Four tips to help landlords avoid common mistakes

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PlanetRent makes the rental process quick and easy

Many self-managing landlords in the buy-to-let sector are not property professionals and its hard to get it absolutely right every time. So here are our tips for avoiding the four most common mistakes that we see people making.

Don’t skip the referencing process

Yesterday in this blog, we flagged up the importance of referencing. As a landlord, you should never be so focused on getting in the rental income that you don’t bother to do proper referencing checks. This is one of the four most common mistakes landlords make and it can lead to all kinds of problems further down the line.

It’s vital that you know:

  • If the tenant had previous rent arrears
  • Can they afford the rent?
  • Did they leave their last rental property in an acceptable condition?

We recommend keeping an application checklist, showing the information you need every time you process a potential new tenant. You need to know their current address, their current or most recent landlord address, their place of work and what their current salary is.

And don’t forget identity checks.  You must always ensure that the tenant is who they say they are and that they have the right to rent in the UK. Also, we would always advise that landlords ask for details of a close relative for emergencies. This can help if a tenant leaves the property owing you rent or money for repairs, or if you need to forward post.

Our cloud-based automated lettings platform PlanetRent takes care of referencing along with all the other aspects of your tenants’ rental journey. It’s easy to use and it’s pay-as-you-go. Check it out today and ensure you are never tempted to skip the referencing process.

Check your mortgage

Another common mistake that landlords make is to forget that before renting a property, it is vital to check that the terms of your mortgage allow you to do so. Renting out your property without the consent of your mortgage company could put you in breach of their terms and conditions. This could mean the lender charging you a higher interest rate or even seeking to repossess your property.

Engage with your tenants

Neglecting your tenants can cause problems further down the line. For example, if you’re not using a managing agent you need to be available 24/7 in case an emergency arises. Not responding to maintenance issues can also prevent you using the Section 21 eviction process if you want to regain possession of the property. So keep the lines of communication open and ensure that your tenants feel comfortable contacting you. Never turn up unannounced but we do recommend that inspections are carried out every quarter and that you keep a record and photographs of the current state of the property and its contents. This is key to avoiding disputes over the deposit and any deductions at the end of the tenancy.

Don’t overprice your property

In a price-sensitive market, seeking inflated rent could mean your property stays unlet. Don’t be tempted to overprice your property to ‘test the market’. This can be a big mistake! If you are using portals such as Zoopla & Rightmove, they show a full history of rent changes. So, if the property has been initially overpriced and then reduced, these platforms must inform consumers. Potential tenants may think that there is something wrong with the property and you may end up having to take a lower offer.

All this information and more is included in our E-book on this topic. Click here to download and to take a look at our other resources, all designed to help you get the most out of your rental property.

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References and contracts sorted with PlanetRent

PlanetRent offers a quick and easy way to reference-check your tenants

Landlords who want to repossess a rented home could have up to 12 months to wait before they can get their property back, according to property dispute lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, talking to Letting Agent Today earlier this week.

The law firm says it’s noticed a big increase in inquiries recently from landlords who now want to recover possession of a property that’s only been let since March. Anecdotal evidence suggests that problems with tenants are now being seen due to pre-pandemic ‘panic-letting’ because landlords were keen to let their properties quickly. In some cases, this meant that the usual reference checks weren’t carried out.

Unfortunately, if a tenant is now causing problems due to rent arrears or anti-social behaviour,  possession claims will now join the queue for cases to be dealt with. By 23 August when the evictions ban is lifted there will already be a five-month backlog.

Our advice is that before starting repossession proceedings,  landlords and agents should engage with tenants to try and find a mutually acceptable solution, rather than going through the lengthy and potentially costly legal process.  

We’ve got another solution too. Our new cloud-based lettings platform PlanetRent, automates tenant referencing making it quick and easy and taking all the hassle out of the process for landlords and agents.

The other way to ensure that tenants stick to the rules is by making sure you have a watertight contract with no room for misunderstandings. As well as taking care of references, PlanetRent also prevents numerous potential errors in your contracts:  it is all too easy to forget to change a name or the rent amount, omit prescribed notices, or spot that the words don’t match the numbers. Rogue tenants may be able to take advantage of mistakes like these and PlanetRent takes care of all that for you.  Better still, you don’t need to chase people to sign their contract as our e-signer will do that for you too.

We’re confident that PlanetRent offers a great way for you to improve your entire lease-up journey including the contract. It even has clauses you can add in for pet rent and break clauses – and includes lockout periods.  These are the best way to minimise voids and ensure you don’t have contracts ending in December, January and August – the months when demand is lower.  Enabling the lock-out clause module means that if a tenancy would naturally end in the months you want to avoid, at the offer stage you can tell the prospective tenants that to rent the property they will need a 13-month tenancy, not a 12 month one.

References taken care of and a watertight contract you can rely on. With PlanetRent it’s that easy. So download it today and take advantage of our killer PAYG pricing model.

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Gas safety during the Coronavirus outbreak

Make sure your properties are fully compliant by reading the Gas Safe guidelines

Last week we blogged about an important legal case, which centred on gas safety certificates. In Trecarrell House Ltd v Rouncefield the Court of Appeal found that not providing a gas safety certificate before a tenant moves in does not prevent a landlord from serving a Section 21 notice as long as the certificate has been given at some point during the period of occupation. 

Good news for landlords and clarification of a legal point that wasn’t particularly clear. Compliance with the gas safety regulations is a legal obligation for landlords, and to make this absolutely clear, the HSE has a handy guide to gas safety on its website, which focuses on the special circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak. The advice is really helpful so we thought we would share it with you.

Landlords should all be up to speed with their legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances, do annual gas safety checks and keep a record of each safety check. But the HSE recognises that it may be difficult to carry out these checks at the moment because, despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions, some tenants are still shielding or self-isolating. So landlords must use their common sense and weigh up the risk to the safety of the household and the public presented by a potentially faulty gas system, versus the risk to tenants’ health from possible infection.

The Gas Safety Register has drawn up guidelines for landlords that include a set of scenarios to help you decide how best to tackle your compliance obligations. The law is flexible and where it’s not possible to carry out a gas check, it should be acceptable to document that you took reasonable steps to do so. However, the advice also clearly states that landlords should not simply suspend all gas safety checks for the duration of the pandemic. We could find ourselves living with Covid-19 for many months and ignoring health & safety issues risks endangering tenants unnecessarily.

So if you’re worried about making sure your gas safety certificates are up-to-date, read the guidance – it’s very comprehensive and well worth five minutes of your time. And as we said last week, to make compliance even easier why not use our cloud-based platform PlanetRent to ensure all your rental properties are fully up-to-date with current legislation. It’s very user-friendly and you can access it via a mobile phone or tablet, as well as your laptop. It’s pay-as-you-go and there’s no subscription to pay, so download it today and make renting easier for you and your tenants.

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Ringley welcomes new smart meter roll-out

Smart meters are coming your way

With the lockdown easing, the roll-out of smart meters in homes across the country is back on the cards. The Government has set out new plans for the installation of the meters to help homeowners cut their energy bills and carbon emissions.

 The hope is that by installing smart meters in every home – which show energy consumption for gas and electricity and track expenditure – savvy consumers could save up to £250 a year on their bills. The meters show exactly how much gas and electricity is being used and track expenditure, helping consumers reduce their consumption. According to the Government, this could slash countrywide carbon emissions by as much as 45 million tonnes – the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road for a year.

Until early March, around 19,000 smart meter installations were taking place each day until the  pandemic put a stop to the roll-out. Now energy suppliers are being given an extra six months to ensure they have taken all reasonable measures to install smart meters in households and small businesses – making up for the reduced contact they have had with customers. New secondary legislation put to Parliament last week, will see a consultation with industry set strict future annual targets that could result in fines if missed.

As a managing agent, we welcome this news. Unless a block has a concierge service or on-site staff, it can be extremely difficult to arrange attendance to carry out meter readings, so smart meters, which automatically send readings to utility providers are a huge improvement.

New build developments are a particular problem because utilities start off on commercial rates – at 20% VAT – with very high usage during construction. When utilities are then transferred post-occupation to block management, it is no easy feat to get the utility companies to stop charging for energy on estimates based on the construction stage despite usage falling significantly.

Cashflow is a careful balancing act in the early days of new-build properties and the faster smart meters come in the better, to protect residents’ hard-earned cash.

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How PlanetRent takes care of compliance

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Yesterday’s Court of Appeal ruling in Trecarrell v Rouncefield is an important one for landlords. In this case, a tenant appealed against a Section 21 repossession order on the grounds that a gas safety certificate hadn’t been provided before they moved into the property. However, the Court of Appeal ruled in the landlord’s favour, determining that a gas safety certificate can be provided at any time before a section 21 notice is served.

This is an important case because if landlords can’t serve a Section 21 notice at any time during the tenancy, their right to repossession will be limited. While Section 21 is still available to landlords, this case means it can still be used in the way it was intended.

Of course in an ideal world landlords wouldn’t get themselves into a situation where a tenant has reason to take them to court. But we all make mistakes – and compliance is time-consuming. Not serving a gas certificate could be the result of something as silly as misfiling or forgetting to send an email.

To give landlords peace of mind that they need never fall foul of the rental regulations again, we’ve developed a great new cloud-based lettings platform that takes all the hassle out of compliance.  PlanetRent has a simple dashboard to help you manage compliance for one property or a whole portfolio.

Not only does it tell you what needs to be renewed but you can throw away the filing cabinet! PlanetRent will organise what is required for each property, flagging up what is safe and what is missing or expiring soon. Even better, delivering what needs to be sent to tenants is automated both as part of the lease-up and move-in tenant journeys and mid-tenancy. Documents are renewed and are clearly visible to your tenants 24/7 on their own portal that comes FREE with PlanetRent.

PlanetRent is compliance automated. And it also deals with contracts, rent collection, deposits, repairs, even marketing. Our new platform is pay-as-you-go with no monthly subscription to worry about. So why not take a closer look today – we challenge you to tell us what we’ve forgotten!

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How PlanetRent takes the pain out of rental deposits

Want to offer deposit-free renting to your tenants? PlanetRent can help.

Are you charging the right deposit? With the Tenant Fees Act now in place for all tenancies, security deposits have been capped. This means landlords can only charge the equivalent of five-weeks’ rent for assured-shorthold tenancies with an annual rent of up to £50,000, or six-weeks’ rent for tenancies with an annual rent of £50,000 or more.

To avoid any mistakes, why not go ‘deposit free’? Our new cloud-based lettings platform PlentRent is connected to Reposit, whose FCA-regulated product provides up to eight weeks rent/damages cover for the cost of one week’s rent. This cost also includes referencing. By using PlanetRent to manage your lettings, you can offer tenants the choice of a Reposit or a traditional deposit if they prefer.

Another key feature – and one which landlords really do find appealing, is that PlanetRent ensures the deposit repayment process is non-adversarial. Both landlords and tenants can see proposed deductions and supporting invoices on their portals and each can accept or dispute deductions line by line to narrow down any issues arising.

PlanetRent also automatically sends out a How to get your deposit back guide to renters, so they know exactly what they have to do and when. PlanetRent really does make renting easier and more efficient for you and your tenants. There’s no subscription and you can simply pay-as-you-go. so why not check out PlanetRent and take the pain out of rental deposits today.

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All evictions are equal – or are they?

Which type of evictions should be dealt with first when the ban is lifted?

Evictions for anti-social behaviour and domestic violence should be given top priority when the evictions ban is lifted. This is what the National Residential Landlords Association said earlier this week and the NRLA is calling on the courts to push these cases to the top of the list, alongside evictions for rent arrears, when the ban is lifted at the end of August.

This has become a serious issue because cases of domestic abuse and problems with anti-social behaviour have rocketed during the lockdown. Research from the University of Bristol reveals that more than a third of victims of domestic abuse live in private rented housing. And Landlord Today reports that there has been a 66% increase in calls to the Domestic Violence Helpline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In normal circumstances, where domestic violence is found to be happening in a rented property, landlords will often end the tenancy agreement and offer a new one to the victim independent of the abuser.  At the moment, due to the ban, this isn’t happening and this lends even more weight to the NRLA’s call for the courts to deal urgently with these evictions when repossession cases can be heard again at the end of the summer. 

At Ringley, in our opinion, the problem will be made far worse by the Government’s proposal to axe Section 21 – which is what we have always considered as the polite method for landlords to use to evict difficult tenants.

Section 21 made it easy to evict a tenant at the end of their tenancy agreement with no questions asked.  We have always supported this simple, non-confrontational way to end a tenancy and we see no signs that any of the proposed alternatives will be as straightforward or as effective. What do you think?

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How PlanetRent makes rent collection easier

Help your tenants pay their rent on time with PlanetRent

The evictions ban was extended earlier this month until 23 August. Great news for renters facing financial hardship but, as we blogged last week, not so good for landlords with no other income to fall back on.

The National Residential Landlords Association is rightly highlighting the problems being faced by landlords whose tenants were already in significant rent arrears before the Coronavirus lockdown. They now have two more months without rent, plus the time it will take to repossess their properties once the ban is lifted. This could be financially devastating for landlords whose rental homes provide the entirety of their income and who have no savings to fall back on. Given that a third of Brits have less than £600 in savings, the outlook for many landlords following the extension of the ban is pretty bleak.

In response the NRLA is calling for:

  • a clear statement from the Government urging tenants who can pay their rent to do so;
  • support for tenants in the form of a boost to the Local Housing Allowance, developing interest-free hardship loans for tenants;
  • providing compensation to landlords who have existing possession orders from the courts but can’t evict tenants until the ban is lifted;
  • ensuring the courts process legitimate possession claims quickly once they open again; and
  • giving priority to possession cases that that began before the lockdown, to those related to pre-pandemic rent arrears, and cases of tenants committing anti-social behaviour or domestic violence.

Our new automated lettings platform PlanetRent is designed to help landlords reduce the likelihood of rent arrears. Here’s how it works. PlanetRent collects rent from joint tenants individually – which improves the collection rate – and then jointly from other tenants if one should default.

Landlords can turn on Collect my rent by direct debit, allowing PlanetRent to sort out the paperwork and send tenants a direct debit mandate when they e-sign their tenancy agreement. Not only do direct debit payments mean that landlords can collect the rent straight from the tenant’s bank account but they have the advantage of apportioning payments to a regular date. Some tenants may worry that their landlord can take money out of their account whenever they want. But in fact, customers who pay by direct debit are fully protected by the Direct Debit Guarantee.

PlanetRent automates and simplifies rent collection, There’s no subscription and we have a great pricing model. Our new platform is pay-as-you-go, so why not check it out today and help your tenants pay their rent quickly, easily – and on time!

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How PlanetRent supports pet-friendly rentals

Are you a pet-freindly landlord? PlanetRent can help generate the right tenancy agreement – fast.

Are you a pet-friendly landlord? If not, maybe it’s something you should consider because at least 44% of us own a pet. During the pandemic there have even been reports of a puppy shortage as more and more of us decide to share our home with an animal.

For the rental sector, that’s a big potential pool of tenants and one that the Government is actively encouraging landlords to dip into. In January, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced the overhaul of model tenancy contracts to remove restrictions on well-behaved pets to ensure more landlords cater to pet owners wherever possible.

But despite being a national of animal lovers, there is a widespread attitude in the buy-to-let sector that pets are a problem. At the last count only an estimated 7% of buy-to-let landlords were advertising their property as suitable for pets, making it hard for animal lovers to find the right home.  Institutional landlords in the build-to-rent sector have a completely different attitude. All the operators we deal with at Ringley actively encourage pets. They think being pet-friendly encourages tenants to stay longer and promotes community engagement.

With this in mind, we’ve made it really easy for landlords to generate a pet-friendly tenancy agreement via our new automated lettings platform PlanetRent. Landlords can use the platform to generate tenancy agreements in a matter of minutes, making them fast, accessible and easy to use.

Of course, we understand that by being pet-friendly, landlords may be opening themselves up to bigger bills for repairs and refurbishment at the end of a tenancy. Pets, like people, can behave badly, so reference checking is vital and PlanetRent can make this quick and easy too. So why not try it today and consider taking a more pet-friendly approach to potential tenants. It could make your home easier to let and give you a much bigger pool of potential tenants to pick from.

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How PlanetRent is future-proofing buy-to-let

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It has been a tough few years for buy-to-let investors First they were hit with reduced mortgage relief and then extra stamp duty, while at the same time taking the blame for pushing up house prices and keeping first-time buyers off the property ladder. The financial penalties have been accompanied by increased regulation, so it is no surprise that the number of buy-to-let landlords hit a seven-year low in 2019 according to Hamptons International.

However, government interference isn’t the only challenge facing buy-to-let investors. Responding to the UK’s demand-supply imbalance of rental housing, institutional investors have poured billions into creating purpose-built rental housing to secure steady long-term income streams. While build-to-rent makes up only a tiny fraction of the overall UK rental market at present, with the latest British Property Federation and Savills data revealing there are 150,000 BTR homes complete or in the pipeline, this number will only grow.

Yet rather than fearing the competition from this new breed of corporate landlord, buy-to-let investors – and their agents – should look to learn from the emerging build-to-rent sector, particularly when it comes to treating tenants as customers. Just as important is to look to the tools many of these investors are using and embrace the technology that makes their lives and those of their tenants easier.

People often joke property has been a late adopter of tech. But online portals such as Zoopla and Rightmove are up there as household names with Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Yet while these platforms have made finding a property easier, the lettings process is still too often time-consuming and overly reliant on physical paperwork.

That’s why BTR landlords such as Grainger plc and Moda Living had already adopted a digital-first approach to leasing before the coronavirus outbreak. Many BTR operators also have customer-facing apps for their residents that allow residents to do everything from pay rent and bills to report repairs and organise community events.

No doubt, post-crisis others in the BTR sector will follow in taking a digitally-led approach to leasing and operations, as concerns linger around social distancing and consumers become more accepting of virtual ways of working.

That’s why at Ringley we’ve brought forward the launch of PlanetRent, our cloud-based platform that connects landlords, agents, tenants, site staff, accountants and contractors. Crucially, PlanetRent fully supports remote working by giving each party their own easy-to-use portal in which they can access everything they need from their own home.

For landlords, this means protection against hefty fines for not serving legally required documents, such as the How to Rent guide, EPC and gas safety certificate, to your tenants.

PlanetRent also helps minimise the risk of lengthy and costly void periods by nudging tenants to renew and sorting a renewal in just three clicks if they choose to stay. Properties are automatically marketed should they want to vacate.

For agents, PlanetRent frees up staff by automating mundane processes and allows deal-flow to be monitored in real-time. The platform also replaces the need for a whole host of different subscriptions, including accountancy packages, saving money.

Tenants benefit too as they can request and monitor repairs and access their relevant documents and files through their own portal and be confident their landlord and agent are fully compliant.

With COVID-19 making digital nomads of us all, landlords would be foolish to stay stuck in the analogue era. Tech has made other aspects of our lives from shopping to ordering takeout or a taxi simpler and more transparent. Letting a property whether as a landlord, agent or tenant should be no different.

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