The Government has quietly corrected its own advice in its ‘How to Rent’ Booklet, putting right what one lawyer calls a “startling” mistake that could have left agents and landlords in a difficult legal position.
Last week, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) updated the How to Rent Booklet, making an important change to the wording, which in previous versions said:
“The landlord must provide you with a copy of this guide: ‘How to rent: The checklist for renting in England’ either via a link or as a printed copy.”
The new version now says: “The landlord must provide you with a copy of this guide: ‘How to rent: The checklist for renting in England’ as a printed copy or, if you agree, via email as a PDF attachment.”
Legal expert Giles Peaker said on his Nearly Legal blog that the MHCLG’s original wording in the Booklet was “startling” because the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Notices and Prescribed Requirements (England) Regulations 2015 state that the landlord must “give the tenant the version of the document”.
Peaker said: “My view from 2015 onwards has been that this means a printed hardcopy or emailed pdf of the booklet. It is a point that would be worth taking on a defence to Section 21, frankly. So to find that the DCLG handbook itself got this wrong was startling.
“And no, before anyone asks, it would not be of any use to say you were relying on DCLG guidance. DCLG don’t get to say what the statute means, that is up to the courts.”
Meanwhile, when EYE contacted ARLA, it said that it had warned about “potentially serious mistakes” in the How to Rent booklet back in 2016.
At the time, David Cox, then ARLA managing director, warned of the “fundamental error”.
He said: “Under the ‘The landlord must provide you with:’ section it states “A copy of this guide ‘How to rent: The checklist for renting in England’ either via a link or as a printed copy”.
“It is our understanding that service of a document via a link to a website is unlawful.
“When serving by email, a link is not sufficient as it does not provide the recipient with an indefinite copy of the document: should the webpage be taken down or its address change the recipient will no longer be able to access the document.”
EYE contacted MHCLG for comment about the correction but no-one was available.