UK: Researching Residential Landlord And Tenant Law – Sites And Sources

Last Updated: 11 February 2009
Article by Tessa Shepperson, BA, LLB, Solicitor

Residential landlord and tenant law is a fairly esoteric subject and few solicitors or advisors have a detailed knowledge. However it is an important topic, and hundreds, thousands of people are either landlords and tenants. They are often hazy about their rights, and seek advice.

I am a solicitor specialising in this area of law, and I run an online information service called Landlord-Law at www.landlordlaw.co.uk. In this article I will share with you some of the sites and sources I use to help me keep my site up to date, and also tell you how you can use Landlord-Law to help with your research.

Note that I refer here only to free or low cost sources of help. Advisors with a bigger budget will no doubt already be using material provided by specialist legal publishers such as LexisNexis. This article is aimed at those with more modest resources.

Background Law

Statute

The two main acts which regulate residential landlord and tenant law are the Rent Act 1977 (for tenancies created before 15 January 1989) and the Housing Act 1988 (for tenancies created after that date). Also very important are the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (particularly section 11 which deals with the landlords repairing covenants), the Housing Act 2004, and the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

I used to use Butterworths Residential Landlord and Tenant handbook (which contains all the relevant statutes, updated with amendments). However I now use the Statute Law Database. I know that some lawyers are unhappy about this service, as not all statutes have been fully brought fully up to date with recent amendments. However I have not had any problems with the housing statutes (apart from a few occasions when the statute I want has been offline), and I use this site a lot. I find the search engine easy to use and it is relatively quick.

The individual urls for the statutes tend to be very long, but if you are sending these to someone else, perhaps in an advice email, you can always use TinyURL to make them smaller.

The Statute Law Database (SLD) also contains statutory instruments. There are many SI's which are of great importance to landlords and tenants, for example the regulations for the management of Houses in Multiple Occupation, the Gas Safety Regulations, and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

In order to make things easier for members of Landlord-Law, I have a special Legislation Links page which I have put links to the main statutes and statutory instruments. I also use this myself, particularly for the statutory instruments, where it is sometimes difficult to remember the exact name (which you need for a SLD search).

Case Law

There are two main sites which I use for case law. The first of these is the excellent British and Irish Legal Information Institute site (bailii). Most of the important case law is now loaded up here automatically, and it is an excellent open source information site for reading the full reports of cases. I use it for English and Welsh cases, but you can also find case law from Scotland, Ireland and Europe.

The second site I use is David Swarbricks Lawindexpro site. David Swarbrick is a solicitor from West Yorkshire who has been building this site for many years. Cases are listed with a brief description and a link to the Bailii case report. However the exciting aspect of this site is that links are also provided to all cases which cite or are cited by the case in question. You can also click through to a 'case map', which shows these in the margin, making it very easy to find relevant case law to research a particular legal point.

Several years ago I set up a special Cases Database section on Landlord-Law. Cases are sorted into different themes (such as cases on section 21 notices, cases on hearings for possession, etc). For each case there is a short description and then a link to the case both on bailii and on Lawindexpro (this is with permission from David Swarbrick). There is also a separate index of cases. Via Landlord-Law therefore you can follow the Lawindexpro trail of cases cited for the property cases we cover. However if you want to use the sites own search engine, you need to be a Lawindexpro subscriber (rates start at £17 per person per month, £12 for students).

If you regularly research different areas of case law, a subscription to Lawindexpro is worth taking out. However if you only want residential landlord and tenant law cases, the Landlord-Law cases database will probably be sufficient. You need to be an annual member of Landlord-Law however to access it (£70.50).

Good offline sources of housing cases are the Housing Law Casebook by Madge and Sephton published by Legal Action Group, and for more recent case law, the excellent Legal Action magazine.

Tenancy Agreements

All landlords should use a tenancy agreement when letting their property. However care needs to be taken when drafting them, so as not to fall foul of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Credit Regulations 1999. These regulations are policed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) who have issued two guidance documents, the most recent in September 2005. This is essential reading for all who draft tenancy agreements. The guidance documents can be downloaded from the OFT web-site at http://www.oft.gov.uk.

I have summarised some of this guidance in an article on Landlord-Law, to be found in the Tenancy Agreements Information Section, on unfair terms in tenancy agreements. There is also an article describing what the situation is if there is no tenancy agreement.

I also publish a large number of 'plain English' style tenancy agreements on Landlord-Law which can be downloaded by annual members from here. Our tenancy agreements are an important reason why many landlords join the service as I provide tenancy agreement types (such as for common law tenancies) which are not easily available elsewhere.

Landlords Repairing Obligations

This whole area is very complex and well overdue for review. The main landlords repairing covenants are in the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985. The Local Authority's remit is set out in the Housing Act 2004 which sets a new Housing Health and Safety Rating System (replacing the old fitness regime from the 1985 Act). However there are various other relevant statues, for example the Defective Premises Act 1972 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (not to mention the common law).

Unfortunatly one of the best books on the subject, Luba and Knaflers 'Repairs: Tenants Rights' published by LAG is now shockingly out of date, the last edition being from 1999. An excellent online source of help is Shelter Legal, which is also good on most other areas of housing law. The free advice section of Shelter also has a lot of good information, aimed more at consumers than advisors.

I have also written extensively on disrepair on Landlord-Law, in particular in the tenants section of the site.

Possession Notices And Proceedings For Eviction

It is extremely important that possession claims are properly prepared, in particular that the correct possession notice is served giving the correct notice period and that service can be proved.

There are a number of excellent textbooks on possession proceedings, for example 'Defending Possession Proceedings' from the Legal Action Group, and 'Residential Possession Proceedings' from Webber and Dovar, now in a new edition.

The law relating to assured and assured shorthold tenancies (the most common types) is set out in the Housing Act 1988 and the forms can be found in the Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) Regulations 1997. Needless to say information on possession proceedings can also be found on Landlord-Law and pdfs of all the common types of possession notices can be downloaded by annual members, completed on screen and then printed off.

Landlords wishing to evict their tenants at a modest cost can also purchase my 'Do-it-yourself' online kits. These provide all the forms (partially drafted) with full instructions, and support via an online discussion forum plus one telephone advice call. The kits are mostly hosted on a separate web-site, www.housinglawtraining.co.uk which runs the 'Moodle' course management software. The kits have been very successful, indeed they have sometimes been bought by solicitors! They are more helpful, if you want to actually bring a claim, than using a text book.

General Updating

There are many low cost methods of keeping up to date nowadays. Essential reading is the Legal Action Magazine. I also subscribe to Roof Magazine (produced by Shelter) and a number of Landlords journals, such as that produced by the National Landlords Association. There are also a number of e-newsletters, for example the excellent Law Brief updates and newsletters, and updates sent out by Gary Webber's service www.propertylawuk.net. I also get sent newsflashes from Arden Chambers (particularly helpful in alerting me to new cases). Then there are various newsfeeds I have which alert me to new postings on the Nearly Legal blog, and the Pain Smith blog to name but two. I also use twitter, and often find interesting items from 'tweets' from the various news services, the UK Parliament service, and the Communities and Local Government department.

The items I consider most relevant to residential landlords and tenants, I then put in my own monthly newsletter, which anyone can sign up for free of charge.

Conclusion

With the internet, electronic mailings and twitter, often the problem is finding time to read all the information which is available! One of the services I offer members is to filter news items and only mention those which I think are particularly relevant, as regards legal developments, on my site and in my newsletter. I also do my best to keep the site up to date, and regularly load up new information and amend older items.

This is why the site is used, not only by landlords and tenants, but also by housing advisors and some solicitors. If you are interested in landlord and tenant law, either as an advisor or as a landlord or tenant, I hope you will consider using the service. A three day trial of the site costs just £4.70, although you will need to join as an annual member to be able to use all the services. The site is easily found, if you forget the precise url, by searching against 'landlord' and 'law' in Google, where it will normally appear at or near the top.

(Note – This article relates to landlord and tenant law in England and Wales UK)

© Tessa Shepperson, February 2009

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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