How to resolve your property repair issues?

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Repairs to properties are both an eventuality and a royal nuisance. However, the effects of repair work, including who is responsible and the costs associated differ depending on the type of ownership. Tenants of an AST, leaseholders and homeowners are all subject to potential repairs and this article identifies the obligations of each, providing some helpful links and guidance of where to turn in certain situations.

Repairs to a rented property (AST)

As a tenant, you have a legal right to live in a property that’s fit for habitation and the landlord is responsible for common repairs. These can include:

  • the structure of the property
  • basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary fittings
  • heating and hot water systems
  • anything you damage through attempting repairs provided the landlord

consented to this

These do not normally include repairs that you are responsible for causing as a tenant (unless through fair wear and tear). In order for landlords to carry out remedial works, they (or their agent/builder) may need access to the property and this should be provided by tenants, however normally with at least 24 hours’ notice.  

Despite this information being common knowledge for many landlords and tenants, there are still very disturbing situations where landlords refuse or ignore major repair work, sometimes leaving tenants without hot water, heating or living in damp/mouldy conditions.

In the Housing Ombudsman case of Ms G v Woking Borough Council, 24 February 2021, the ombudsman found the landlordguilty of severe maladministration after it left an 83 year old elderly resident with no heating or hot water for almost three years. Ms G had complained frequently about the lack of heating, to which the landlord responded by capping her gas supply. Ms G even had relatives pay for her to sleep in hotels during the winter to keep warm. Ms G was awarded £6000 compensation for her distress and was provided with an alternative heating arrangement.

Compensation is another issue for tenants as there are frequent stories of landlords refusing to engage with repairs and then only once tenants state they are taking legal recourse, do they offer a notional form of compensation. This is what happened in another Housing Ombudsman Service case, Mr G v London Borough of Newham, 3 March 2021. In this case, Mr G’s property suffered damage due to a leak and when he notified the landlord, was told to carry out repairs himself. When Mr G asked for the reimbursement of £2296.85 for repairs and redecorations, the landlord ignored him for over a year before finally offering a measly £100 in compensation. The Ombudsman found the landlord liable for £800 compensation and to set out a repayment plan for reimbursing the tenant in full.

If experiencing repairs issues as a tenant, you must first notify your landlord and give an appropriate amount of time for them to complete the works. However, if these discussions fail there is always recourse to the Housing Ombudsman, or you can take your landlord to court (County) where you can represent yourself to state your case and ask for repairs to be taken. Independent legal advice, is always recommended before action.

Structural repairs to Leasehold Properties

Leasehold repairs is an especially hot topic at the moment, given the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in 2017. In May, the Fire Safety Act 2021 gained Royal Assent, and this holds building owners more accountable to the risks posed by the external façade of buildings and individual entrance doors to flats. In tandem, the government has pledged £5 billion investment in building safety, in order to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres (6 storeys) and over in England.

However, many leaseholders have not been protected from covering the costs of remedial works, with freeholders calling on leaseholders to pay for the works themselves. The Government has stated, it ‘intends to develop a long-term low interest loan scheme under which “no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding’, but this is not currently protected by law.

Other issues include leaseholders complaining of disrepair and lack of maintenance to their tower blocks and buildings, with landlords (who tend to be local authority housing associations) ignoring requests for remedial work. However, these landlords then then decide to carry out substantial work all in one go to the entire building, leaving leaseholders responsible for paying £1000s as part of their service charges. One caller to BBC’s File on Four stated she was asked to pay £189,000 for the works the council had decided to undertake all in one go. She claims if there had been proper ongoing maintenance of the property, a lot of the work would not have been needed.

If you’re a leaseholder and facing repairs issues, use the following resources for more guidance:

Repairs for homeowners

It may seem obvious that once you’ve purchased your own home, you as the homeowner are solely responsible for the repairs. But what about in a situation where the home was built with defects.

There have been growing reports from the Homeowners Alliance, that some new homeowners have had various issues with their brand-new property, including poor brickwork, with windows not being fit for purpose, structural issues with their roofing and some plumbing issues. Worse than this, in an episode of BBC’s Money Box, callers described how the building companies had paid them some compensation in exchange for signing Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”)  waivers in order not to discuss the matter publicly. This has left homeowners censored, unable to talk about their negative experience and in the worst cases, with defects that last for months or even years before they’re fully remedied.

If you’re a homeowner experiencing defects to your newbuild, there are a few routes of protection. Firstly, look into any guarantees or warranties that were provided on the property, these will normally range from 3-10 years. Secondly, use contacts such as the National House-Building Council and the government’s New Homes Ombudsman. Finally, my advice would be not to enter into any NDAs without first gaining some independent legal advice or guidance, even if offered compensation.

The impact of gentrification on ethnic communities

In March 2021, The Sewell Report found “no evidence of systemic or institutional racism in Britain” and stated that “most of the disparities examined… often do not have their origins in racism.” However, in the same breath, it also found that “ethnic minority Britons are more likely to live in persistent poverty and overcrowded housing”, with 28% of people in black households being on persistent low income, the highest of all groups, compared to 12% of white households. Housing was not discussed in any detail throughout the report, which conveniently avoided the topic of insecure, precarious living situations and the profound effect this has on people of colour. 

This article analyses the growing trend of gentrification, arguing that its deeply sinister motive, at best, seeks to ‘displace’ and, at worst, to ‘cleanse’ ethnic community areas, having a noticeable effect on black communities. Whilst this article recognises that ‘white’ working class areas have also been affected by the influx of gentrification, this article unapologetically focuses on the distinct effect this process has on ethnic communities, choosing to not only discuss the impact of race on gentrification, but to suggest that this process is inherently racialised.

Methods of gentrification

The term gentrification is used to describe the migration of a higher socioeconomic group into a lower socioeconomic area, therefore exploiting ‘rent gaps’ which cause a disparity between the potential ground rent level (land value) and the present actual ground rentThis is often triggered by a surge of younger, wealthier people becoming fascinated with living in more deprived areas, which raises property prices out of reach for the existing residents.  For supporters, gentrification is ‘rejuvenation’ focused on ‘improving’ local areas to be more desirable places in which to reside. However, for many, this process comes at a cost.

Many locals who live in these areas are ‘displaced’ and have little choice but to leave their homes. As reported in 2014, increasingly local authorities pass control of their stock to private housing associations who in turn lease this land for a few centuries to big developers. Here, social housing is replaced with a denser mix of ‘affordable’ housing cross-subsidised by more expensive homes, which make up the majority of properties, with the latter often being sold on a Shared Ownership basis. According to Marcuse & Watt’s work, displacement can take several forms:

  • ‘direct’ either via physical coercion through housing demolitions or landlord evictions (local authorities can also use their state power of compulsory purchase);
  • ‘economic’ via much higher annual rent, service charges and bill increases, now that payment is made to a private bodies rather than social housing; and/or
  • ‘indirect’ or ‘displacement pressure’. This occurs when local residents see their neighbourhood changing dramatically, with local amenities being replaced with more expensive options, causing them to feel excluded.

The most concerning form of gentrification is ‘state-led’, as theorised by Watt in the form of a pair of scissors. Watt describes the state’s two ‘blades’ as, firstly, raising land values and, secondly, implementing long-term running down of council housing both in terms of numbers and quality. This was demonstrated by The Guardian, 2014, where interviewees from Woodberry Down discussed how the local council allowed the estate to become dilapidated, refusing to repair common areas, allowing the play areas for children to be closed, all culminating in a form of ‘constructive eviction’ where it became untenable for residents to live there.

Furthermore, there have been reports of social housing leaseholders being offered attractive rehousing agreements under ‘like-for-like’ terms in the same borough. However, as the plans progressed, the assurance disappeared, replaced with the offer of financial compensation well below current purchase prices, or a property offered under very different terms (e.g. shared ownership).

Racialised rationale behind gentrification

Gentrification has many faces but, as Danewid claims, it is “typically underpinned by a set of racialised assumptions about who belongs in certain spaces and who does not”. The prevailing discourse tends to discuss the impact on non-white communities as a by-product, an unfortunate conclusion to an otherwise worthwhile pursuit.

However, this process of displacement, as Danewid argues, is predicated on racial capitalism, “a racial and imperial political economy that produces some people and places as ‘surplus’”. Capitalism is predicated on production, with those who profit the most (owners) normally having relied upon the labour and exploitation of those below them (workers). Racism is intrinsic to these methods, as it supplies the precarious and exploitable lives that capitalism needs to extract land and labour. Historically, we have seen how the human lives of ethnic communities have been valued only by the labour they can produce through ‘chattel slavery’, with this racialised exploitation continuing today through immigrant labour – often underpaid.

The process of gentrification begins with providing justifications for regeneration programmes that build on stereotypes, associating areas “with crime and deviance, consolidated in long-standing images of ‘sink’ estates” (Cooper, Hubbard, and Lee). These ‘problem’ areas typically all have a large ethnic community presence.  Cooper discuss three estates in London located in Haringey, Newham and Southwark noting that almost all tenant interviewees were from minoritised ethnic groups. These interviewees explain how their areas have been continually racialised with stigmas of “poverty”, “roughness”, “riots” and “gang-related” violence being offered as justification for redevelopment. This stereotype is often met with over-policing of these “problem” areas by “cleaning up the streets’ and creating “safe” spaces for capital investment, urban redevelopment projects and middle-class consumer habits. 

Racial capitalism is underpinned by colonialism. As El-Enany describes, “Britain’s geography is marked by spaces of colonial control and exclusion in which resources are withheld from people living in conditions of spatial and temporal precarity”, almost always non-white. Rapid gentrification in historically poorer and ethnic areas, where local councils overtly prioritise the interests of newer, predominantly white, wealthy residents, is just a further example of colonial practices determining who has access to which resources in Britain.

Effect on ethnic communities

To be dispossessed of one’s home has far-reaching consequences. It has been analysed by Fried as “unhoming” in that “just like a plant; when you tear up its roots, it dies”. This metaphor was reused some 40 years later by Fullilove to describe the “root shock” experienced by black communities displaced in the name of modernisation. 

Numerous case studies echo this same feeling with the slow, incremental change of amenities, with higher price tags all tailor-made for the new residents. Baginski and Malcom state that “gentification functions aesthetically, commodifying architectural styles and fashion, as well as racial and ethnic identity…modifying physical urban environments to present ongoing political and racial conflicts as matters of taste”. Existing residents feel alienated upon seeing the numerous artisanal bakeries and farmers’ markets appearing in place of their former culturally influenced supermarkets, cafes and hairdressers. Many do not possess sufficient economic and cultural capital to afford and frequent such establishments. Consequently, they feel detached and unwelcomed.

This alienation has a direct effect of ‘cleansing’ areas of their ethnic influences, all in the name of ‘improvement’ and ‘bettering’. This was demonstrated in the area of St Pauls, Bristol, which historically was predominantly inhabited by the Caribbean community, especially since 1952. Following changes, locals complained that their cultural community was disappearing, with new owners choosing to renovate eateries and bars into blocks of flats for more profit. 

This deliberate restructuring of cities can lead to “antagonistic class relations” as a creeping narrative settles that only those with substantial money and power (e.g. corporations and sometimes wealthy individuals) have a “right to the city” (Watt). Divisive notions of imprecise social categories (‘them and us’, ‘rich and poor’) can arise, which threatens existing residents’ previous sense of local place and identity. 

Whilst Watt, like many other scholars, chose to discuss these tensions from the central focus of ‘class’ only, this fails to recognise the impact that race, as a distinct category has on gentrification projects. The word “urban”, for example, has a dual sentiment. Technically it describes a highly built up area inner-city, however, for many the sentiment is code for ‘black people live here’, a cloaked word implying poverty and a dilapidated area, all from a racialised point of view as argued by Eddo-Lodge.  Danewid discusses how scholars continue to treat race as “an individual mentality or as an exception from normality, rather than as a form of structural coercion that is built into capitalist structures and institutions.” To protect ethnic communities from gentrification, race must first be recognised as a socio-political category of distinction on its own.

Conclusion

The Sewell Report fails to analyse the impact of colonial, racialised practices in housing in general, but more specifically through the rapid methods of gentrification. With scholars failing to recognise the direct impact race has on gentrification projects, the impact of racial capitalism on ethnic communities is catastrophically ignored. Gentrification creates the allure of improvement of ‘undesirable areas’, but the reality is a deliberate attempt to cleanse these areas of those who are deemed ‘surplus’, removing their sense of place and locality while simultaneously removing them from their homes.

Why more ladies need to invest and how to start!

I am in no way a financial advisor and therefore nothing I say should be taken or relied upon as financial advice. Instead speak to the experts which I’ve mentioned below.

Please see glossary at the end for any highlighted terms.

How to get started with investing?

As mentioned, I am in no way a financial advisor and therefore nothing I say should be taken as financial advice. However, as a woman who has recently started investing, I will provide 3 key tips below to help get started:  

1. Get money educated – learn simple money terms and practices

2. Immerse yourself in money talk – listen and learn from experts every day

3. Spend less, save more – practice good financial habits to get prepared for investing

Property tends to be characterised as bricks and mortar, a building which is owned as a tangible asset. However, I personally understand property, not solely as a thing or entity in itself, but more as a power relationship between a person and a resource. When thinking in these terms, the amount of capital someone possesses needs to be improved if they want to increase the amount of assets, and consequently the amount of power, they possess. In this way, the ability to invest and earn more is a very worthwhile and necessary topic to explore, for women interested in property.

As previously discussed, women are less likely than men to be able to afford a home. This has only worsened since Covid with women being twice as likely to lose their job, and one in four women experiencing an average drop in income of £463 a month. Furthermore, more women took on the primary responsibilities of childcare whilst working at home and were more likely to have their workflow interrupted, even if they were the higher earner within the family.

These factors all culminate in explaining the 15.5% gender pay gap across all employees (7.4% across full-time employees). However, there are actually more ‘gaps’ materialising, which are of more concern. Firstly, the gender pension gap remains at 47%, with women ending up with significantly smaller pension pots, despite more often having greater responsibilities (and financial obligations) for looking after children and parents. Research suggests, that currently women in their early 60s have on average £36,000 in their retirement pot, whilst men at the same age are able to enjoy an average pot of £142,000..  

Secondly, there is a gender investment gap – a £15 billion gap, where women overall invest 40% less money than men do.  One in five women choose to invest compared to one in three men, suggesting that women are NOT committed to investing  in the same way as men. A general rule to evidence this is that women choose to save more in Cash ISAs rather than investing it through Stocks and Shares accounts, which end up with much lower returns over the years.

There are numerous reasons for this disparity, including women lacking confidence and having a feeling of being financially illiterate (see Fearless Women Report), believing they are unable to understand banking and other financial terms. This is not aided by the fact that banking and investing literature has tended to be written in a way that appeals more to men.

Furthermore, women have historically been told, and reinforce within themselves, the narrative that ‘they are bad with money’, that they spend too much on frivolous things such as shopping and that they’re unable to handle their own finances. Interestingly, this is provably false, with a recent study showing  55% of women plan the day-to-day spending, versus 31% of men, and 46% of women are responsible for sorting out short-term savings, against 28% of men (other participants did not state their gender). Women are actually, very good with managing money – they just don’t invest it!

Why should women invest?

  • Earn more money

Investing is the most efficient way of growing wealth over time. Although of course, there is ALWAYS risk with investing, the returns can be very worthwhile, typically on average between 5-10% as opposed to the current base interest rate of 0.1%.

With interest rates being so LOW post-covid, it’s now more important than ever to invest any savings, as if the interest rate is less than the inflation rate, your money actually loses value.

  • Own property

Property is one of the most expensive assets that most people will own in their lifetime, and it comes with a high start-up cost: the deposit. Although some people will be able to rely on Bank of Mum and Dad (who paid out a whopping £6.3bn for house deposits in 2019), many don’t have that option and thus will need to find other ways of acquiring the down payment. Investing (although only really recommended for long-term returns i.e. 5+ years) can be a great way to maximise wealth in order to own property.

There are also other ways to own property aside from being a ‘homeowner’. Residential properties provide a continuous stream of income through rent and there are also options to invest in property funds through Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs”. These are investment funds that solely invest in properties, so you own shares in a property fund, but don’t own the property outright.

  • Long-term financial security

Investing is a long-term game with people who choose to start early, and diversify their portfolio, often receiving the best return on their investments. The benefit of this is it provides future financial security which can be drawn upon later on in life, perhaps in retirement or for other life changes. This security is invaluable and can remove a lot of the fear and stress people have about being able to afford their lifestyle. For women, especially, being financially secure can provide independence and allows options when situations change (e.g. time out of work for having children.)

If nothing else persuades you, recognise that men are already doing this! Why should we let them have all the fun, while we miss out on the ability to maximise our wealth and live the life we want to live, financially?

How to get started with investing?

As mentioned, I am in no way a financial advisor and therefore nothing I say should be taken as financial advice. However, as a woman who has recently started investing, I will provide 3 key tips to help get started. At the end, I’ve linked some excellent resources that I have used along the way, whilst embarking on this exciting, new territory of Investing….

  1. Get money educated

Becoming confident with money, the lingo and how to manage your finances is paramount before investing. I personally joined an excellent, female-driven course Million Dollar Year which has taught me invaluable lessons about my relationship to money, how to manage my finances and shifting my attitude to ‘earn more and spend less’. Although some may view the monthly fees as expensive, I personally found this course to be worth every penny, as a means of investing in myself and providing invaluable confidence when tackling my money issues. If interested, use the coupon code FRIEND to receive $100 (around £70) off and quote Lady of the Land blog!

However, there are also less costly options through podcasts and ‘money influencers’, many who provide direct advice for issues faced by women. Please find my favourites below:

Podcasts

“Money Influencers”

  • Immerse yourself in money talk

Through the above resources, I would recommend tuning into money news every day. Keep your eyes open for articles/ blog posts discussing money management, investment, finding new ways to budget so you can increase savings etc…. Get daily reminders through apps, in order to keep you focussed on money goals and know what new products are out there. Try some of the following:

Daily updates/ Resources

  • Spend less and Save more

In order to invest, you first need to be financially secure. You must pay off any high-interest debts e.g. credit cards, loans etc… Many experts then advise growing an emergency fund of around 3-6 months of your ‘need costs’, in order to be protected from any unexpected emergency payment. This is all achieved by setting realistic savings goals, and by limiting spending within your monthly means. Once these steps are completed, you’re in a great position to start investing.

Essentially the biggest tip is to be brave and start investing early as the longer you leave your money invested, the more likely your return will be higher. This is the beauty of compound interest!

Glossary

  • Base Interest Rate: The Bank of England explains this is the “amount you pay for borrowing money, and the banks pay you for saving money with them.”
  • Compound interest: is the addition of interest to the original sum of money as well as to any existing interest, or in other words, interest on interest

e.g. Year 1: 1% interest rate of £1000 = £1010

       Year 2: 1% interest rate of £1010 = £1020.10

       Year 3: 1% interest rate of £1020.10 = £1030.30

  • Inflation Rate: the rate at which prices increase over time, resulting in a fall in the purchasing value of money.
  • Portfolio: a range of investments held by a person or organization.
  • REIT: Real Estate Investment Trust, investment funds that solely invest in properties.

Divorce: what assets will I get from the divorce?

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The aim of this post is to explain what factors the courts consider when dividing assets between a divorcing couple. Helpful tips for any ladies (sorry guys – but it tends to be us who initiate proceedings) who want more information on what they are likely to get from a divorce…

What assets will I get from the divorce?

When assessing how to divide assets in divorce proceedings the court will look at the following main factors for each party:

1. Income

2. Financial needs

3. Standard of living previously enjoyed

4. Age and duration of the marriage;

5. Any physical or mental disabilities

6. The contributions made to welfare of the family

The divorce rate has been steadily decreasing since mid-90s with a 34.3% decrease from 1993 to 2017. However, early forecasts suggest this rate has risen once again since 2020, with many blaming the Covid pandemic as the main factor. Leading British law firm Stewarts logged a 122% increase in enquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year. This is perhaps not surprising, given the close proximity many couples will have been forced to endure, and other stresses such as job loss and illness.

What will be surprising to many, however, is that it is females who initiate the majority of divorce proceedings, with 76% of new cases coming from female clients, compared with 60% a year ago. When this is compounded by the disproportionate effect Covid has had on women*, it is more important than ever that women fully understand the process and factors involved in divorces and can accurately estimate what they will be left with if choosing to divorce their partner.  

An interesting development in Autumn 2021, will be the introduction of no-fault divorces which will make it easier and smoother for petitioners to receive a divorce, in less time. This is owing to the fact that there will no longer be any need to assign and prove blame for the dissolution of the marriage. However, this will make absolutely no difference to the financial division of assets for a couple.

Dividing assets

When couples divorce, there is a need to determine how to divide the following items:

  • pensions
  • property
  • savings
  • investments
  • regular maintenance payments to help with children or living expenses

However, with increasingly advanced technologies now creating sizeable income-producing assets it will be important for parties not to overlook digital assets which have a value, such as cryptocurrencies or social media accounts e.g. influencer income. (Please see this interesting article for more info).

In an ideal situation, a couple is able to agree on exactly who gets what, confirmed in a written agreement with or without the need for lawyers. However, in reality this is more likely to be a fairy tale than real life and ultimately many who choose divorce enter into acrimonious territory or ‘contested divorce’. In situations where the court is to decide, their duty is to balance all competing interests, having regard to all the circumstances of the case with the first consideration being given to the welfare and needs of the dependent children (if any). (Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, s25) *

Factors for court (in more detail)

The court will consider the following factors:

  1. The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  2. The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  3. The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;
  4. The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
  5. Any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage;
  6. The contributions made by each of the parties to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family;
  7. In the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage, the value to either of the parties to the marriage of any benefit (for example, a pension) which, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring.

Dividing the home

When working out how to divide the matrimonial home, the following options are available

  1. Sell the home and both parties move out.
  2. Arrange for one party to buy the other out.
  3. Keep the home and retain title of property. In these situations, one or both partners can continue to live in the home.  
  4. Transfer part of the value of the property from one partner to the other as part of the financial settlement. The partner who gave up a share of their ownership rights would keep a stake or ‘interest’ in the home. This means that when the property is sold he or she will receive a percentage of its value.

Again, all of these options require some agreement and cooperation between both parties. In the event the parties cannot reach agreement, specific court orders can be applied for:

  • Mesher Order: defers the sale of the home until a specific event triggers the sale – for example, the youngest child turns 17 or 18. This may also be used if there is ‘negative equity’ in the property, to allow the market time to recover. The net sale proceeds are then divided in accordance with the court order.
  • Martin Order: defers the sale of the house, but importantly it gives one person an entitlement to occupy the property for life or until remarriage. (This tends to be when couples don’t have children).

What happens if one party solely owns the house?

The fact that the former matrimonial home is owned in the sole name of either the husband or the wife will not prevent the court from altering the ownership. A person has a right to live in a property if it is their matrimonial home. This means that even if your spouse owns the property in their sole name, you have the right to live there until your marriage ends. This is called matrimonial home rights.

 

What happens if both parties jointly own the property?

If the jointly owned property is to be retained by one party and there is a mortgage secured on that property, it is possible that the lender will refuse to release the outgoing party from the mortgage, and therefore both parties remain indefinitely. However, it is at the discretion of the lender, so speak to them ASAP if one party is looking to leave the title of the property.

Who gets what?

The Court will normally consider a 50/50 split of the matrimonial assets when dealing with a long marriage following the ‘yardstick of equality’.

However, this formula can be departed from, normally where one party will suffer financial hardship by the assets being divided equally. Furthermore, where one party is still the carer for young children or where health has an impact on the potential for one party to earn sufficient income to meet their needs, 50/50 may not be appropriate. The court will make this determination when weighing up all the facts.

What about domestic violence?

An estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the 2020 (with 1.6 million of these being women). But what effect does this have on division of assets in divorce?

Unfortunately, the impact of domestic violence has little to no impact on the financial outcome of a divorce and in some extreme cases, the abused party may have to pay spousal support (if the higher earner). The BBC Sounds series, Money Box, discussed this in detail with one caller being advised that she may still have to share half her pension with her partner, even though he refuses to pay for bills and has domestically abused her.

The most important thing is to protect the victim’s safety and if a party is suffering domestic violence they can take an urgent step to remove the aggressor from the house:

  • Non-Molestation order: This is a special injunction that aims to prevent a partner or former partner from harming a victim or their children from domestic violence. This can include actual or threat of physical violence, any form of harassment or intimidation, as well as psychological abuse. These can be made urgently, and if broken the aggressor can be arrested.

Another tip would be to contact any involved banks/other financial institutions and make them aware of the situation, especially if there is any evidence of coercive control or financial abuse. They may be able to help with allowing only one party access to the joint account to prevent. Finally, there may also be legal aid available for victims of domestic abuse seeking a divorce.

Practical tips

For all the ladies out there, considering the serious step of initiating a divorce, it’s important to always get independent legal advice before proceeding. But here are a few top tips to bear in mind:

  1. Don’t forget to apply for a financial order. This is separate from the divorce paperwork which states you are legally divorced.
    1. Begin cataloguing all assets from both parties whether shared or separate. Make a grid including values of assets being sure to include pensions, investments, savings, cars etc… Calculate the net total.
    1. Both parties can claim against each other for spousal maintenance, even if you’re the main breadwinner. Other factors are taken into account here e.g. primary caregiver etc…
    1. There are NO interim orders given for the sale of property until the divorce is finalised (except in very exceptional cases). If a final decision is made to divorce, it is best to start proceedings ASAP in order to sell the property.

*ONS Statistics: Women were more likely to be furloughed, and to spend significantly less time working from home, and more time on unpaid household work and childcare.

**Before couples can ask the court to determine division, they must attend a meeting about mediation, except in certain cases (if there’s been domestic abuse, for example)

Part 2: Tenants Behaving Badly

Two professional female mixed martial arts fighters competing in an octagon inside an indoor floodlit arena. Both fighters are in side on stance, and dressed in sportswear. One fighter has attacked with a jab or uppercut which has been blocked by her opponent.

Tenants behaving badly

The worst examples of tenants breaching their obligations (and behaving badly) are as follows:

1. Rent Arrears

2. Illegal Subletting

3. Anti-social behaviour & Damage

*Disclaimer: independent legal advice is encouraged if pursuing any of these claims as a landlord.

Although, less documented than landlords’ failings, there are plenty of examples of tenants behaving badly. It is also important to deconstruct the notion that all private landlords are evil, scary property developers. Landlords come in all shapes and sizes. They can be large organisations with multiple properties, but they can also be an individuals, couples or pensioners who rely on the rent of the only property they own as their only form of income. In many latter cases,their financial situation has worsened since the pandemic with Research by the National Residential Landlords Association, a trade body, finding that 22% of private landlords in England had lost rental income because of Covid-19.

This article will examine the key issues raised by ‘rogue tenants’ and the proposed solutions.

Rent arrears

Issue

There is always a risk that tenants will refuse to pay rent and if this is ongoing they ‘accrue arrears’. This can cause landlords significant negative cashflow such as in the case of Mrs Smith who lost £33,500 in income when her tenant changed the locks and refused to pay rent. She also incurred £3,000 in legal fees and will have to pay £20,000 to restore the property. As a pensioner, she has lost her main source of income. Furthermore, she cannot remortgage or sell her property as she still has illegal tenants living there.

The most damaging aspect of rent arrears is that even if the landlord goes through legal recourse, if the tenant has no assets, they are unlikely to ever pay back the lost rent.  

Solution

At the time of writing coronavirus restrictions apply,* which means all s21 notices are banned and tenants cannot be evicted (please see this previous post, for more discussion on this). This ban on eviction even includes circumstances where there is substantial rent arrears, as confirmed in the recent case of The Corporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond v Prescott [2021] EWHC 283 (QB) where it was deemed £70,000 rent arrears accrued over 21 months was not applicable to the ‘Rent Arrears Exception’ under a s21 notice. Instead, this order should have been made under a s8 notice.

Therein lies the solution. If you are a landlord experiencing rent arrears from your tenant equivalent to 6 months or more, you should serve a section 8 order and state rent arrears as your grounds, in order to evict the tenant. If it can be proven that eviction can be done safely in compliance with government rules during Covid, it will be allowed under this order.

Illegal subletting

Issue

A common offence by tenants is to illegally sublet their property. In fact, Landlord Action reports that over the course of the past year alone, illegal sub-letting by rental tenants has increased more than 300%. Often, the tenancy agreement will expressly prohibit renting out the room to any other person, which includes short-term lets such as Airbnb. This can include subletting a room or the entire property. Although seemingly harmless, when tenants sublet a property they relinquish control of the property to a third party, often strangers, increasing the risk of anti-social behaviour making neighbours unhappy, issues regarding HMO licensing (see previous landlord post for more on this) and, importantly, possible invalidation of insurance and mortgage terms. Finally, there is an added level of risk of damage to property.

In some extreme circumstances, landlords can sue their tenants for arrears and any unlawful money earned during the illegal subletting. In March 2021, the tenancy enforcement team at social landlord Hyde secured an £81,000 money judgment against a former tenant for unlawful subletting, since at least March 2014.

Solution

If a tenant has been illegally subletting their property, a landlord has legal grounds to start possession proceedings to evict. These proceedings are currently subject to serving tenants with some form of written notice seeking possession of their homes. When the notice expires, the landlord can then apply to the county court for a possession order*

Anti-Social Behaviour & Damage

Issue

Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is a term which covers “behaviour by a person which causes, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to persons not of the same household as the person.”

Types of ASB within a tenancy can include:

  • dog fouling, uncontrolled and noisy pets, inconsiderate or dangerous parking and abandoned cars
  • noise nuisance at high levels or unreasonable hours
  • environmental health issues such as rubbish dumping
  • vandalism and graffiti
  • drug misuse, alcohol-related nuisance and prostitution
  • hate incidents and harassment of neighbours, including verbal and physical abuse and threats

A study by AXA suggests that around 15% of landlords have received complaints from neighbours for excessive noise (equivalent to 1,245,000 tenants nationwide). At the most serious end of the scale, eight per cent of tenants – equivalent to two thirds of a million tenants nationwide – admit to actually committing a crime on the landlord’s premises, and a similar figure (10 per cent) say they’ve had the police called to the property.

Anti-social behaviour is one of the most serious infractions tenants can commit, which is why it is not subject to the ‘Eviction Ban.’* Depending on the seriousness of the behaviour it can be prosecuted criminally.

Solution

Landlords can take some practical steps to try to prevent anti-social behaviour or damage to their property:

  • talking to the tenant as soon as there seems to be a genuine issue with their behaviour. In this way, landlords should be emphasising that it is not acceptable to behave in such a way and warn them that they are in breach of their tenancy terms.
  • involve other agencies such as the police or environmental health
  • go to court to get the person behaving in an anti-social way evicted, if they are a tenant or leaseholder
  • apply to court for an injunction.

 At the outset, landlords do have mechanisms of checking tenants’ prospects before renting out their property also, including:

  1. carry out a credit check
  2. asking for employer references or
  3. asking for references from previous landlords

Reputable letting agents will, for a fee, also provide these checks before recommending any potential tenant to a landlord.

It is always advised to take out comprehensive insurance on the property, in case of substantial damage by tenants.

Conclusion

When commenting on the further extension to the Eviction Ban, Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, said: “It’s right that we strike a balance between protecting vulnerable renters and ensuring that landlords whose tenants have behaved in illegal or anti-social ways have access to justice”.

However, with the most effective route for removal for landlords being currently thwarted by the ‘eviction ban’* it could be argued that currently the balance has been tipped more in the tenant’s favour.  This, coupled with the growing breaches of tenancies through subletting and rent arrears, means some landlord groups are calling for the introduction of a rogue tenant database. Such a database would run in parallel to the ‘Rogue Landlord Register’ in order to show any tenants who had been convicted previously for rent arrears or previous tenancy issues. This, it is argued would bring a wealth of benefits for landlords, good tenants and agents alike; providing a means of protecting all parties from common problems such as subletting, rent arrears or refusal to vacate a property.

But what do you think?

*The Government has once again extended the eviction ban, this time to 31st May 2021.

Part 1: Landlords behaving badly

Two professional female mixed martial arts fighters competing in an octagon inside an indoor floodlit arena. Both fighters are in side on stance, and dressed in sportswear. One fighter has attacked with a jab or uppercut which has been blocked by her opponent.

Landlords behaving badly

The worst examples of landlords breaching their obligations (and behaving badly) are as follows:

1. Charging prohibited fees

2.Not registering Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

3.Renting properties which are unfit for habitation

4.Not returning deposits

*Disclaimer: independent legal advice is always encouraged if pursuing any of these claims as a tenant.*

The relationship between landlord and tenant is complex and one of the oldest and most fragile illustrations of imbalance of power. Historically this relationship originated from Roman times and became common from around the 5th century onwards. As a result, peasants became bound to the land and dependent on their landlords for protection and a basic form of justice. Today, many tenants never meet or know their landlords. However, as tenants, they have rights and obligations in respect of the ‘land’ they occupy.  

Having lived in numerous properties in a number of cities in the UK during my 8 years as a tenant, I have encountered my fair share of landlords, each with their own style of management and accessibility when it comes to property queries. Tenants also display a range of behaviours and personal responsibility when it comes to renting the property. For many, especially those newly starting out, it’s trial and error for both sides, with each never quite knowing how responsible the other party will be.

This article explores the worst examples of how landlords can behave badly, looking at common complaints that tenants have and the legal recourse available to resolve these issues.

In the spirit of fairness and balance when reviewing this relationship, next week the issue of ‘bad tenants’ will be explored.

Landlords’ Obligations

The most common type of tenancy when renting from a private landlord or letting agent in England and Wales is an assured shorthold tenancy (“AST”).  An AST allows a landlord to let out a property to a tenant while retaining the right to repossess the property at the end of the tenancy. This can be done on a fixed term basis (6 months or a year) or a rolling basis (indefinite).

A landlord is responsible for the following main obligations:

  1. keeping rented properties safe and free from health hazards
  2. making sure all gas and electrical equipment is safely installed and maintained
  3. providing an Energy Performance Certificate for the property
  4. protecting your tenant’s deposit in a government-approved scheme
  5. checking your tenant has the right to rent your property (if it’s in England)
  6. giving the tenant a copy of the ‘How to rent checklist’* when they start renting

Any breach of these obligations is illegal and can be dealt with through legal recourse. However, there are multiple other ways landlords and letting agents can ‘behave badly’.

Prohibited Fees

Issue

Some letting agents or private landlords are charging a ‘finder’s fee’ for locating and showing prospective tenants around numerous properties. This can take place through ‘application forms’ like this one advertised on Spacelet.net*, where they ask renters to pay a fee in order to access their services. This may also take place once deciding to sign a tenancy, where landlord or agents add on their ‘fees and charges’ to a requested deposit. This type of activity is now illegal since the implementation of the Tenant Fees Act 2019, which states that ONLY the following fees are chargeable by landlords/letting agents to tenants:

  • the rent
  • a refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than five weeks’ rent where the annual rent is less than £50,000, or six weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above
  • a refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than one week’s rent
  • payments to change the tenancy when requested by the tenant, capped at £50, or reasonable costs incurred if higher
  • payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant
  • payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence and council tax; and
  • A default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device, where required under a tenancy agreement

Any other charges or fees are ‘prohibited payments’ and illegal.

Solution

If you are asked to pay a prohibited payment – don’t! You’re under no legal obligation to pay this and you can report these agents to the ‘Rogue Landlord Checker’ and your Trading Standards Authorities.

If you’ve already paid these fees and your tenancy began on or after 1st June 2020, you can request any fees to be returned to you by the end of your tenancy through the First Tier Tribunal. A landlord is also unable to evict you (through a s21 notice) unless these ‘prohibited fees’ have been repaid.  For more guidance on this issue, please find the handy government guide for tenants.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

Issue

In 2016, the Housing and Planning Act 2016, introduced the idea of Houses in Multiple Occupation (“HMO”) in a bid to assist reform of the housing management and planning process, and tackle rogue landlords who flouted said process.

Houses in multiple occupation exist if:

  • at least 3 tenants live there, forming more than 1 household
  • the tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities

Large HMOs exist if there are at least 5 tenants living there. Households include single people or members of the same family.

Key examples of HMOs are house conversions into bedsits, shared homes and student accommodation.

The point here, is that a landlord will have extra obligations if owning an HMO. These are as follows:

  • proper fire safety measures are in place, including working smoke alarms
  • annual gas safety checks are carried out
  • electrics are checked every 5 years
  • the property is not overcrowded
  • there are enough cooking and bathroom facilities for the number living there
  • communal areas and shared facilities are clean and in good repair
  • there are enough rubbish bins/bags

HMOs must also be licensed with the local council (unless they are managed or owned by a housing association or co-operative, a council, a health service or a police or fire authority). If any of these obligations are breached, tenants have a claim.

Solution

A remedy available to a tenant in these circumstances would be to seek rent to be repaid by the landlord, known as a ‘Rent Repayment Order’. This can be paid directly back to the tenant or if using Universal credit, paid to the local housing authority in respect of rent under the tenancy. Tenants can apply for RROs at the First Tier Tribunal and can be paid an amount which covers ‘a period, not exceeding 12 months, during which the landlord was committing the offence’. However, as decided in the Upper Tribunal in February 2021, a tenant can only obtain more than one rent repayment order, even if their landlord had committed more than one specified offence Ficcara and others v James [2021] UKUT 38 (LC)

Unfit properties

Issue

Over the years, there have been numerous reports and investigations into ‘squalid housing’ with tenants reporting that some landlords are refusing to carry out essential works to ensure their property is safe to live in. Issues can include Rats, mouldy walls, exposed electrical wiring, leaking roofs, broken windows etc…

However, on 20 March 2019 the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force to ensure that rented houses and flats are ‘fit for human habitation’. The Act states that properties should be safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. Where landlords fail to meet their obligations, tenants will be able to take legal action for breach of contract, the Ministry of Housing said.

(This issue will be explored fully in an upcoming blog post which focuses solely on Repairs).

Solution

Tenants should always report issues to landlords as soon as discovered, keeping a record of the conversation. The landlord then needs to have access to the property in order to fix the issue ‘in a reasonable amount of time’. If such requests are refused, tenants can begin a claim in the courts, collecting photos and evidence and attending a hearing. If the judge accepts that an unfit property has been rented out, he or she may order the landlord to improve conditions in the property. They may also make landlords pay compensation to tenants.

For more information on this process and for examples of what may constitute as an ‘unfit property’, please see the Government guidance here.

Deposit return

Issue

Deposit disputes are one of the most common issues between landlords and tenants. If you have an AST and the landlord asks for a deposit, they are required to place the full amount in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme (provided the tenancy started after 6 April 2007), within 30 days of receiving the funds. This ensures your deposit is protected and will be returned to tenants provided they:

  • meet the terms of their tenancy agreement
  • don’t damage the property
  • pay their rent and bills

However, there are landlords who breach these obligations, either by failing to use a deposit scheme in the first place or use spurious or unsubstantiated reasons in attempts to cut down the deposit.

Solution

If the tenant has attempted to resolve the issue directly with the landlord and it remains unresolved, there are two main solutions for dealing with deposit issues. The first is to go through the deposit scheme ADR service (Alternative Dispute Resolution) in order to make a claim. This service is free but requires claimants to provide evidence and ask an independent arbitrator to decide on how much, if any, of the deposit should be returned.

I have had my own experience of this process, which was bittersweet. It resulted in nearly all of the deposit being returned, although it took a lengthy 6 months from issuing the claim and required time and effort to prepare evidence. The second route is through the small claims court process, where you can claim the whole deposit amount back.

Conclusion

Within this fragile relationship of landlord and tenant, there are many opportunities for exploitation or breaching of obligations, for those who so choose (or are ignorant of the law). However, through the recent introduction of more tenant-friendly legislation such as the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, alongside tools such as the Rogue Landlord Checker (London only) hopefully tenants will feel more empowered to call out bad behaviour committed by landlords in order to improve their own living conditions.

*SpaceLet have been contacted by LadyoftheLand about their advertising of prohibited fees.

‘Can you manage?’ Discussing leaseholders’ right to manage their properties

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This post discusses what Leasehold and Commonhold ownership is and explains who has the right to manage properties. This is a must-read for anyone who currently owns or is considering purchasing a leasehold flat and wants to know more about how it can be managed.

When purchasing a flat, it is rarely ever owned outright by the resident (i.e. the freehold). Instead, flats tend to be in a building divided into ‘leasehold properties’. Leasehold is a form of property ownership which is largely exclusive to England and Wales. Through this ownership, a leaseholder buys the right to live in the property for a given period of time (up to 999 years). It involves two parties:

  1. The freeholder (landlord): retains ownership of the land on which the property is built.
  2. The leaseholder (tenant):  lives in the property (having exclusive possession) and pays ground rent and charges to the freeholder for this right.

There are 3 main costs associated with a leasehold:

  • Purchase price – this can be purchased with a deposit and a mortgage, just like when purchasing a freehold
  • Ground rent – the payment made to the freeholder for ‘the ground your building is on’. This payment is made annually and can be a very small fee e.g. £1 (AKA peppercorn rent)
  • Service charges – these are costs associated with the repairs and maintenance of the building

There is also, sometimes, the option for a tenant to buy a leasehold property with a ‘share of the freehold’. This means that you own a stake in the entire building, and if, typically, all other leaseholders own the same equal stake, together you effectively are the ‘freeholder’ of the property. For example, if a building is made into 4 flats and each leaseholder has a 25% stake of the freehold, together they make a ‘full’ freeholder. This arrangement is somewhat similar to ‘Commonhold Ownership’ discussed below. However, this arrangement is still on a leasehold contract and thus leaseholders must pay the ground rent and any service charges stipulated in their lease.

Who manages these properties?

Historically, it is the landlord who has obligations for managing the property. This management includes:

  • Services;
  • Repairs;
  • Maintenance;
  • Improvements;
  • Insurance;
  • Management

Alternatively, these obligations can be transferred so that tenants have the ‘right to manage’ their own properties by setting up a special company, known as an RTM company. The tenants do not need to demonstrate previous mismanagement of the properties to be entitled to exercise their RTM. They also do not have to manage the building themselves. They have the right to directthe management of the building; therefore are free to appoint their own managing agents.

This can also be the case if a management company already exists in the leasehold. In this way, the management functions of the management company become functions of the RTM company.

Criteria for RTM

In order to set up an RTM the following criteria must be observed:

  • Each tenant must be a long leaseholder (i.e. a leaseholder with a lease of at least 21 years)
  • The premises consists of a self-contained building or part of a building
  • The premises contains two or more flats held by qualifying tenants (tenant of the flat under a long lease)
  • The total number of flats held by qualifying tenants is not less than two-thirds of the total number of flats contained in the premises.

(Section 72, CLRA 2002.)

Why consider RTM?

RTMs involve control of the building; either physically carrying out repairs or directing someone else to do it. As a tenant, there are clear advantages to having control over the place where you live as you’re more likely to spot and deal with issues more quickly. Landlords, however, do not necessarily share these interests, as their primary concern is to make a profit from their asset. Landlords can sometimes be indifferent to repairs, postponing or avoiding works in order to retain their cashflow and are ultimately in the driving seat when it comes to deciding who should carry out the works and at what cost. This imbalance of power for can lead to tenants feeling that they have little or no control over, frequently, their most significant asset – their home.

However, RTM is not a perfect solution, as there are restrictive rules governing how many flats can be managed, and obscure rules  concerning other parts of the premises, such as shared gardens and car parks. The Law Commission has proposed some reforms of RTM, in their paper: ‘The Future of Home Ownership, Summary’. One of their significant findings is that the structure of leasehold is no longer fit for purposes when dividing ownership of flats in England and Wales and that there is an alternative ownership structure – commonhold – which may be preferable.

Commonhold

Commonhold is a form of ownership which allows the residents of a building to own the freehold of their individual flat (called a “unit”) and to manage (or appoint someone to manage) the shared areas through a company. In this way, there is no overriding landlord as every resident owns their own unit.

This form of ownership is very common in most other parts of the world, known as ‘strata’ in Australia and ‘condominium’ in the US. In fact, basically every advanced country has abandoned the concept of a leasehold structure except for England and Wales.

For homeowners, commonhold offers a number of advantages over leasehold ownership, as it:

  • allows the homeowner to own their property outright,
  • gives the homeowner greater control of the management of the property; and
  • is specifically designed to regulate an equal relationship between a group of people whose interests are broadly aligned.

A group of such commonhold owners forms a Commonhold Association, which is responsible for dealing with the upkeep of the common parts of the building such as the roof, stairs and landing. This association is democratic, as each owner has a vote as to what needs to be done. Decisions in terms of repairs, service charges etc.. are decided by a majority vote.

Why is commonhold, indeed, not common?

Despite legislation introduced in 2002, it is estimated that fewer than 20 commonholds have been created. This can be explained by a variety of factors:

  • developers being reluctant to build blocks of flats on a commonhold structure in case they didn’t sell;
  • mortgage lenders being hesitant to lend on commonhold properties, in case the structure failed;
  • a resistance to the ‘culture change’ of there not being a traditional ‘landlord’ to oversee the property.

However, these concerns miss the fundamental benefit that commonhold ownership brings, which is the ability to empower owners of flats to take control of their own properties and accept personal accountability for any defects or repairs, equally. This approach also ensures that the market puts consumers’ needs ahead of those of developers or investors. Essentially this approach prioritises the value of treating a house (or flat, in this case) as a home, creating a ‘collective’ approach to managing property for those who live there. This is at odds with the current priority of most landlords to maximise profit from their property, an asset that they own rather than enjoy.

In response to the poor uptake there have been calls for government to set up commonhold councils to ensure the public has better knowledge of the commonhold system and answer any queries. The Law Commission has also recommended that the Government ‘ensures that commonhold becomes the primary model of ownership of flats in England and Wales, as it is in many other countries’, and recommends that commonhold is made compulsory for all new flat builds. There are also campaign groups, such as getcommonholddone.co.uk ,arguing for more progression of commonhold ownership.

Conclusion

In conclusion, tenants do have the right to manage their own properties as long as they meet the criteria set out in Leasehold and Commonhold Act 2002. However, commonhold ownership is a tried and tested method elsewhere, which may provide a fairer method of managing property, whilst allowing homeowners more control of the asset they reside in. Without government implementing the Law Commission’s recommendations and increased public pressure, however, there is a risk that the notion of commonhold ownership could disappear entirely with hardly anybody noticing.

Mind the gap: why is there a lack of female homeowners?

Photograph: RichSTOCK/Alamy

This post explains the reason why there is a lack of female homeowners in England and provides some ways to improve this situation. This post will be particularly helpful for those wanting to learn more about ‘Shared Ownership’ and ‘Help-to-Buy mortgages’.

There is a housing affordability gap in England. Put simply, there is a shortage of housing supply and more importantly the housing prices have grown faster than annual wages. This creates an affordability deficit for prospective homeowners. However, like most things, housing affordability does not affect all homeowners equally. Women are disproportionately affected.

Statistics

A report, ‘A Home of Her Own’, written by the Women’s Budget Group and the Women’s Housing Forum in 2019 sets out the shocking statistics on just how difficult it is for women to afford homes as follows:

  • Women need over 12 times their annual salaries to be able to buy a home in England, while men need just over 8 times ;
  • The worst regions in housing buying affordability for women (and men) are London and the South East, where women need nearly 18 times and 16 times their annual earnings to afford a house (respectively).

These figures show (unacceptably, in my opinion) that neither single men, nor single women on median earnings can afford the most common type of mortgage anywhere in England. But the situation is worse for women. This is further highlighted by the regional disparities in house prices, where earnings for women and men hide huge differences:

  • Women’s incomes fall over 50% short of what would be needed for a mortgage in most regions, excluding the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. Men’s incomes only fall over 50% short in London and the South East.
  • Even though the North East is the cheapest place to buy a home, it is also the region where gender disparities in earnings needed to take out a mortgage are the widest.
  • Women in the 10% highest-paid group in London (average earnings of £60,258) are still unable to afford a mortgage on their own but men in the same earnings group (£99,677) can. (This was seen in ONS (2019) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, Table 8).

Why?

Essentially, the issue all comes down to the ability to earn more money. Women on average earn less throughout their lifetime, through various factors – mainly having to take time off or reduce hours for childcare purposes and therefore find more difficulty accessing the housing market. In this way, women find themselves in a situation where they must choose to either jointly purchase a home with a partner/friend or to rent – buying alone is rarely an affordable option.

Even when purchasing with another person, housing affordability can have a significant effect on the power dynamics in a household and the decision making when deciding where and what to buy, as well as division of labour. This disparity in power dynamic can also trap people in unwanted and abusive relationships for fear of homelessness.

Relationship breakdowns are also a huge threat to women’s affordability in the housing market. There are often times, where the lower earning party (again, mainly women) will not have contributed as much to the deposit of a property, or they may pay less of the mortgage in exchange for not having their name on the title. This can cause huge difficulties in the event of a relationship breakdown, as there is no guarantee of receiving 50% of the equity in the property (please see my previous cohabitation post for more details).

So how do we solve this issue?

Essentially, women need to be able to earn more money and the gender pay gap needs to be eradicated. This is an obvious and ongoing issue which is being tackled by companies on a nationwide scale. Higher earnings and also choosing to invest rather than merely save for a deposit, should go some way to improving women’s ability to enter the property market, alone (I plan to post more about investing in property soon).

There are also a few specific housing initiatives which may go some way to help close the affordability gap of women in the housing market

  1. Housing Market Budget

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has recently unveiled a mortgage guarantee scheme to help Britons get on the housing ladder with small deposits of 5%, for any new or existing property up to £600,000. Under the scheme, the Government will guarantee to lenders to pay up to 95% of the property even if the homeowner defaults.

This scheme allows homeowners to put a down-payment of 5% rather than the normal requirement of at least 10%, which should go some way to helping single female homeowners to buy their own property. This scheme is particularly geared to help first time buyers, who were locked out of the market last year when no suitable mortgages were available.

The general rule for affordability and mortgages when purchasing property, however, is that you should only purchase a home which has a maximum value of 4 x your annual salary e.g. if you earn 50k a year, a house worth £200,000 should be your maximum threshold. Thus 95% mortgages will only help aid this issue where local salaries are at least 4 x the amount of average house prices in the are

2. Shared ownership

Shared Ownership offers you the chance to buy a share of your home (between 25% and 75% of the home’s value) from a UK housing association. You then pay the housing association an ‘affordable rent’ on whatever part you don’t own. Later on, you could buy bigger shares when you can afford to – depending on the terms.

The criteria in England is:

  • your household earns £80,000 a year or less outside London, or your household earns £90,000 a year or less in London
  • you are a first-time buyer, you used to own a home but can’t afford to buy one now or are an existing shared owner looking to move.

This scheme offers single women an opportunity to earn equity in a property at a much lower rate. However, it must be understood that they would not be the freeholder (sole owner) of the property as they are paying rent.

Interestingly, one candidate for Mayor of London is proposing 100,000 homes for £100,000, if elected, which would make affording a home a much more realistic prospect for single females

3. Housing initiatives

There are female-only initiatives which exist to ameliorate the housing affordability situation. Women’s Pioneer Housing is London’s specialist housing association for women, with a mission to provide homes and services which offer a springboard to independent women to achieve their potential. They own almost 1000 properties which are rented to women at a low cost and provide first opportunity to buy to all tenants. They also provide sheltered housing for abused or homeless women. This initiative has been running for around 100 years and aims to encourage other groups nationwide to provide similar services.

Conclusion

England is in the midst of a housing deficit with women suffering most in the affordability gap. This presents many with the often unacceptable choice of having to jointly buy a property with someone else or rent and attempt to save for years. State-backed mortgage support and ‘shared housing’ schemes go some way to enable access to purchasing homes as a single female, but essentially a woman’s ability to own property depends on her economic income. Until the gender pay gap is equalised, the housing affordability gap continues to exist.

Sex for rent: how to put an end to this growing crisis…

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This post discussing the growing crisis of ‘sex for rent’ cases, especially since Covid-19, where rogue landlords offer free rent for sexual services. I examine the current law and whether reform is necessary

Last month, a landlord was charged for the first ever ‘sex-for-rent’ case in the UK. Christopher Cox, aged 52, was accused of requesting potential tenants to send him bikini photos and requesting they be willing to provide him with sexual services in exchange for somewhere to live, free of charge. These adverts were aimed at young, homeless or vulnerable women for rent at his home in Cranleigh, Surrey. He now faces two counts of inciting prostitution for gain and one count for controlling prostitution for gain between May 2018 and November 2018.

Sex for Rent cases were investigated in 2018 by the BBC programme Inside Out West however, there is growing concern these practices have worsened due to Covid 19, causing people to lose their jobs and homes. In January, the Daily Mail reported on this issues stating that the situation had worsened due to Covid-19 with people being made homeless and redundant. They reported on startling figures: ‘a YouGov poll commissioned by Shelter asked 1,266 private renters in England whether they had been propositioned by a landlord. A total of 0.7 per cent said they had, and Shelter says that suggests 30,000 female private renters were offered ‘sex for rent’ arrangements between March and September’. The article then goes onto to name and shame rogue landlords, who were contacted by undercover reporters, purporting to be young women who had recently lost their job.

Law

Prior to 2018, ‘Sex for Rent’ cases were not covered by law. However, the Crown Prosecution Service issued revised guidance on ‘prostitution and exploitation of prostitution offences’ to expand to this area.

The guidance suggests:

  • arrangements could be committing the offence of causing prostitution for gain under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003;
  • a ‘controlling’ charge may be capable of capturing established ‘sex for rent’ arrangements, even where the victim is apparently acting in accordance with his/her own free will, under Section 53 Sexual Offences Act 2003;
  • these charges could be punishable by up to seven years in prison

Comment

It’s a promising sign that the CPS have made their first charge in the arena of ‘Sex for Rent’, however there is some doubt that the legislation is protective enough. Under the current legislation, victims must be legally defined as prostitutes, which adds an unnecessary heavy penalty and stigma onto victims of this crime. Furthermore, Nick Dent, criminal defence lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said he doubted there will be any successful prosecutions under the existing legislation, stating that this crime “probably does require a specific statutory offence which makes it clear that that’s what the purpose is.” Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse has campaigned for an amendment to the government’s forthcoming Renters’ Reform Bill to do exactly that: provide a statutory duty in law to prosecute landlords who exploit their tenants. I also wonder whether this could attract a high civil remedy in order to act as a deterrent and lessen the burden of proof to 51% (one the balance of probabilities).

There are arguments, however, that women are providing ‘consent’ in these arrangements and thus landlords should be left alone. However there must be a clear distinction of providing ‘free’ consent to sexual activity and submitting to sexual activity, as seen in the case of R v Kirk and Kirk [2008] EWCA Crim 434 (a case involving a vulnerable and destitute 14 year old girl who submitted to sex in return for money to buy food). This same reasoning should without doubt be followed when economically vulnerable women are targeted for these ‘free rent’ opportunities. There is a distinct lack of equal bargaining power, when landlords specifically prey on vulnerable women, knowing they will be in financial difficulty. One shamed landlord titled their advert as searching for an ‘eager to please and eager to succeed university student or recent graduate who may have found herself without accommodation… because of the pandemic’.

In situations where an arrangement has been discussed and agreed freely between the landlord and tenant with full capacity in circumstances where there was no significant financial and/or power imbalance, a section 53 ‘controlling’ charge could be considered, as prostitution is still illegal in this country. However, it is unlikely this charge would succeed through the legal system. For anyone who finds this outcome to be unfair – I’ll also direct you to the 72,800 sex workers in the UK who still do not have legal protection for their right to earn an income through a consensual agreement. Feel free to campaign for them!

Conclusion

To conclude, ‘sex for rent’ cases are a worrying yet growing trend which is desperate for clear, effective legislative protection. Although the prostitution charges go some way to convict these rogue ‘landlords’, they impose an unnecessary burden on victims to be categorized as ‘prostitutes’.  Societally, we should also be taking more notice of this situation including reporting any advertisements of this kind to the police to aid in more investigations. What we don’t need, are ‘amusing’ advice articles, such as below, published on the UK’s Biggest Landlord blog, which at best mocks predatory behaviour as humour and at worst condones it: https://www.propertyinvestmentproject.co.uk/blog/5-ways-to-convince-your-tenant-to-have-sex-with-you/

Extension of the Eviction ban: protection or purgatory for renters?

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

This post discusses the Government’s new announcement of an extended eviction ban and discusses the impact this is having on renters who are accruing rent arrears.

What is the eviction ban?

The government currently has a ban in place which prevents any eviction by bailiffs to take place against private renters until 31st March 2021. In other words, as a renter, you cannot be forced to leave your home until the end of this month. A landlord can still provide notice that they want you to leave and a court hearing may take place, but the physical act of eviction is banned. This ban prevents all evictions except the most serious of cases, which include:

  • accruing at least 6 months’ rent arrears, or
  • there has been antisocial behaviour.

It’s also worth noting there are two distinct routes for an eviction. Either through a s21 or s8 notice:

Section 21 Notice

A landlord does not need to provide a reason for eviction if serving this notice. Currently a landlord must give at least 6 months’ notice if serving after 29th August 2020. They can only apply to court after the notice period ends.

Section 8 Notice

To use a section 8 notice a landlord needs a legal reason for eviction which they must prove in court, called ‘grounds for possession’. The most common reasoning is for rent arrears. Currently, landlords must provide 6 months’ notice, however if the renter has accrued more than 6 months’ rent arrears, only 4 weeks’ notice is necessary.

Comment

There is a perception that this extension is one of grace and support for renters with the government aiming to ‘protect’ them during this difficult time. Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing has said: “We have taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic…our measures strike the right balance between protecting tenants and enabling landlords to exercise their right to justice.”

However, the reality of these constant extensions is merely a painful prolonging of the inevitable. There is a gaping financial wound for many renters, which is continually growing, and ultimately many will not be able to repay the debt. This is not protection for renters, but a form of purgatory. For many renters who have lost their income but are forced to pay full rent, they are in a state of suffering, but without any clear way out. For most, the option of moving somewhere cheaper is also out, as many landlords are asking for 6 months rent in advance.

The effect of rent arrears does not affect all renters equally. In recent Guardian articles, figures suggest ‘800,000 private renters have built up arrears since the ban came into force’. Furthermore, every region has seen substantial increases in tenants applying for universal credit since March. with 46% of renters in the North West now reliant on state support and 40% of households in privately rented accommodation in London receiving the benefit.

The rent arrears crisis is also having a highly disproportionate effect on female renters. Prior to Covid-19, women spent a higher percentage of their wages on rent, with a report by Women’s Housing Forum ‘A Home of her own, women and housing’ stated thar average rents in England took 43% of women’s median earnings compared to 28% of men’s in 2018. This inequality is now coupled with the fact that around 133,000 more women were furloughed than men across the UK during the first wave of coronavirus, according to a report by the Women’s Budget Group which all the while reinforces fears the crisis is hitting women hardest.  

What’s the solution?

Further extensions of the eviction ban do not get to the core issue of rising rent arrears. If the government really want to ‘protect’ renters, they need to take decisive action and provide financial assistance. As Ben Beadle, the Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association said: ‘A package of hardship loans and grants is needed as a matter of urgency. To expect landlords and tenants simply to muddle through without further support is a strategy that has passed its sell by date.’ Financial assistance has been provided by both Scotland and Wales in the form of ‘Tenancy Saver Loans’ and ‘Tenant Hardships Loans’ but nothing available as of yet for English tenants.

As it stands, the government have the next two weeks to start taking definitive and supportive action to provide genuine protection for renters. Otherwise renters are going to be suffering long beyond March 31st.