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House & Home

Emma Lunn: Landlords, too, need protection against rent abuse

Property owners can be left facing huge mortgage arrears and court bills thanks to errant tenants

There have been plenty of stories of late about poor tenants and nasty landlords – but spare a thought for the good landlords – they do exist.

Amid the constant flow of stories of inflated rents, badly repaired property and evictions at short notice, there are numerous tales of non-paying tenants and painfully long and expensive eviction processes.

In many cases if a tenant stops paying the rent, the landlord will have to get a court order to get them to leave and gain possession of their property. This can take anything from three months upwards – during which time the landlord will usually have a mortgage to pay yet no income from the property.

Meanwhile he or she is banned from "harassing" the tenant – including popping round and politely asking for the rent – while all the time the tenant stays put for free.

Even if the landlord is granted possession of the property, recovering the months of rent arrears can mean a separate court case and is often something the landlord is forced to write-off.

Credit checks rarely prove whether someone will be a good tenant or not; traditional credit checking services only check an applicant's financial situation and employment, not their history of paying rent on time.

However, one man is on a mission to stop the scourge of bad tenants. Paul Routledge set up landlordreferencing.co.uk to enable landlords to share information about tenants who have either skipped a property owing rent or caused a substantial amount of damage before disappearing into the night.

The site's been the subject of much debate but surely "good" tenants have nothing to fear?

Broadband woes

I suspect a little more joined up thinking is required at telecoms giant BT. I switched from BT for my home phone and broadband service two years ago after being given the run-around regarding an ongoing fault.

This week a friend of mine suffered exactly the same fate. When her phone and broadband stopped working BT suggested my friend's equipment was to blame. It said that if a BT engineer confirmed this she'd be billed £130.

This threat itself might make many hard-up people think twice about getting an engineer but, undeterred, my friend decided to escalate her complaint. They chairman's office told her the same thing; there was no fault in her area so it must be her equipment. The same day she got talking to some BT engineers working locally. They told her there had been cable theft in her area several days earlier, leaving 5,000 odd homes without service. BT was aware and working on the fault.

Some would say that for a communications company, BT appears to need some work on its communications skills.

Continuous payment authority confusion

Another day, another bank complaint. Research by Consumer Focus found that banks' own customer service advisers are unclear of the rules around Continuous Payment Authorities (CPA) and could be giving customers incorrect advice as a result.

A CPA is a type of regular automatic payment arrangement set up using a debit or credit card. It's an urban myth that only the retailer, not the cardholder, can cancel a CPA, but it's a myth many bank staff seem to believe.

Consumer Focus found that 44 per cent of bank advisers gave the wrong answer or couldn't give an answer, when asked how to cancel a CPA. The FSA guidance on CPAs is clear: The consumer has the right to cancel them. Is it really that hard for banks to tell their staff this?

Julian Knight is away