New code of practice for agents is on its way

Soon agents will need to abide by a new code for the property industry

In future, anyone using a letting or estate agent or a property manager will be able to judge their performance against a new code of practice and a new and improved system for dealing with complaints. This is because a new code for property agents is being drawn up by a high-level industry group being led by Labour Peer Baroness Hayter.

The expert group includes ARLA and NAEA Propertymark, Trading Standards and sales and lettings industry trade bodies, as well as professional bodies such as the RICS and IRPM plus the courts and the Property Ombudsman. 

The new code was one of the recommendations of the Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) working group that issued its report last July. As well as a new code of practice, the report called for:

  • an independent regulator,
  • licensing for all agents,
  • mandatory qualifications, and
  • a powerful new form of redress for consumers.

According to Estate Agent Today, “the new Code of Practice is likely to be a single, high-level set of principles to be applied to all residential property agents; there will also be a number of other more detailed sections developed that are specific to various aspects of the residential property agent sector, such as sales, lettings and management. “ 

The aim is to produce a draft code to go out for consultation later this month. Once finalised – hopefully by the end of the year – it will be handed over to the new industry regulator, once that role has been established.

At Ringley we welcome the prospect of a proper code of conduct for property agents – something our industry has been lacking for many years. Property professionals will benefit from clear guidelines and consumers will be clear what standards they can expect from agents. Rogue operators should have less chance to thrive and the new system for consumer redress, once established, will also give our customers the confidence that property agents will be held to account if they don’t meet the standards expected of them.

Why not READ our Property Blog:

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.

Why not READ our Property Blog too:

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?

Why not READ our Property Blog too:

Will there be a post-pandemic rental crisis?

With an estimated 2.6 milion tenants at risk of arrears, is there a rent crisis looming?

There is a “looming crisis in the rental sector” due to the financial hardships being faced by both landlords and tenants as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This was the verdict of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which published the interim report in May from its call for evidence to examine the effect of the pandemic and Government support for tenants. Committee chair, Labour MP Clive Betts, told the BBC last week that the UK is currently in “the lull before the storm.”

Key points from the committee’s report are:

  • A recommendation to bring forward legislation to amend the 1985 and 1988 Housing Acts to allow judges to use discretion where a tenant is in rent arrears due to the coronavirus crisis for the next 12 months at a minimum. Discretion could include consideration of whether a pre-action protocol has been complied with.
  • The Government must accelerate its plans to introduce the proposed Renters’ Reform Bill to Parliament and abolish ‘no-fault evictions’ under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 within the next 12 months. By amending the Act to allow judges to exercise discretion, the Government will have time to deliver a Bill that provides greater security for tenants.
  • The Government must ensure that the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate is set at a level that reflects real market rents and ensures those in need are able to afford properties in their areas.

The committee believes that unless the Government amends existing housing legislation, its plans to introduce a pre-action protocol to the private rented sector will be toothless. This poses the danger of a cliff edge of evictions once the moratorium on possession cases ends.  

Research from the Resolution Foundation published last weekend reveals that one in eight private sector tenants have fallen into rent arrears to-date. And as the impact of the pandemic on the UK economy really starts to bite, Citizens Advice calculates that around 2.6 million tenants could find themselves in rent arrears.

The National Residential Landlords Association told Landlord Today that more than half of its members have already experienced some combination of rent payment problems or unanticipated void periods. Some landlords who already had possession cases for rent arrears going through the courts prior to the ban, could find themselves trying to cover more than a year’s worth of rent if the courts are unable to resume existing cases from the planned date of 25 June. So it is calling for a “careful re-opening of evictions needs”. 

Of course, landlords who do find themselves in financial difficulty can ask their lender for a mortgage holiday, but the reality is that this only pushes payments further down the line – and may ultimately impact their credit rating.

In London, more than 2,500 households have agreed not to pay their rent thanks to a campaign by the London Renters Union. The LRU is calling on tenants to withhold their payments to landlords if they find themselves in financial hardship One activist told Landlord Today that the government is prioritising landlords’ profits over renters’ survival. “Right now, it must suspend rent, cancel rent debt and make the eviction ban permanent, she said. “Otherwise we’re headed for a chaotic rent debt and eviction crisis.”

However, the official guidance from the MHCLG remains clear.  Landlords and tenants should work together to address any concerns and find solutions to overcome rent arrears, such as an affordable repayment programme. This is very much our view too.

But will this approach be enough to prevent the pandemic causing widespread problems for landlords and their tenants? What do you think?

Moving house? Now you can!

Time to get moving – but you must stick to the new guidelines

Have your moving house plans been brought to a halt by the lockdown? If so, you can now re-start the process. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that, from today, anyone in England can move home if they follow the new Government guidance.

Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. The government hopes to re-start the market and get buyers, sellers and renters moving again.

Clearly, this announcement doesn’t mean a return to normality – far from it. The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different and that now includes doing more of the process online. Initial viewings will be virtual and vendors will be asked to keep away while potential buyers are shown around. Properties must also be thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. So good news for commercial cleaning companies used by landlords and block managers.

After seven weeks in lockdown, the announcement is welcome news for the property industry as well as for buyers, sellers and renters. Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring said today:  “There’s no reason buyers or renters shouldn’t be able to move home if they are able to do so safely in accordance with social distancing guidelines”. However, she is quick to point to the fact that this doesn’t mean the housing market has returned to its pre-coronavirus state.

 Lockdown is set to continue in some form for an unknown amount of time and the resulting economic disruption is likely to weigh down on activity in the for-sale market. A stamp duty holiday, as proposed by RICS and others (see our 29 April blog for more details) could see a stampede in transactions while an extended Help to Buy will support some sales and in turn housebuilding.

 Maryanne thinks the Government now has an opportunity to think long term and introduce policies to reflect Britain’s changing housing needs. “Private renters are a fast-growing part of the housing market and need catering to,” she says,  “yet politicians seem intent in squeezing buy to let landlords out of the rental market and the build to rent sector – a positive emergence – simply isn’t big enough yet to absorb all rental demand.

 “If the government cuts stamp duty surcharge for landlords it could help stimulate the market by encouraging BTL investors to snap up homes to then rent out. Many landlords also help support housebuilding through off-plan sales,” she adds

 The housing market as whole will also have to get ready for a digital-first approach to transactions as more tasks and jobs are done remotely.

Why not READ our Property Blog too at

Need an EPC? Here’s the latest advice

If moving or selling is unavoidable, you will still need an EPC

Last week, the Government published the latest advice on meeting the regulatory requirement to secure a valid Energy Performance Certificate on marketing a property during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. An EPC is a legal requirement when a property is built, sold or let and must be completed by an accredited assessor. This obligation on the part of housebuilders and homeowners remains in place.

Buying and selling homes have effectively been put on hold but there will still be cases where this is unavoidable and there will be circumstances in which renters need to move. Where possible, the parties involved have been asked to agree that the transaction can be delayed, so that an EPC assessment can proceed when stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus (COVID-19) are no longer in place.

But if moving is unavoidable and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, and a valid EPC is not available from the register, an assessment may need to be conducted. In these circumstances, government guidelines on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus must be followed alongside the guidance for carrying out work in people’s homes.

EPC assessments can continue in cases where a property for sale or rent is vacant.

No assessments should take place if any person in the property is showing symptoms, self-isolating or being shielded. So if securing an EPC is critical you should seek to reschedule your appointment when it is safe to do so in accordance with Government guidelines on staying away from others.

Why we need to speed up access to justice – fast!

There were three cheers from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) last year when the government consulted on its proposal for a housing court. But since then, nothing has happened.  

New figures just released show that it now takes private landlords across the UK more than five months on average to get their property back when making a repossession claim through the courts. And the problem is worst in London where landlords have the longest wait of 30 weeks. The capital is closely followed by the North East where landlords are waiting on average 23.5 weeks to repossess their property.

The findings suggest that a major problem contributing to the backlog is the fact that the courts are unable to cope when landlords look to repossess properties for legitimate reasons.

What this means in real terms is that many landlords, rather than using Section 8 to evict problem tenants via the courts, are relying on Section 21 instead. It’s quicker, simpler and less confrontational to wait for Section 21 end of tenancy, which is a no-fault, no court process. And in the meantime, they can continue to accept rent. Simple.

But this is not a long term solution. The government has pledged to end Section 21 evictions, leaving landlords with no option but to struggle slowly through the court system in order to evict troublesome tenants.

The RLA has been warning for some time that without major reform and greater funding for the courts, the time taken to process cases can only get worse.

We are right behind them and are backing the RLAs calls for the government to establish a dedicated housing court – and make it a priority. It is vital to the smooth running of the rental sector that access to justice for landlords is improved and speeded up.

Why the ‘landlord vote’ could make all the difference at the polls

Who will be walking through this door on Friday morning – and what impact will they have on the PRS?

With just one day left until the General election, private landlords could have a decisive role to play in choosing the next government.

According to data obtained by The Times from HMRC, (source: Landlord Today) in 124 UK constituencies, the number of people declaring income from property in 2017/18 was “the same as or larger” than the overall majorities of those candidates elected in 2017. Of these,14 are in London, 12 are in the South East, 11 are in the East Midlands, 11 are in the North West, 10 are in Yorkshire and The Humber, nine are in the South West, eight are in the East of England, six are in the West Midlands and three are in the North East.

Of these seats, 55 were won by the Conservatives in the last election, 39 were won by the Labour Party in 2017 and seven were won by the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland, 25 seats could see landlords decide the final results. The same is true for nine seats in Wales and six in Northern Ireland.

In these areas, the “landlord vote” could become very important tomorrow. So for anyone who is still undecided which box to put their cross in, here’s a reminder of the main parties’ policies on the PRS.

  • The Conservatives have pledged to scrap Section 21 notices for landlords, introduce a ‘lifetime’ deposit that moves with a tenant, ban the sale of new leasehold homes and restrict ground rents to a peppercorn rent. 
  • The Labour Party has promised to introduce a new range of tenants’ rights, including open-ended tenancies, government-funded renters’ unions, and will scrap Right to Rent checks. It has also said it will consider introducing rent controls in certain parts of the country and giving councils powers and funding to buy back homes from private landlords.
  • The Lib Dems will introduce a new Rent to Own scheme for social housing where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.
  • The SNP wants to incentivise councils and individuals to bring empty properties into use, making them available to rent or buy.
  • Neither the Green Party nor the Brexit party has any specific pledges centering on the PRS.

Whatever your political persuasion, one thing is certain. Whoever finds themselves in No 10 on Friday morning, there are plenty more changes to come for landlords and their tenants. So let’s hope any new direction is carefully considered. The impact on landlords as well as their tenants must be taken into account if there is to be a positive outcome for the housing market as a whole.

Why landlords should fit carbon monoxide alarms – even in homes without solid fuel

Around 60 people die each year in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning

Yesterday, we blogged about the importance of ensuring smoke alarms are in good working order. Since 1 October 2015, as well as installing smoke alarms in their rental properties, landlords have also been required by law to install carbon monoxide alarms in any room where solid fuel is used. Failing to comply with the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 could mean being faced with a fine of up to £5,000.

The Gas Safe website explains that carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), oil and solid fuels such as coal and wood. This happens when a gas appliance has been incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained. It can also occur if flues, chimneys or vents are blocked. Carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your bloodstream which leads to the death of cells and body tissue. Even small amounts of the gas can cause poisoning, and long term effects can include paralysis and brain damage.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer. Every year it leads to around 60 deaths in the UK. Another 4000 end up in A&E being treated for symptoms including:

  • headaches
  • dizziness 
  • nausea 
  • breathlessness 
  • collapse 
  • loss of consciousness

While homes heated by gas and oil are not covered by the regulations, we would still recommend, as best practice, that all landlords install alarms to keep their residents safe.

When you are fitting alarms, don’t forget to keep a record of when and where they were installed, alongside dates when checks were made that they are in good working order – and include both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in the inventory.

If you’re not sure what you need to do to comply with the regulations, click here for a useful government leaflet that explains landlords’ obligations in full.

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.