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The pitfalls of free online legal advice - Tenancy agreements

Tenancy agreements

The tenants' rights should be detailed in the tenancy agreement. The tenancy agreement is a formal written contract between a landlord and tenant which detail the rights and responsibilities each party has. Any rented property that doesn't have a tenancy agreement leaves the tenant completely vulnerable. Any individual looking to rent a property and become a tenant should ensure there is a tenancy agreement in place and that it provides the relevant protection they require.

Again, with a heavy sigh, this is just wrong. While a formal written tenancy agreement is a very good idea, the absence of one does not leave the tenant completely vulnerable. Unless the tenancy falls under one of the exceptions, it will be an assured shorthold tenancy, with the same protection as a written agreement. In fact possibly better, as the landlord will find it difficult to use the accelerated possession procedure without a written agreement.

So, even from this sample, it is clear that the 'legal advice' provided is sometimes vague and imprecise to the point of being useless. At worst it is downright inaccurate in ways that may cause substantial problems for anyone, landlord or tenant, who relied upon it. I should be clear that these were just articles that I chose to look at. I wasn't searching for ones with problems. There are other pages with errors or serious lack of clarity. I'll leave you to find your own favourites.

Lawontheweb also provides 'Free Legal Documents'. Some landlord and tenant ones are on this page. I have only looked at a couple, but the Letter of Claim for failure to protect deposit is out of date and now wrong, and the assured shorthold tenancy agreement is, well, both basic and confusing, for example talking about notice periods in weeks for a monthly tenancy (and depending on which deposit scheme is used, quite possibly wholly insufficient for the scheme's requirements).

It is interesting that there have been some changes to the site since I started considering it in mid April 2012. The deposit scheme pages have been updated – they were wholly out of date after the 7 April 2012 changes – although as we've noted, they are still wrong.

Some of the 'articles' have an author name attached and there are 'author bios'. These are devoid of any useful information, like the legal experience of the author, for example. Each of the bio pages contain a link to contact the author. However, all those links go to a single email – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (yes, that is the Claims Financial PPI claim farmer) – who was not one of the named authors. For example, see 'David Mason' bio or 'Alistair Dursley'. [Guardian law editor's note: these pages have been taken down since the time of writing.] None of the bios actually state that the author has any legal qualification or experience whatsoever, although apparently all are full of 'enthusiasm' for the law.

In a recent addition, there is a now a link for people to submit their own 'High Quality Original Articles'. We saw something of what 'high quality original' content might mean in Part 1. But for a site that holds itself out as providing legal information, it is a surprise to see submission open to all. Who, one might ask, checks these submissions. In fact, who is responsible for the standard and accuracy of the information on the site. As one might ask, I did so.



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