Welsh Government Consultation: Safeguarding Property in Abandoned Dwellings.

This consultation examines the existing regulations which ensure a contract-holder’s personal property is dealt with appropriately by a landlord. The Welsh Government is consulting on: the content of the regulations, including the specific requirements to be placed on landlords; the draft guidance on the regulations, and the draft guidance on section 220 of the act (abandonment).

Welsh Government Consultation         WG32396

 Date:  6 April 2018

 1.    Do you agree with our overall approach to how a landlord must safeguard property left in an abandoned dwelling?

 We agree with the principle as set out, to the overall approach as to how a landlord needs to safeguard property left in an abandoned dwelling. The implementation of the regulations need to be clear and fit for purpose to ensure both contract-holders and landlords understand their duties and responsibilities.

 2.    Do you agree with the requirement for a landlord to safeguard property for one month (where required)?

 We agree with the requirement for a landlord to safeguard a property for one month. Any longer would be unnecessarily burdensome, as 8 weeks will have already passed since the commencement of the abandonment notice and end of contract. A property would not be classified as abandoned if the landlord was still receiving rent and bills were being paid. In many circumstances, the abandonment procedure is the last resort for landlords who would already have incurred rent arrears by the contract holder before the notice has commenced.

 3.    Do you agree that the draft guidance adequately explains the abandonment procedure under section 220 of the Act?

 We do not agree that the draft guidance adequately explains the abandonment procedure under section 220 of the Act, as we are left with unanswered questions.

 In reality, the abandonment procedure is likely to be called upon when there has been a breakdown of communication between the landlord and contract-holder, and will only be used in very limited examples. The serving of the notice in person to the contract-holder who has abandoned the dwelling with no communication with the landlord would be impossible, and delivering the notice to an alternative contact detail would only work if one was provided, and there is no guarantee or legal requirement that the notice will be passed to the contract holder.

The subject of satisfying that the dwelling has been abandoned can be subjective.  

If there is no rent being paid to the landlord; the contract-holder is unresponsive to any of the landlord’s communication and if there is no activity in the dwelling during the four week notice, then that should be satisfactory for the dwelling to be considered to have been abandoned.

 We disagree with the points set out in the draft guidance that requires the landlord to

-       Contact GP or local hospital

-       Contacting the local authority- any alcohol or substance misuse service

-       Contacting support workers or agencies assisting the contract-holder.

 Such enquires could be argued to be in breach of the individual’s right to privacy, as set out in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. It would be an invasion of privacy for such details to be disclosed to a landlord for the reasons of abandonment of property. Without forgetting that the GP would not be able to disclose any such information on their patients or their whereabouts without consent or a warrant.

We would also question if there are similar requirements for public services like the police or hospital to notify the landlord if the contract-holder is unable to contact their landlord themselves?

 As this regulation also covers Local Authority and Housing Associations who may be dealing with vulnerable adults, we appreciate that in these circumstances that the conditions may be reasonable. But it does not extend that this is the case in a private setting. There is no requirement by the contract-holder to disclose personal information to private landlords. Furthermore it would be unreasonable to expect a landlord to contact every GP surgery and local hospital in an area such as Cardiff for example, it would also create unnecessary problems in the future under section 222 if the contract-holder deems the landlord failed to contact specific organisations or people. This is an unreasonable burden on the landlord.

Whilst this regulation attempt to get abandoned property back on the rented market, the proposed regulations does not make the procedure easier for the landlord. 

 4.    Do you agree that the draft guidance adequately explains the safeguarding procedure under the regulations

 We do not agree that the draft guidance adequately explains the abandonment procedure under section 220 of the Act, as again we are left with unanswered questions.

  •  The regulation doesn’t specify the storage requirements for how the landlord must store the abandoned property.
  • Whether property needs to be in a third party storage facility or if storing it at the landlord’s property would suffice.
  • There is also a question to what happens if the contract-holders property is damaged? 

 The landlord is advised to make an inventory of all the property they don’t safeguard, which whilst we agree, we would also advise the landlord to make a copy of everything that they are also safeguarding. However the procedure does not include any provisions that safeguards the landlord against any claims or false claims by the contract-holder to damage of their property. Furthermore, the time by which the property has to be kept totals to 2 months from the beginning of the abandonment procedure, however the contact-holder is able to claim against the landlord up to 6 months later, this seems unreasonable and unduly lengthy. We would propose that any claim against the landlord and property be within the timeframe of the abandonment procedure.

  5.    Do you have any further comments to make on the draft Regulations or draft guidance?

The provision under section 222 of the Act, that allows a contract-holder for up to six months after the day the contract was ended by the landlord, challenge the re possession off the dwelling by the landlord is not appropriate. The length of six months is unduly lengthy and unreasonable. The challenge of repossession of the dwelling should take place in the first 4 weeks of the abandonment notice, whereby the contract-holder proves the dwelling has not been abandoned.  

There are only likely to be exceptional circumstances by which the contract-holder has not paid his rent, and ignored any attempt of communication by the landlord and there has been no activity in the dwelling during the four week notice. This is not, and should not be common practice therefore it shouldn’t become a common ground of appeal. 

 It should be clearly set out in the regulation for the landlord, what is the proper notice required. If there is no rent being paid to the landlord and the contract-holder is unresponsive to any of the landlord’s communication, if there is no activity in the dwelling during the four week notice then that should be satisfactory that the dwelling has been abandoned.

 For clarity, the regulations need to include reference to agents who may be acting on behalf of the landlord, and where the responsibility and liability lies.

 Entry to a suspected abandoned property by the landlord in this document is vague, it does not take into consideration the concerns about appliances or damages from gas, electric or water for example, which would not be obvious from an initial visual check.

Whilst we understand the need to protect a contract-holders’ quiet enjoyment of the property, the statement ‘Entry by the landlord is permitted in order to secure the dwelling or it’s contents’ would be sufficient on its own in covering the examples above as reasons to enter an abandoned property. Otherwise, there needs to be more example of when a landlord can enter an abandoned property as the examples given in the guidance provided, do not suffice.

 The regulation also lacks information on what happens to hazardous wastes and the cost included in removing it. The regulations include the recovery of cost of storage if the contract-holder requests the property; however, no provisions are made for the landlord to recover costs from the contract-holder for the cost incurred in removing the disregarded property.

 We would also suggest including a line that would require the landlord to dispose of the property in a proper manner through the proper channels in line with the law. 

 We argue that the guidance and regulations included in the abandonment section of this Act, will not be allowing properties to re-enter the rented sector more quickly. Instead, it is increasing the burden and challenges on landlords who let out their property. It is likely to be counter intuitive, and decrease their incentive to rent out property in in the future.

 6.    While this consultation paper is being made available in Welsh, please can you suggest how the proposed ‘Fitness For Human Habitation Guidance’ document could be formulated or changed so as to have:

i)             positive effects or increased positive effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language, and

ii)            ii) no adverse effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.

 We have no comments

 

 

For further   information please contact:

 

Branwen   Miles

Policy   Advisor

CLA

Orbit Business Park,

Merthyr Tydfil, CF48 1DL

 

Tel: 01547 317085

Email: branwen.miles@cla.org.uk

www.cla.org.uk