HC Deb 30 July 1974 vol 878 cc698-705

Amendment proposed: No. 30, in page 11, line 6, leave out 'Case' and insert 'Cases'.—[Mr. Rossi.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 31, in page 11, line 17, at end insert—

'Case 3 B

Where in the case of a protected tenancy or a statutory furnished tenancy any furniture provided for use under the tenancy has been disposed of by the tenant or any person residing or lodging with him or any subtenant of his'.

Mr. Clegg

These amendments are a reflection of a debate that we had in Committee. They would not have been selected had not an undertaking been given in Committee to consider the matter.

We have discussed the ill treatment of furniture in a furnished tenancy. In Committee I asked about furniture that was disposed of, but not by people of ill intent. We are talking about soft furnishings that may last for a lifetime—carpets and curtains and so on. [Interruption.] It will not help me to be quick for Labour Members to chunter. They would be better to let me say what I have to say quickly, or we shall be here all night. If they want an all-night sitting, I am prepared to have one.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that nobody provokes the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clegg

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You show a proper appreciation of the situation, if I may say so.

What the Government have done in the Bill is to make a furnished tenancy a tenancy that can last for a lifetime, and not merely one lifetime but perhaps two or three lifetimes. During that time the initial furniture which was introduced into the tenancy will be ill treated. It can also be replaced. Anybody who has practised in the law knows that furniture can be replaced not necessarily because of ill will on the part of the tenant. It might be that the curtains are fraying or the carpet is going. The tenant rolls them up, puts them in the corner and brings in new soft furnishings of his own.

I was told in Committee that where the furniture, particularly soft furnishings, was disposed of by the tenant there would be an implied covenant in the letting that this would be a breach of the tenancy and the landlord could thereby get possession. It is important that landlords should know how they stand in these matters.

I presume that because the Government have not tabled an amendment they are still saying that if a tenant disposes of the furniture which was part of the tenancy the landlord has grounds for possession. What I said in Committee was that this would be much better spelt out in the Bill so that there could be no misunderstanding of it.

I should like the Solicitor-General to reassure me that there are ample grounds for possession by a landlord against a tenant who wilfully disposes of a substantial amount of the furniture which was included in the original letting.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) has obviously appreciated the issue. The question is whether one leaves this matter to be dealt with under the existing Case 1—breach of an obligation—or adds an additional case of some kind. The matter has been considered and the feeling is that it would be better left to be dealt with under Case 1.

Most of the situations which the hon. Member envisages would clearly be breaches of implied conditions in the tenancy. If he is referring to a situation in which someone throws away a worn-out cushion, I would have thought that that would not amount to a breach of an obligation or of an implied covenant. I would hope, however, that in that situation the hon. Member would not feel that it should follow that the tenant would be in danger of losing his home.

In this kind of situation the courts would normally imply an obligation into the tenancy to take sensible care of the furniture and not deliberately to steal it, make away with it or behave dishonestly in relation to it, but where what was done was sensible to do in all the circumstances, clearly there would not be any such obligation; it would not be an infringement and there would not be grounds for possession. One would hope that the matter would be better dealt with in that way than by spelling out a whole series of situations and missing out an essential one.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 54, in page 11, line 8, leave out 'furnished'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we are taking Amendment No. 55, in page 11, line 9, leave out 'furnished'.

Mr. Page

This relates to Case 3A, which we have discussed in part when talking of the phrase "ill treatment". This is the case which gives the landlord a right to apply to the court and the court a right to use its discretion in granting possession if there is ill treatment of the furniture.

2.0 a.m.

Case 3A as worded relates only to protected furnished tenancies or statutory furnished tenancies. It may be that there is furniture in an unfurnished letting. To be a furnished letting payment for furniture must be a substantial part of the rent. Again I quote the case of Woodward v Docherty, where the furniture consisted of all that was esential for living in the premises and yet payment for it was not taken to be a substantial part of the rent.

By removing the word "furnished" in the opening line of Case 3A I have endeavoured to apply 3A in a case where there is furniture provided by the landlord for use under the tenancy "to use the words in Case 3A. It has been represented to me that this was a rather clumsy way of making the amendment. It is an amendment which I assume cannot be refused by the Government. The principle must be absolutely acceptable. If it is, I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you will accept a manuscript amendment which would be in better wording. I shall have to wait to see whether the Government accept it, but while I am on my feet perhaps I may suggest what the better amendment would be. It would be in "page 11, line 8, Schedule 1, leave out from "Where" to "the" in line 9." I am sure that the principle must be accepted. If furniture is provided for the use of the tenant under the tenancy Case 3A should apply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I inform the House that if the Minister is willing to accept the manuscript amendment it will be necessary for the right hon. Member to withdraw the amendment he has already moved.

Mr. Freeson

As a good Socialist co-operator I am glad to indicate our willingness to accept the intention of the amendment, and hopefully, the alternative wording.

Mr. Page

I am grateful to the Minister. I seem to have scored one mark tonight. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Manuscript amendment made: In page 11, line 8, Schedule 1, leave out from 'Where' to 'the' in line 9.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

Mr. Kaufman

I beg to move Amendment No. 45, in page 12, line 54, after 'tenant', insert 'under the regulated tenancy or any predecessor in title of his'. This amendment tidies up an Opposition amendment accepted in Committee, which requires the rent officer in fixing a fair rent to disregard any improvement to the furniture carried out by the tenant. The amendment obliges the rent officer to take account of any improvement to the furniture carried out by any predecessor of the tenant as well as by the tenant himself. This is in line with the provisions in Section 46(3) of the main Act regarding improvements to the dwelling house carried out by the tenant or any predecessor in title.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the Minister for improving the amendment we moved in Committee. I can understand that he wants it to be in line with the provisions regarding unfurnished accommodation. May I ask what value the improvement by a former tenant is likely to be to a successor tenant, having regard to the nature of the furniture?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question which I am unable to answer.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 13, line 43, leave out from 'dwelling-house' to end of line 44 and insert: 'may contain the prescribed particulars with regard to such furniture, and must do so if so required by either party'. Except where there is a resident owner, the rents of furnished homes will be set by the rent officer in the first place and possibly by the rent assessment committee. When someone wishes to rent, he will have the alternative either of finding out what sort of rent he can get before he decides whether to rent, or of obtaining a tenant and then, having agreed the terms of the tenancy with the tenant, he will go to the rent officer and find out the rent.

I suggest the latter case is fairly unlikely. It is much more likely, in the case of somebody with furnished premises to let not in his own home, that he will have the notion to find out what the rent is likely to be and will decide whether it is worth putting his furniture at risk or whether he would prefer to take his furniture away and to let unfurnished.

There are considerable risks in letting furnished—not only in regard to having cigarette burns on table tops, but in other respects too. It may be that the tenant is already lined up, but before the agreement is signed they will want to find out through the rent officer what the rent is to be.

In those circumstances the Bill requires prescribed particulars in regard to any such furniture, and that means a full inventory. A full inventory is usually undertaken by a professional estate agent; it is a long, complicated and expensive job. If neither landlord nor tenant decides he wants to go to the expense of having an inventory, the rent officer can look at the condition of the furniture, judge its worth, in exactly the same way as the rent tribunal does at the moment. It looks at furniture, it knows what is there and is immediately able to size it up and judge a rent.

It is not necessary for the rent officer to have an inventory except—here we have the suspicious mind of the Minister coming in—where somebody is going to cheat. We must guard against that situation. But where we have delay while waiting for the rent officer to assess the rent, if they do not want to go to the expense of an inventory, why should they? If the rent officer thinks there is a fiddle going on he can insist on an inventory being taken. But it is not necessary to have an inventory—not a careful, precise inventory, at any rate. This amendment, therefore, gives permission to avoid the expense of an inventory if the parties do not wish to have one. If any of the parties wants one, it shall be required.

I hope that this is a useful amendment, which will save money, principally to the tenant, because ultimately it is the tenant who will have to meet the considerable expense of preparing the inventory.

Mr. Emery

Normally, I agree with nearly all that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) says, but in this case I find some of his arguments not altogether convincing.

All too often, an agreement that an inventory is not necessary is excellent at the time, because neither party expects a dispute to arise. But where a rent has been fixed, the tenant leaves and another tenant comes in with the same fixed rent, without an inventory two difficulties may arise.

If there is a dispute and there is no inventory, the dispute may become that much more difficult. There will then be an argument about what would have been on the inventory if one had been made.

Secondly, in the case of an incoming tenant at the same fixed rent, without an inventory there is the temptation for a bad landlord to remove some furniture about which the new tenant knows nothing.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's argument that in many cases where there is no dispute, savings can be made. But what worries me about the amendment is that all to often, although there is no suspicion initially that a dispute may arise, it may arise later and be made that much worse because no inventory exists.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend can put my mind at rest about those two problems.

Mr. Allason

In the case where there is no inventory and a dispute arises, does it occur to my hon. Friend that the loser will be the landlord? It will be very difficult for him to prove that six chairs have been chopped up and removed when there is no inventory listing those chairs. That, therefore, is to the tenant's advantage.

As for the shady landlord who removes furniture, of course there will always be rogues—but the rent officer will know the one or two rogues who let down the good name of landlords. In their cases, he will be able to insist on an inventory being made in the first place. The vast majority of landlords are responsible and would not indulge in the practices which my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Kaufman

Following that exchange of mutual courtesies, may I tell the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) that his amendment gives him the opportunity to traverse some of the ground that the went over on related topics in Committee.

I feel that I should repeat what I said in Committee, namely that it is a necessary complication for a certificate to contain those particulars which the rent officer must take into account when determining the fair rent.

2.15 a.m.

If furniture is to be provided, it is clearly necessary in each case for the rent officer to know how much and what kind is to be provided, and its condition, if he is to determine the fair rent appropriate to the proposed regulated furnished tenancy.

The proviso—that particulars of any furniture must be included with the application, if requested by either party—is of little value in this context, since many landlords apply for a certificate of fair rent some time before they are ready to grant a tenancy—for example, before they carry out works of improvement or conversion. In such cases there is no tenant to be party to the application. The proposed amendment would, accordingly, be meaningless. I must, therefore, regretfully tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Kaufman

I beg to move Amendment No. 50, in page 14, line 7, at end insert: '(excluding any deterioration in that furniture due to fair wear and tear)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Amendment No. 51.

Mr. Kaufman

Both Amendments correspond to amendments made in Committee and accepted by the Government.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 51, in page 14, line 14, leave out from the beginning to 'there' in line 15 and insert— '(2) In subsection (3) of that section (factors to be disregarded)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (b), after the word 'improvement' there shall be inserted the words (including any improvement to the furniture provided for use under the tenancy)';
  2. (b) at the end'.—[Mr. Kaufman.]

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