2010 began with Joe McElderry winning the X-Factor, but losing the expected Christmas Number 1 spot to Rage Against the Machine. Looking back, those of us in the lettings industry entered the decade with the same hope and enthusiasm – still bruised from the 2007 crash, of course, but optimistic about the future of the buy-to-let industry.
And then we were sideswiped by new regulations, tax reforms, and mandatory licensing.
According to the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), the number of laws affecting lettings have increased by 32% in the past decade. With the implementation of Rent Smart Wales here, the number of legal obligations Welsh landlords now have could well number higher even than that.
How the Lettings Industry in Wales has changed since 2010
To put this into perspective, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the changes we have had to adapt to as landlords and letting agents here in Wales over the last decade:
- Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property)(England & Wales) Regulations 2015
- Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property)(England & Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2019
- Legionella Risk Assessments
- Water Industry (Undertakers Wholly or Mainly in Wales)(Information about Non-owner Occupiers) Regulations 2014: landlords become jointly and severally liable for outstanding water and sewerage charges where they have not informed Dwr Cyrmu/Welsh Water of a change in occupant within 21 days of the tenants moving in.
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2016/679 and the Data Protection Act 2018, including ICO registration for self-managing landlords. Fines for breach are based on annual turnover.
- Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2014, introducing Rent Smart Wales
- Data Protection Act 2018, including ICO registration for self-managing landlords, fines based on annual turnover
- Increased deposit protection evidence and negotiation practices. Whilst there are no additional fines, the amount of work involved in compiling evidence to make a claim has doubled.
- Clarification of information to be included in Prescribed Information and how and when it is to be issued
- The Renting Homes (Wales)(Fees etc) 2016, also known as the Tenant Fee Ban
- Council Tax responsibilities: landlords could now be obliged to pay their tenant’s council tax bill if the tenant fails to pay and the tenancy becomes Statutory Periodic
- Criteria change to Housing Benefit
- Introduction and implementation of Universal Credit
- House of Multiple Occupant (HMO) licensing
- Consumer Rights Act 2015
- Construction (Design & Management) Regulation 2015, including obligations to ensure minimum safety and health requirements on construction sites, and that appointed contractors and associated professionals are appropriate and competent.
- Equality Act 2010
- Multiple changes to tax rules: more landlords setting up as limited companies, which can cause complications for Rent Smart Wales registration and licensing
- Welsh Land Transaction Tax
- Capital gains changes for overseas landlords
- Mortgage lending criteria for portfolio landlords
Rent Smart Wales Enforcement & Prosecutions
Many of the landlords we come across and speak to are unaware of many of the above regulations, and even where they are, some are not concerned that they might be caught breaking the law.
However, from their implementation in 2015 to 1st January 2020, Rent Smart Wales (RSW) have issued a total of 613 Fixed Penalty Notices to non-compliant landlords and agents, totalling almost £100,000 in court fines, and issuing a further £30,500 in Rent Repayment Orders.
The most important statistics for our landlords to be aware of is that 54 landlords in Swansea have already been prosecuted with Fixed Penalty Notices for non-compliance, so active enforcement is on our doorstep.
At the Future Renting Wales Conference 2019, RSW Operational Manager Bethan Jones advised that they were encouraging everyone – tenants, other landlords, letting agents, Councils, members of the public, contractors, etc – to report non-compliant landlords where they came across them.
Rent Smart Wales are currently working on 856 additional breach cases.
That’s a lot of numbers to get your head around, but what they add up to is that you can’t afford to be getting this wrong. If you’re a self-managing landlord, you really need to re-consider your liability as a licensed landlord – and instruct a managing agent.