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Category Archives: Legal News

Raising the Rent – how an interest rate rise could cost tenants

With the first base rate in over a decade having hit last year and with experts predicting more rate increases for the year ahead and with rents at their highest in years, coupled with a shortage of affordable private and council/housing association rental properties, it seems rents are likely to continue to increase.

Hitting renters harder

Any raise in interest rates will inevitably trickle through to a rent increase that could put the private rental market as far out of reach as owning your own home.

Landlords have also been hit with a raft of regulations and conformity requirements, as well as tax relief reductions, and considerable increases in the stamp duty on buy-to-let property purchases. All of this creates a perfect storm for landlords, and inevitably it’s the tenants who end up paying – quite literally.

If you’ve had a letter from your landlord and the rent increase seems excessive, what can you do? And if you’re in the other camp and your tenant refuses to pay the increase, what are your rights as a landlord?

Tenants’ rights

Your landlord’s ability to increase the rent will depend on what type of agreement you have. If you have what is referred to as a periodic tenancy or rolling agreement, then your landlord cannot increase more than once a year without your agreement. If you have a fixed-term tenancy then again, the rent can only be increased if you agree. If you don’t agree with the rise then the rent has to stay at the set rate until the fixed term ends. Once that point is reached then the landlord can increase the rent, usually to stay in line with inflation.

Any rental increase must be fair and realistic, so a good way to check that you’re being treated reasonably by your landlord is to find out the average local rental value for like-for-like properties. This will give you a baseline to work from, and negotiate a fair rise with your landlord. Your landlord must also give you at least a month’s notice of any increase. If your tenancy is a fixed yearly agreement, then that notice period increases to six months.

Going to a rent tribunal

If you feel the increase is unreasonable or even unlawful, then you can challenge it at a rent tribunal. However, you can only go to tribunal if:

  • Your tenancy agreement is an assured or assured shorthold one
  • Your rent increase is a part of a section 13 procedure
  • You apply to go to tribunal before the new rent increase takes effect.

Landlords

It’s important to remember that tenants have rights too, and that you cannot simply implement an excessive rent increase. If the increase could be perceived as a way of forcing a tenant to vacate then you could be subject to legal action by the tenant.

However, landlords are protected by the law too. If a tenant refuses to accept a rent increase then you may be able to take the dispute to an arbitrator or first-tier tribunal. If your agreement is a fixed term tenancy then you may also be able to issue a Section 13(2) Notice of the Housing Act 1988, which will propose an increase at the end of the fixed term and before a new agreement is signed.

If there is a clause in your tenancy agreement that states that rent rates can be reviewed after a certain period into the tenancy then you must make sure that the clause is fair and complies with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

If a tenant flatly refuses to pay any rent, then you may have grounds to start proceedings to have them evicted from the property.

If you are a Landlord or a Tenant and have concerns about rent or any tenancy issues please contact our Dispute Resolution Department on 01202 294411 who will be happy to assist you.

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Residential Evictions; the rights and wrongs

Living in rented accommodation comes with plenty of uncertainty. A landlord could serve an eviction notice on a Tenant at any time, especially if a tenancy agreement has ended. But sometimes, evictions are unfair, unjust, or plain illegal. So what constitutes an illegal eviction and what can tenants do to defend their rights?

When the landlord has the right to evict

Landlords can evict tenants:

  • If the end of a fixed term contract has been reached.
  • At the end of the period set out in a legal notice to leave (a section 21 notice, minimum 2 months notice).
  • By obtaining a section 8 notice, which can notify you of eviction at any time during the duration of the tenancy agreement, for example if you are in arrears or have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement.

A ‘Notice to Quit’ must first be served on the Tenant. If the Tenant doesn’t leave then the landlord has the right to apply to the court for a possession order. However, there is no guarantee that the court will grant the order, and Tenants are entitled to present their case in court if they disagree with the landlord’s claims.

Who is allowed in?

Only high court enforcement officers (bailiffs) have the right to forcibly remove a tenant. The landlord or letting agent does not have right of access to a property without a tenants permission, and forced entry could be regarded as harassment.

The key piece of legislation to refer to is the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which clearly lays down the various definitions of harassment, which includes refusal to carry out repairs, intentional damage to the property, insulting or threatening behaviour, withholding keys, or changing the locks.

Many of these tactics are used by unscrupulous landlords to force tenants to move out. An eviction that has been brought about by constant harassment (or even bribery) constitutes an illegal eviction, especially if they forcibly throw a tenant out of the property, change the locks to prevent a tenant gaining entry, or threaten a tenant. Remember that, even when a landlord has a court order, the only people that can remove a tenant from your property are high court enforcement officers.

The law is designed to provide protection for both landlords and tenants when it comes to evictions. It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that any eviction is legally compliant, and the tenant is obliged to comply with the tenancy agreement, as well as with the law.

If you need any advice either as a tenant or a landlord contact our Dispute Resolution Department for an initial fixed fee appointment on 01202 294411.

Chancellor announces get-fit regime

An extra £3 billion to prepare for Brexit over the next two years and a vision of an economy that is ‘fit for the future’ were at the heart of the Chancellor’s Autumn statement. And despite downgrading growth and productivity forecasts, after public sector net borrowing hit £8bn in October, Philip Hammond announced a raft of new investments. Alongside the £3bn set aside for Brexit, he plans to inject £6.3bn into the NHS and £500m to support emerging technological development, such as Artificial Intelligence.

Housing is also in the spotlight, with £15.3 billion new financial support for house building over the next five years, with the Government setting aside £1.2 billion to buy land and £2.7 billion for related infrastructure. The Government also announced plans to create five new so-called ‘garden’ towns, and a headline-grabbing cut in stamp duty for first time buyers.

Stamp duty is currently paid on property purchases over £125,000, with a ‘slice’ tax where buyers pay at the relevant rate for each band, rather than a flat rate across the whole amount. With immediate effect, stamp duty is abolished for first-time buyers on properties worth up to £300,000, or on the first £300,000 of a property worth up to £500,000.

The change in stamp duty has caught most of the attention. It’s certainly a move that will be welcomed by first time buyers, but does add yet more complexity to the application of this particular tax, where we already have different rates for second home owners and landlords. Buyers need to read the small print before rushing out to make an offer, as there are clear distinctions on who is eligible. It will not apply if any property has been owned at any previous time, whether here or anywhere else in the world, and it must be the only or main home for the buyer. In a joint purchase, everyone would need to qualify as a first-time buyer. Buyers will need to check out the detail with their solicitor, and the benefit must be claimed when the Stamp Duty Land Tax return is made to HMRC during the purchase process.

For the NHS, £3.5 billion of new funding has been made available for upgrading NHS buildings and improving care and a further £2.8 billion has been set aside to support improvements in A&E performance and to reducing waiting times for patients.

For individuals, the basic-rate income tax threshold will rise to £11,850 in April 2018, up from £11,501, and the higher rate threshold will rise from £45,001 to £46,350. Alongside, the National Living Wage, paid to those aged 25 and over, will increase from £7.50 per hour to £7.83 per hour from April 2018, while the National Minimum Wage will also increase:

21 to 24 year olds  18 to 20 year olds  16 and 17 year olds  Apprentices
£7.38 per hour  £5.90 per hour  £4.20 per hour  £3.70 per hour

In areas focused on supporting small business, the switch to link business rates to the Consumer Price Index, instead of the Retail Price Index, has been brought forward by two years, with the Government saying businesses will save £2.3bn as a result. There will be retrospective legislation to tackle the so-called ‘staircase’ tax, which had affected the business rates bill for many small businesses in communal offices, with those having more than one office linked by a communal lift, corridor or staircase being charged more.

Also, the VAT threshold at which registration is required will remain at £85,000, but alongside there will be a crack-down on VAT evasion online, with greater powers to make online marketplaces responsible for the unpaid VAT of their sellers.

Other initiatives to tackle avoidance and evasion risks will see new technology for HMRC; new global rules to force the disclosure of certain offshore structures to tax authorities; and a change to international corporate tax rules to ensure globally-operating digital companies pay a fair amount of tax.
As with the Chancellor’s previous statements, his eye is very much on managing the economy through the coming Brexit negotiations and the country’s exit from the European Union.

Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Lessons for business from the #metoo headlines

Following the allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein and other leading figures, businesses need to make sure they have clear policies to inspire the right culture in their workplace.

The initial revelations about the Hollywood mogul inspired many to open up about their experiences of sexual abuse and harassment, flooding social media with millions of posts and tweets using the hashtag #metoo.

That response was reflected, also, in figures from a ComRes poll on behalf of the BBC, which showed that more than half of all British women and a fifth of all men had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their place of work or study.

Such harassment may come in many forms, but includes any unwelcome sexual advances, whether by touching, standing too close, asking for sexual favours, or displaying offensive materials. Employees are protected in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to allow any job applicant or employee to be subject to any harassment related to sex or of a sexual nature.

The research commissioned by the BBC showed that many who had suffered sexual harassment at work could not face the process of reporting an incident. Of those who said they had been harassed, 63% of women and 79% of men said they didn’t report it to anyone.

Many employees will not report incidents because they are embarrassed or ashamed, or may feel they will not be believed, as it is usually one person’s word against another. Any complaint must be brought within three months and the individual must be prepared to prove the conduct was ‘unwanted’. This makes it difficult, as there are often circumstances where those being harassed may feel a passive position is the safest way to handle the situation, so the other party may argue it was mutual. Similarly, different people may have different ideas of what is acceptable; someone might think it’s ok to make racy jokes or engage in ‘banter’ or flirting, where the other may find it offensive or humiliating.

Resources published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and conciliation service ACAS recommend that every business has a written policy, setting out how harassment at work is unlawful and making sure all staff understand that such behaviour will not be tolerated and may be treated as a disciplinary offence. Examples of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour may help people understand the boundaries, particularly if they are relying on what may have seemed acceptable in previous years, together with guidance to staff on how to respond and deal with such behaviour. Then, most importantly, a clear process for what steps the organisation will take if anyone feels they have been subject to any form of harassment, including a safe environment for reporting and handling any complaints.

If you have any concerns as either an employee or employer contact our employment team for advice on 01202 294411.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Family finances make divorce negotiations increasingly complex

Divorce rates are on the rise, according to the latest statistics, and with the increase in the value of family assets, couples should be more open to making arrangements in respect of their financial affairs during the good times according to professionals.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the overall rate of divorce for opposite-sex couples has increased for the first time since 2009, at 5.8% in 2016, with men and women aged 45 to 49 recording the highest number of divorces. Women continue to be more likely to petition for divorce in opposite-sex marriages, at 61% in 2016, and this trend was reflected among same-sex couples, with female couples accounting for 78% of such divorces. The most common ground for divorce continues to be unreasonable behaviour, with 36% of all husbands and 51% of all wives petitioning for divorce on this ground. Continue reading

How enforceable is the Living Wage

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) has ensured that everyone gets a minimum amount of pay per hour, anyone paid less than this can bring a legal claim against their employer for the difference in pay received and the NMW.

However, the government has introduced the National Living Wage (NLW), which is mandatory for workers aged 25 and above, and is currently set at £7.50.  For workers aged under 25, though, the NLW is not mandatory, and employers can choose either to pay them more, or to stick to the mandatory NMW. It’s important to remember that the National Minimum Wage is mandatory across the board, regardless of an employee’s age. Continue reading



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