to be because of something that’s been issued with a notice of improvement and hasn’t been adhered to or something that showed that it was a category 1 hazard and the landlord hadn’t dealt with it in an appropriate manner. Because none of us want to be bad landlords.
Landlord: Can you on your system, or just as a member, report bad landlords?
P.R: Right now, no. But we haven’t really thought about that to be honest, as we’re still ironing out the final details that we intend to present to the council. At the end of the day I truly believe that there should be a way of reporting bad landlords. But bear in mind that the idea of this is that the tenant has the ability to notify us of their property issues…
S.J: Without retribution. They now have a way, without having to go to the council and worrying ‘oh god, if I go to the council my landlords going to kick me out’. It’s without retribution, as a tenant you’re encouraged to come to us if you have a problem and formally report it. It only gets escalated higher if the landlord is a bad landlord and does nothing about it. So if you’re a good landlord, you have nothing to fear. But it allows the tenants to give that information.
Landlord: My tenants are going to log on as soon as it’s available.
P.R: At the end of the day we don’t know what’s out there, exactly the same as the local authority doesn’t know what’s out there. But the idea here is partnership. We will be working with the local authority and we expect the people within the accreditation to work with us with the local authority without crawling all over our properties. We don’t want jack-boots coming through our front room and we don’t feel that’s fair. But of course, if there’s a justified reason for them to come in with their jack-boots we want that to be found. Because at the moment all that’s happening is that the good landlords in this room are being tarred with the same brush because they can’t find them.
Landlord: And they charge for it.
S.J: It’s about marginalising bad landlords, let the good ones come together; let them educate, train, show the council. The council’s fully involved, let them see that they don’t need to go trample all over their properties. If they want to, yes ‘fine, go ahead’ as actually there’s nothing to hide. Let’s marginalise the bad ones, let the council go after them and let’s stop being tarred with the same brush; that’s the bottom line. It’s like, do it this way or be selectively licensed and pay the price – there’s your choice.
P.R: I’ve never said there’s such a thing as a bad landlord. To me, a bad landlord or a bad tenant is 90% of the time an uneducated landlord or tenant. So you have your good; they understand what they’re doing, they go into a short-hold tenancy contract and both of them understand the certain level of morals there. Then you have the sort of bad ones, some of them might use agents who are dysfunctional, etc,, so things don’t get done quick enough because they’re not educated. I speak to masses of agents who don’t even know what the Deregulation Act is! What happens is, they become ‘bad landlords’ by default. So we need to educate those ‘bad landlords’ and then they can become good landlords too. We’re never going to stop the ‘rogue’ in anybody, if they want to rip you off; rogue mechanics for example; they’re never going to stop. You’re always going to find that element of ‘rogue’ and that’s what we’re talking about here. So the good we live with, the bad we educate and the rogue we hand them over to the council and let them do their best – take them to court and seize their property.
S.J: I don’t know whether you know but selective licensing, legally councils have to have considered every other way of managing the situation before it can selectively license. It’s a last resort. So they have to have proved legally that they have followed every other avenue they have to deal with the problem. If we are giving them this solution then how do they justify selectively licensing us, if we’re making this work? We can only make this work if people join and learn and accredit. You can choose not to, stay outside and get selectively licensed and trampled all over. It doesn’t really matter to me! I’m going on this accreditation day and I’m doing this because I’m talking to the council and I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush. So we’re not trying to sell to you, we make no money out of this. This is about you’re either in it or you pay the price somewhere else.
P.R: The trainers for the accreditation are not us, by the way! They are experienced and trained in the industry. The difference between us and them is that they’re going to give you an education so we all know where we legally stand – what we’re going to do is give you the tools ongoing, to protect our communities, our properties as well as protecting us from spurious claims made by disgruntled tenants.
Staunton, NLA: Are the courses free?
Paul: No, the courses can’t be free unfortunately…
Staunton: Well you say you’re not selling anything…
S.J: It’s to cover the cost of the training and food…
P.R: We’re not making money out of them Ken. I don’t think we’re charging any more than the NLA.
Staunton: How much are you charging?
P.R: £199 for the day.
Staunton: We charge £130 for non-members and £105 for members.
P.R: But you charge £89 a year for membership…
Staunton: No we don’t, we charge £75 a year…
P.R: So if you added the £75 on top of that…
Staunton: We give an awful lot more than what you’re able to give…
P.R: Ken, people have the opportunity to come to the NLA, but what I’m not going to do is get involved in a slanging match here. These people are here…
Staunton: It was just a question!…
Landlord: We haven’t even got an NLA representative…
Staunton: You do!…
Landlord: Where were the NLA when the Weston selective licensing came about?…
Landlord: Yeah, I paid £160 to the NLA so I don’t know where you’re getting your figures from…
Staunton: No you didn’t!
Landlord: Yeah I did, you can look at my bank account if you want…
Staunton: We don’t charge that sort of money…
S.J: Tonight isn’t about falling out…
Staunton: But you say you’re not selling anything but you are selling something…
S.J: We are covering the costs…
P.R: We are covering our costs and I’m not in this to have an argument. People can come and look at the NLA and make their judgement on whether they think it’s a better deal. During the course of all of this we didn’t have an NLA rep. I now appreciate that you’ve now said there is an NLA rep but unfortunately…
Staunton: He’s actually speaking in Bristol tonight, that’s why he couldn’t be here…
P.R: But he’s not here. And he wasn’t here during selective licensing, nor was the NLA. So people have an option to look at it. What I’m saying is that what we’ve seen and what goes on with other accreditations – and I’m nor earmarking the NLA or any other accreditation. What I’m saying is that at this precise moment in time we had selective licensing brought into this area, in the absence of the NLA. Sam and I have stood up, we’ve done what we’ve done…
Staunton: At that time there was an NLA rep…we’ve been without one for 3 months because she’s got a full time job.
P.R: Don’t turn round to a crowded room and say I’m really sorry you got shot because we let him in and you didn’t have a gun. We’re all here now and we’re dealing with our problems internally. Now, we respect the NLA, we know that the NLA is there. What we’re saying is, if it’s a sales pitch and it’s a contest between the NLA; £135 + £75 to join or NLCE accreditation with us at £150 and then all the bits and pieces that up to each individual person in this room to make that decision Ken. But outbursts from the side-lines in order to turn round and say we’re not selling anything; we are so transparent it’s unbelievable. (Addresses audience) Is that fair enough?
(Murmurs of yes and applause)
Landlord: Assuming that one goes on the accreditation course, has the council actually accepted that that would be sufficient to protect us from selective licensing or are they still going to turn round and say you have properties in that street so you’re going to pay regardless?
P.R: Very good question. Ok, what you first need to do is understand the process of selective licensing. There are certain associations that are looking for selective licensing. We don’t believe in selective licensing, because it has certain criteria’s set out by government. That criteria is a set criteria with which individual local authorities have to meet in order to get selective licensing through. I do not believe in my heart of hearts that North Somerset can meet the selective licensing criteria. It has to show low housing demand and we don’t have that here. We have a level of anti-social behaviour, but according to the crime figures that level of ASB is not over and above the criteria set out to selectively license. And then the council can bring in that there is an element of complaints. Looking at the complaints I don’t believe that the council has got the complaints that they say which are relative to unless they’ve suddenly got a mass influx of notices of improvement. So I don’t think that they have a case for selective licensing. So if the local authority take it upon themselves to go again for selective licensing obviously we would need unbelievable strict proof that that was the case, or we’d be back in the same thing and they would have wasted public money again trying to get selective licensing in. But actually the most important thing is that the local authority need to have tried everything else and I believe if we do this properly and we use the tools; not only will we make a difference in North Somerset private rented sector, but we will make a difference right across the country.
S.J: The council are actually here this evening, so we are now working together for the best outcome for everyone.
Landlord: I’m already accredited with the NLA, so can I passport into the NLCE scheme without having to go to the full day seminar?
S.J: Yes, NLA accredited members who have carried out the seminar rather than the online accreditation can be passported straight into NLCE at a reduced rate.
Landlord: Do you take an exam at the end of the accreditation day?
S.J: No there isn’t an exam, you spend the day learning through discussion. The major areas covered within the seminar will be about your legal obligations, property standards, good practice, managing a tenancy, documents related to the tenancy, how to end the tenancy, issues raised by delegates and preventing and dealing with problems.
Landlord: Do you get proof of attending the course and learning?
S.J: Yes, once you’ve completed the course your Certification will be posted out within a week.
Landlord: What are the response times for maintenance/repair complaints submitted to the NLCE website?
Sam: Landlord should answer within 48 hours for urgent (non-emergency) issues and aim to deal with the problem within 72 hours after they have contacted the tenant. Less urgent things should be agreed with the tenant.
Landlord: What has the response been from the council?
S.J: As we’ve said, the council are here this evening to learn more about the scheme. They want to find a way forward instead of selective licensing and we’re working together to hopefully achieve that goal very soon.
Landlord: Can you get an assurance from the council on a time limit as to whether this scheme is successful?
S.J: It would be a 5 year plan for the 1st initial area. We may be able to set a benchmark within the system, so for example; if we reach a certain amount of landlords who have become accredited then it would be classed as successful.
Landlord: How is the NLCE different?
P.R: The NLCE is unlike any other accreditation in the UK, as it is for you; the landlord. Plus, we are the only accreditation to give landlords and agents the tools to proactively address the 6 conditions that can bring about Selective Licensing; low housing demand, a significant and persistent problem caused by anti-social behaviour, poor property conditions, high levels of migration, high level of deprivation and high levels of crime.
Landlord: Is there something like this available in London? I’m a London landlord you see and I know 500-odd landlords who would definitely be interested in joining your scheme.
P.R: Don’t forget that this is The NATIONAL Landlords Code of Excellence, so we welcome landlords to join right around the country. We’d be very happy to come and talk at a landlord meeting up there, so let’s talk after.