How do you write about a terminally boring, hugely complicated, but very important subject?
And especially a subject that could have 10 volumes written about it, and still only have the surface scratched?
I’m talking about Rental Law, and the mess it is in, and the random (and very expensive) consequences of the 2004 Housing Act, a badly drafted law taken through Parliament far too quickly in the heydey of the Blair-Brown legal avalanche.
It is the best part of 350 pages without the supporting notes.
It has required millions of pounds to be spent on litigation to sort out what it actually means since it was passed, paid for by the public purse (therefore taxpayers) and landlords (therefore tenants).
And we are still cleaning up the mess; the latest version of Tenancy Deposit regulations only came into force this Financial Year.
We have Selective Licensing (for all landlords in areas needing improvement if the local council can convince the Government there is a problem due to low rental demand or anti-social behaviour), Mandatory Licensing of Shared Houses (now called HMOs), and Additional Licensing of more HMOs if the Council wants to do so.
Let me talk about Selective Licensing for a moment.
It has been taken up by 20 Councils in England out of roughly 400.
Certain councils have developed a distinct habit of failing to consult properly. In Oxford a High Court action caused the whole process to be declared illegal and they had to reconsider, but only after hundreds of thousands of pounds had been spent on an illegal process and a High Court action.
But the Council had ignored earlier feedback, which tells us something about consultation processes and political objectives pursued without regard to reality.
Take Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, and his proposal to require licenses for everybody who rents out one of the 37,000 rented houses in the Borough, and to charge them £500 each for processing the paperwork relating to each property (with a discount to £150 for any who apply by early 2013) for a 5 year license.
In Scotland, which has been running a licensing scheme since 2006, the fees are £55 per landlord and £11 per property for a 3 year period.
For a small professional landlord with 10 properties, the comparison is £165 for 3 years in Scotland, and up to £5000 for 5 years in Newham, depending on the exact fee structure. I would add 50% on top to pay the landlord or their staff to do all the paperwork.
That’s a major difference to add to the overheads in the rent paid by tenants.
This compares with the estimated cost to the Council of £509.80 in the 2010 initial application to set up a single license: (Click for a big version):
45 minutes and £33 to bank a cheque when you are dealing with them by the thousand?
30 minutes and £19 to do a £4 check on a Land Registry Entry when they are doing almost 10,000 per year?
What do you think?
It’s a hell of an expensive process to require tenants to fund, and I question whether Sir Robin and his team are competent to run an efficient licensing scheme if they think that those are realistic estimates of what it should actually cost.
And that is completely ignoring the questions over whether it will actually do any good, or is even legal.