How many landlords are breaking the law, I wonder? I don’t mean deliberately — I’m not talking about those dodgy geezers who cram illegal immigrants into sheds — but how many of us accidentally fall foul of the rules and regulations?
If you’re a landlord, do you know how often you should have a gas safety check? Do you also know whether your rental property must have smoke alarms and how many? What about a carbon monoxide detector? Should you have electrical appliances tested every year?
What about that deposit you took from the tenant? I’m sure you’ve registered it, but have you given the tenant all the necessary paperwork to prove it? And do you know how quickly you must return it at the end of the tenancy?
If you know the answers to all of the above, well done — you are top of the class, but if you don’t, you are not alone. I get quite a few emails from landlords who are pretty clueless, which is not surprising when you consider that some of us have fallen into letting property and don’t have any experience.
I suspect most of us eventually find the information we need, generally by trawling the internet or asking a good letting agent for advice, and I’m sure the vast majority of landlords try damned hard to stay within the law. But wouldn’t our lives be so much easier if there was a free-to-use official website that told us everything we needed to know about letting?
Well, I’m told London Mayor Boris Johnson has a team beavering away on such a website, which will be launched by the end of this year. It will also include detailed information for tenants, making clear their rights and responsibilities, and there will be a section for letting agents, too, so we should all know where we stand. I don’t yet know what the site is going to be called but never mind, you’ll soon find out because £250,000 will be spent promoting it early next year. There will be posters in high-profile locations, including on the Underground, so you won’t be able to miss it.
The website is a key part of Boris’s initiative to raise the standard of rental accommodation in London — the same initiative I wrote about in this column a few weeks ago when I said it was “ludicrous” of the Mayor to think that it would make much difference. That column prompted an email from deputy mayor for housing Richard Blakeway, suggesting we meet at City Hall.
Conscious that the Mayor’s HQ is just across the river from the Tower, I was a bit nervous, but Mr Blakeway was cool. Over a cup of tea so big I could have drowned in it (they must have a serious caffeine addiction at City Hall), he tried to convince me that the Mayor’s initiative would lead to 100,000 London landlords and letting agents joining one of several voluntary training schemes by 2015, earning them a new Kitemark of quality, nicknamed the Boris Badge.
I remain sceptical that the number will be nearly that high, or raise any standards, but admittedly my ears pricked up when Mr Blakeway said landlords could be offered financial incentives, such as discounts on licensing for HMOs — Homes of Multiple Occupancy — and possibly even VAT rebates.
Details have yet to be finalised, but in the meantime I think the website is a good idea. I’m not sure it will make better landlords of us, but it could make it easier for us to stay on the right side of the law.
Follow our accidental landlord on Twitter at @VicWhitlock
* Find many more homes to rent at www.homesandproperty.co.uk/lettings.