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Housing Act Rent Increase Order Published

The Government has finally published the necessary statutory instrument to change the maximum rent threshold for tenancies under the Housing Act 1988. The Assured Tenancies (Amendment)(England) Order 2010 has been laid before Parliament as at 25 March 2010 and will come into force on 1 October 2010.
Despite all the suggestions from the Government that they were trying to decide the best way of making the change work they have ultimately gone for the simple approach. On 1 October the threshold will change from £25,000 to £100,000. While this is not, as has mistakenly been stated, a retroactive change it will affect tenancies that are already in place on 1 October. Therefore a tenancy that has started before 1 October which is for a rent in excess of £25,000 per annum but for less than £100,000 per annum will on 1 October automatically convert to an AST.
This will mean that a number of tenancies will, on that date, potentially need to have their tenancy deposits protected and will also fall under the section 8 notice regime for breach of contract and the section 21 notice regime for the termination of the tenancy.
Technically this poses a potential problem in three areas:

  1. Tenancy deposits that have been taken for tenancies starting before 1 October which have become ASTs on 1 October will have had the deposit taken more that 14 days before it is registered. This may leave the landlord and agent open to a claim for the usual penalties. There is of course the reasonable argument that the deposit was taken at a time that the tenancy was not an AST and therefore that there is no need to protect in much the same way as there was no need to protect deposits taken prior to 6 April 2007 when the tenancy deposit legislation first came into force.
  2. Where Court proceedings have been started for breach prior to 1 October there is a potential argument at the time it reaches trial that the tenancy is now an AST and the appropriate notices have not been served.
  3. For tenancies that end shortly after 1 October there will not be time between 1 October and the end date to serve the necessary two months notice under section 21. If the notice is served before 1 October, at the time when a tenancy has not become an AST there may be some doubt as to its validity.

All of these problems will not doubt need to be worked out by the Courts.
It should be noted that the change is being carried out in England only. It is not certain what the Welsh Assembly will choose to do. They have an ongoing consultation on the private rented sector which discusses a similar threshold change but this does not end until 14 May so they will, presumably not act until at least that date. However, the pressure to act in Wales is somewhat lower as rents there do not tend to reach the levels found in some parts of England.

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