Don’t forget to test your smoke alarm!

This could save your life – so never remove the batteries.

In the same week that the fire service reported that a worrying number of smoke alarms in rental properties don’t work, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has told the government that sprinklers shouldn’t be seen as the answer to all fire safety problems in blocks of flats.

The architects’ body supports the use of sprinklers in high-rise flats, describing them as a “highly effective means of life protection”. But they also point out that installing sprinklers “should not be used as a means to compensate for other essential life safety measures or to justify reducing minimum standards.”

As well as sprinklers, RIBA says centrally addressable fire alarm systems should be required in new and converted multiple occupancy residential buildings.

We wholeheartedly agree with Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group for Fire Safety, when she says “It is over two years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, yet far too little has changed”.

The English fire regulations are not fit for purpose, she says. It’s not right that we should lag behind both Scotland (where sprinklers will soon be required in all multiple occupancy residential buildings) and Wales, where sprinklers have been required in all new and converted residential buildings since 2013.  

So we join RIBA in calling on the next government to maintain a strong focus on fire safety and give absolute priority to the radical overhaul of the building regulations that is so badly needed.

To that, we would add a plea to all landlords, property managers and residents to check their smoke and fire alarms regularly. This is as important for BTL landlords and their tenants as it is for leaseholders.

And it’s especially important at this time of year when we are all plugging in our Christmas lights and using more candles and open fires. So if you have battery-operated alarms, check and change the batteries regularly. No matter how annoying it is when they go off by mistake when you’re making toast, don’t ever be tempted to remove the batteries – that alarm could save your life.

Never lose track of repairs with PlanetRent

Now you can keep track of all your repairs from your phone

 Planetrent offers a fully-automated photo-reporting repairs process, including recommended target response times – all of which you can edit.  The system caters for the accidental landlord with just one or two properties as well as big companies with thousands of homes on their books.  Oh, and it is free!

 Planetrent’s repairs process connects tenants with contractors that the landlord has pre-assigned to different types of repairs or groups of repairs, quickly and simply. Via the app, landlords are able to monitor tenants and nominated contractors while they work out repair arrangements between themselves, sign off jobs and upload ‘before and after’ photos.  They can then view the repair rating that the tenants give when the work is done. 

 By using PlanetRent, the landlord remains aware of the repair and its progress against their service level agreement at all times. Contractors get an exclusivity period to ‘pick up the job’ so the landlord can reassign the repair to an alternative contractor if necessary. He or she can also monitor contractor performance both by tenant ratings (which are automatically triggered) and by speed of resolution against target.

Getting your contractors onto the contractors portal is simple too: just one click triggers a contractor invite. Contractors can accept jobs, add their comments, photos etc from their phone and submit quotes.  

You can use Planetrent as your full repair archive, as well as for rent collection and cash management. So if you would like to feel better-protected check out Planetrent today. You can chat with us online to find out more or get started right away.

Self-managing landlords – our tech solution can cut out tenant compensation claims

 Research by PlanetRent reveals that the number one gripe small landlords have with their rental properties is being given grief by tenants, who often have unrealistic expectations around repairs.

 Any astute landlord knows that if they ignore a repair, more often than not the cost of fixing the problem is going to escalate.  So it is rarely the avoidance of repairs that causes problems but the hassle of arranging everything – as well as the need to temper tenants’ expectations.

 Put simply, a landlord lets and a tenant rents a property (almost always) in good faith, on the understanding that each will behave responsibly: the tenant will protect the landlord’s property and in return, the landlord keeps things in working order.  That said, things do break down, wear out, stop working, or need replacing.  

A savvy landlord will have a service level agreement in place. He or she will ensure that this is pre-advised to tenants before they move in to help manage expectations should anything go awry.  A rental property is not a hotel; there is rarely a 24-hour in-house maintenance engineer in post, and contractors will want to turn up on a weekday, during working hours. Tenants must be realistic and appreciate that this will be the case – they too have a part to play in getting things fixed.  

In our litigious culture, all too often the consumer will seek compensation for this or that.   However, even the rail companies don’t pay out until a train is running late.  A landlord service level agreement serves the same purpose.  PlanetRent provides a service level agreement by way of target response times for the 45 most common rental repair issues as part of its tailor-made tenancy journey.  

This is shared with tenants via email when they move in, on their tenant portal and when they log a repair, it has a ‘target date’ set by the landlord. All of this is a way of managing tenant’s expectations as well as demonstrating that, as a landlord, one is acting reasonably while protecting the landlord’s position.

Next week, we will look at PlanetRent’s fully-automated photo reporting repairs process, making all contact with contractors completely transparent for both landlord and tenant.

PlanetRent is brought to you by The Ringley Group which has more than 20 years of expertise in managing thousands of properties.

Landlords, don’t get caught out by new legislation

Tax changes and new regulations will hit landlords again in 2020

Landlord Today has highlighted some important legal changes coming in next year that landlords need to be aware of. They are worth taking note of, as they will impact the way you run your business.

In 2020 the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) will be extended to cover existing, as well as new tenancies. This means rental property that doesn’t have an energy performance certificate rating higher than F or G will no longer comply with legislation and will be classed as “unrentable”. According to the press, there are “whispers” going around the industry that the standards may rise again, once we’ve all had time to get used to the new regs. So it’s vital that landlords ensure their properties are compliant now.

It is also possible that mandatory five-year electrical installation checks on private rented housing in England could be introduced next year. This has been on the cards for some time, so keep an eye out for government announcements.

Two important changes that are definitely happening next year are new rules on tax relief and private residence relief. First, claimable tax relief – which used to apply to all mortgage payments and loans –is being gradually phased out and will come to an end in the 2020/21 tax year. Instead, from April next year, landlords will receive a 20% tax credit on their interest payments.

Also from April, changes to Private Residence Relief will hit landlords who rent out a property that used to be their permanent residence. Under the law as it stands, tax relief can be claimed by landlords,not only for the time they lived in their property before letting it, but also for an additional 18 months after moving out. In future relief can only be claimed for the time they lived in their property plus nine rather than 18 months. In addition, anyone renting a property will also lose nine months’ worth of Capital Gains Tax relief should they decide to sell, with the deadline for payment of their tax bill being brought forward from 31 January in the year after the tax year they made the sale, to within 30 days of completion.

And as if this wasn’t bad enough, the £40,000 worth of lettings relief landlords are currently entitled to will be scrapped from April, unless they continue to live in a property that they also let to tenants.

Small wonder landlords feel under fire. As managing agents, we can’t do much about the tax changes that will impact our clients, but we can help keep landlords compliant. By using our PlanetRent app,  you can ensure that when the law changes, so do your processes. So download the software free today and never get caught out by new legislation again.

Labour backs down on renters’ right-to-buy

Labour steps back from right-to-buy pledge

 As the Labour party published its manifesto last week, one pre-election idea was notable by its absence – the right for renters to buy their homes. The controversial policy, which would have allowed private tenants to buy their home at a discount, was slated by the property industry when it was announced in September.

 Two months ago shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told the Financial Times that under a future Labour government discounts could be made available to tenants, allowing houses to be bought at below market value. Understandably this went down like a lead balloon, not only with landlords but with industry bodies and commentators – including ourselves.

Two weeks ago Labour appeared to have watered-down its original proposal, saying it should only apply to the “wealthiest landlords”. What the benchmark would be for “wealthiest” was not explained. The policy has now been dropped.

 There are other pledges in the manifesto to make landlords uneasy. The scrapping of Section 21 (also a Conservative policy) and the idea of rent controls have been roundly criticised. Rightly so we think –  particularly as we continue to monitor the adverse effects of this in Germany. There, stock availability is being squeezed as landlords divest (at a time when we need more homes) or stop doing repairs in an attempt to get tenants to leave and get a vacant property back which can then be re-let for more.

However, there are some good ideas too which are likely to be welcomed by landlords and tenants alike:

  • Lifting the freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for tenants on benefits and realigning LHA to the 30th percentile of local rents.
  • Paying the housing element of Universal Credit direct to landlords,
  • Ending Right to Rent checks.

Across all the political parties it’s certainly a mixed bag for those voters with housing issues uppermost in their minds. Midnight tonight is the deadline for voter registration and tenants campaign group Generation Rent is urging renters, who move around more than homeowners, to ensure they are registered at their current address and to make their vote count. Landlords – and everyone else in the industry – should ensure they do the same.

PlanetRent fights back against rogue landlords

Camden Council is clearly leading the way when it comes to raising standards in the private rental sector. This week, it’s been London’s first authority to issue a rogue landlord banning order after tenants’ lives were put at risk through the letting of unsafe housing.

The first-tier tribunal has banned Cesar De Sousa Melo from letting any housing in England for four years and fined him £14,000. This follows a rogue landlord referral received by Camden Council via the Greater London Authority and Mayor of London website.

The council investigated and found the landlord was letting out several unlicensed houses in multiple occupation. Overcrowding, fire alarms that didn’t work and general disrepair were discovered after a raid on his properties.

This is an extreme case – but it shows how important it is to comply with the legislation that governs the lettings market. At Ringley, we have made it really easy for landlords to meet their legal obligations and ensure their tenants live in safe, well-maintained homes.

The Ringley Group, though its PlanetRent software, helps large and small landlords manage their compliance for FREE. 

PlanetRent is the go-to destination for landlords and shows you which compliance documents are missing or expired.  Better still, when you upload documents, PlanetRent sends them automatically to your tenants or (for agents) your landlords so everyone can feel safe.   Also, when you do your offers, deals and e-contracts through PlanetRent your tenants will receive all the compliance documents they need, drip-fed to them during the first month after they move in.

You can also sign up for PlanetRent’s HMO partner to keep your HMO licencing up to date and apply for HMO licences and renewals.

FREE portals are provided for landlords, tenants and contractors and if you use the photo repairs reporting tool for tenants you can capture the whole of the necessary audit trail.

Put simply, PlanetRent delivers all the tools you need, not only to deliver a first class welcome journey to your tenants, but it also provides the audit trail to prove a job well done.

HPL cladding: More questions than answers

Ringley CEO Mary-Anne Bowring will talk about fire safety in Manchester later this week

Footage from this weekend’s devastating fire at a student block in Bolton must have given the property industry a collective sense of deja vu. Thankfully, everyone was safely evacuated, but once again we watched flames rapidly spreading up the outside of a block, while its cladding melted in the heat. This time though, the cladding was HPL – not the ACM used on Grenfell Tower – and another can of worms was well and truly opened.

In the wake of the 2017 tragedy, experts warned that “the next Grenfell” would involve HPL cladding. Building owners were told to remove all cladding systems, including HPL, that didn’t conform to building safety standards. However, the government’s ban on combustible cladding only applies to blocks over 18m. That lets an awful lot of buildings – including the one that went up in flames in Bolton – off the hook.

Inside Housing today quotes Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who says “This terrible fire highlights the complete failure of the UK’s fire safety system”. We have to agree with him. Even the reforms proposed by the Hackitt Review only apply to buildings of ten storeys and above, referred to as HRRBs or high-risk residential buildings. It has to be hoped that once in place and seen to be working, these changes will be applied to all buildings, not just high rises.

So what happens now? We expect to see calls for HPL cladding to be tested and removed if it is found not to have been treated with fire retardants,  which gives it a fire safety rating of Class 0 or Euroclass B. However, it is estimated that cheaper versions graded a much lower ‘Class D’ may account for more than 80% of the market.

The continuing nightmare of residents in ACM-clad blocks are well documented. All the same issues around the rights and responsibilities of leaseholders are now likely to be extended to a new group of people. And as if that wasn’t enough, lenders have tightened up their rules since the government issued Advice note 14  last December. This leaves an increasing number of leaseholders stuck with flats that are unsellable because not only are mortgage applicants being assessed but so too are the buildings they want to live in. The Times estimates that up to 50,000 flats around the country are affected. What a mess.

So two important points for the immediate future.

  • If you manage a building with HPL cladding, talk to residents about the implications and commission a fire risk assessment if necessary. Make sure the block has an evacuation policy. If there isn’t one, make it a priority to put one in place.
  • If you own or rent a flat in a building with external cladding, contact your building manager or landlord to find out what measures they are putting in place to ensure resident safety.

Watch this space – this story is going to run and run. And one thing is crystal clear. The issues raised in the last two years around fire safety will not be resolved quickly or easily.

Mary-Anne Bowring, CEO of The Ringley Group, is speaking on this subject for the RICS in Manchester this Wednesday 20th November.

Why rent controls are not the answer to London’s housing crisis

Our message to the London Mayor: focus on investment, not rent control

The London Mayor is being urged to forget about rent controls. Instead, say critics, he should be increasing the supply of rental homes by attracting more people to invest in the capital’s PRS. 

Earlier this year Sadiq Khan called on the Government to give him the power to cap London rents. His aim is to “fundamentally rebalance London’s private rented sector” and make it fit for purpose. There is no arguing with the fact that renting in London has become increasingly unaffordable. Average monthly rents increased by 35% between 2011 and 2018 according to the Valuation Office Agency. And the latest English Housing Survey reveals that private renters in the city spe3nd a massive 42% of their income on rent compared to 30% in the rest of the country.

So the mayor has a point. But rent controls are not the answer. As Paul Sloan, development director for Haart, said in the press last week: “Rent controls sound great in theory, but unfortunately, the reality is that they simply do not work. Around the world, we have countless examples of cities which have introduced rent controls, but that has done nothing to address affordability issues.”

Believe it or not, if you go back 80 years or so, there was significant institutional investment in housing which left the market due to rent controls. At Ringley we think it’s simply nonsensical for the Government, having spent five years enticing the institutions back into the rental market, to even consider now preventing them meeting their investment criteria by capping rents.

The problem with rent control is that landlords are put off entering or staying in the market. It’s a simple equation: fewer landlords mean fewer homes to rent. This in turn is likely to push up prices even further. And as Paul rightly points out – this is the very thing the controls are brought in to avoid. The RLA gives the example of Berlin, where rent control actually made rents rise by about ten% over two years. Before they were introduced they rose by about 1-2% per year.

The other key point is that capping rents may also make landlords more inclined to cut corners and less inclined to maintain their properties to a high standard. This means, over time, the quality of rental housing could start to fall and tenants could find repairs and redecoration being ignored or carried out less frequently.  We say the key to a properly functioning market is supply. The Government must focus on height, density, planning delays, clear guidance and other supply accelerators such as getting land banks developed and encouraging partnerships to release land. The key objective must be to better serve residents by giving them more homes to rent and more choice. Ultimately this will address affordability

Why we need Section 21: rogue tenants do exist

One landlord is facing £29K of rent arrears

Here’s a shocking story we’ve just spotted in Letting Agent Today. It illustrates exactly why at Ringley, we have been campaigning in favour of keeping the so-called no-fault eviction process known as Section 21. There are rogue tenants out there and there must be an efficient process in place for landlords to evict them when necessary.

Landlord David Wright, who owns a property in Warrington, was recently left with rent arrears of around £29,000 by one of his tenants. When he finally regained possession of his rental home, he had to spend £2,000 on clearing the property of rubbish and waste. He faces a further bill of thousands of pounds to repair the damage that the tenant caused to the property.

According to the press report, the house was coated in grime and mould and littered with half-eaten food containers, pet food and medication. Many of the fixtures and fittings, including the carpets, were damaged beyond repair. No one should have to put up with this when all they are doing is trying to make a living by providing a home for someone in good faith.

Legal for Landlords, the law firm representing him in gaining possession of the property, does not think the landlord is likely to recoup the rent he is owed.  Sim Sekhon, managing director of the firm says “This case illustrates why plans to abolish Section 21 are so dangerous for landlords’ rights…. It’s vital to have a robust legal mechanism in place to reach a resolution in a timely manner.

In fact, a Section 8 notice was used in this case because of the amount of damage caused and the extent of the rent arrears. But, as Sim points out, there are plenty of cases where that wouldn’t be appropriate. “Section 8 alone doesn’t have enough teeth to protect the landlord and, for many, it’s frankly a terrifying thought that this outdated legislation is all they may have to protect their interests”.

We wholeheartedly agree.

Good news for broadband providers – and you!

Faster block broadband made easier

Would you like better broadband speeds in your block? If so, here’s something for you. The government has announced new measures to make it easier to install faster internet connections in blocks of flats where landlords repeatedly ignore requests for access from broadband firms. Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan estimates that an extra 3,000 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result.

Under the law as it stands, to install gigabit-capable broadband in the UK’s estimated 480,000 blocks of flats or apartments, broadband providers need permission from landlords to enter the property and undertake the necessary works. One of the biggest obstacles preventing operators from installing new networks in residential blocks is the building owner’s failure  – in as many as 40% of cases – to respond to requests for access. And while broadband providers can already push for access via the courts, this takes time – and money.

So to solve the problem, the Government is now promising a cheaper and faster process for telecoms companies to get access rights. This will apply when a landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to requests for access to install a connection that a tenant within the building has asked for. And it will give operators a cheaper and more streamlined route via the existing Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to connect the property. The aim is to lower the timescale for entering a property from six months to a matter of weeks, and at a drastically reduced cost.

Good news all round we think.