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Tenant Fees Bill: a fairer playing field for all is needed

MPs are currently debating the proposed Tenant Fees Bill, that’s due to be made law next year. The Bill recommends tighter regulations on tenancy deposits, holding deposits and default fees, proposing that all payments, apart from rent, default fees, security deposits of up to six weeks and holding deposits of up to one week, are prohibited.

As a member of ARLA, we are fully in favour of regulation – and behind the aim to safeguard tenants by ensuring renting costs and fees are affordable – however, we do feel that a complete ban on fees is unfair and counterproductive. For example, not allowing agents to retain the holding deposit when a tenant fails the referencing check will only serve, in the long term, to negatively impact tenants, not protect them, as these costs will have to be picked up somewhere else down the line and most likely by tenants, through rental increases, for example.

MPs are also debating how much security deposit a tenant should legally be required to provide. The current draft Bill states six weeks, but the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee believes this should be reduced to five. We generally charge four weeks’ rent as a damage deposit but there are definitely circumstances where we feel a higher deposit is warranted. For instance, where there are pets in a property, and we are concerned that the legislation will prevent a landlord from doing this, which puts them at greater risk of financial loss from damage, as in some circumstances, even six weeks rent would not be considered enough to safeguard the landlord in case anything goes wrong.

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Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) Changes: what you need to know and why

This month, we are focusing on the changes in MEES legislation, which were effective from April 1. Here, our Residential Lettings Consultant, Simon Harrison and Senior Project Manager, Rob Hamilton answer some key questions…

In a nutshell, what’s changing?

“It’s now law to ensure a property that’s let out, for residential or commercial use, must meet a Minimum Efficiency Standard,” explains Simon. “A sub-standard property is one that fails to meet an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E.”

“EPCs have always come with a list of recommendations to help you improve the energy efficiency of your property.” adds Rob. “Until now, there has been no policy to enforce these changes, meaning the EPC was only advisory. However, this is no more. The new MEES regulations mean landlords will be unable to let out a property, or renew an existing tenancy or lease, if the property fails to meet the E rating. Those landlords with properties with an F or G rating will have to carry out improvement works, benefiting the property’s utility costs, the tenant, and the environment.”

How does this affect landlords of residential and commercial property?

“It affects them quite seriously,” says Rob. “A tenanted property cannot be lawfully re-let to new or existing tenants until sufficient measures are taken to improve the performance of the building to an EPC rating E or above. There are instances when the building may be exempt from these regulations; such as if the building is listed, or a temporary structure, but it is always best to check with a qualified assessor.”

“If a landlord does let out a home or business premise that is rated below the minimum standard,” explains Simon, “Then they will face civil and criminal charges for signing a new tenancy or renewing an existing one. Given that one in 10 privately rented properties currently fail to meet the new efficiency rules it’s important that landlords seek advice and are guided through the changes so that it doesn’t negatively impact their investments.”

Putting yourself in the shoes of a North East landlord, what would you be doing now?

“I would be definitely checking my current EPC to make sure it is E rated or above and speaking to my current letting agent to find out how they can help and support me through this change, in the best way for my interests,” said Simon. “Yes, I agree,” states Rob. “I would initially be checking that I have current EPCs available for all of my properties; EPCs are valid for 10 years from issue. You are then able to highlight which of your properties may be affected. In fact, in many cases, ensuring that the original information that was used to carry out the assessment was accurate, can bring the EPC rating up without having to carry out any remedial works to the property.”

If I was a landlord that hadn’t thought about this issue or looked into it, what would you suggest I do as a priority?

“I’d probably speak to a local ARLA letting agent to seek guidance on what I should be doing to ensure that I don’t accidentally fall foul of the new legislation,” explains Simon. “Yes, that’s right, I would contact a qualified property consultant or perhaps an EPC assessor to fully understand my obligations under the new ruling,” said Rob. “Penalties for non-compliance range up to a maximum of £150,000, which is pretty huge, so it’s essential that your property is let in line with the new regulations.”

On the whole, what’s the current situation like with landlords you’re working with about the changes? Are they quite prepared or are you having to do lots of work with them?

It’s quite worrying, actually, the number of commercial landlords that are not aware that these regulations are being introduced,” expresses Rob, frankly. “George F. White is working with landlords across residential and commercial sectors about the new law, so we’re really well placed to assist landlords in ensuring their compliance, whether that’s carrying out new EPCs, scrutinising their existing EPC, or consulting on necessary remedial works.”

“On the residential side,” explains Simon, “We’ve been speaking to all landlords who are at risk of flouting the new laws and, working very closely and transparently with them, we have developed a tailored plan specific to their portfolio and investments. This has involved either organising a new EPC, arranging a Green Deal Assessor visit, or registering exemptions where applicable. Now really is the time to switch focus to the new energy efficiency laws and ensure you’re not doing anything illegal that can result in a hefty fine.”

If you’d like to discuss this further with Simon or Rob, please do contact them on the details below:

Simon Harrison simonharrison@gfwletting.co.uk or 0191 281 7171.

Rob Hamilton roberthamilton@georgefwhite.co.uk or 0191 605 3482.

Are you an energy efficient landlord and does your property comply?

Under the Government’s Green Deal initiative, the law on Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) will change as of 1 April. It will have a big impact on the Private Rented Sector and landlords must prepare appropriately for it, or face being unable to let their properties, and a hefty penalty of up to £5,000.

From April, all rental properties (new lets and renewals of tenancies) are required, by law, to have a minimum energy performance rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). For existing tenancies, the law will change on 1 April 2020. Without an EPC rated E or above, the property will be deemed unfit to let – so those rated F or G – and if it is rented out at a lower rating, landlords will face civil and criminal charges for signing a new tenancy or renewing an existing one.

Given that one in 10 privately rented properties currently fail to meet the new efficiency rules, this could leave many landlords with a big headache. To avoid encountering problems, it’s important that landlords are given the right advice and guided through the new ruling to understand the impact on their investments, what they need to do to protect these investments, and also comply with the law.

The role of the agent

Choosing an appropriate agent to work with is really important. A good agent will provide the right information to landlords and guide them through any key decisions and changes to the industry.

With the new energy efficiency measures, diligent agents would have been speaking to their clients for the last few months, like we’ve been, and making them aware of the legislation and what action they might need to take and why.

GFW Letting manages the whole process on behalf of landlords. In the first instance, we will ensure your properties have valid and up-to-date EPCs that take account of any changes and improvements made to a property. In some cases, we have carried out a new EPC to get the latest recommendations and the new software used to calculate the ratings has improved the EPC to a higher rating with no work being done so we strongly suggest re-doing an EPC as the initial course of action.

If the EPC is still failing to meet the minimum measure and is still an F or G after being repeated, then a Green Deal Assessment is required.  Again, we will manage this on a landlord’s behalf, working with a Green Deal Assessor who will conduct this. An Assessor will visit your property and then discuss with us its energy use and help decide if you could benefit from Green Deal improvements.

If any home improvements need to be made, and can be funded under the Green Deal, then these will be done at no cost to the landlord. If works cannot be funded under the Green Deal, then the property can be registered for a five-year exemption. The main exemptions include the situation where all required works have been carried out, but the EPC rating is still below E, or the necessary works cannot be completely financed at no cost to the landlord. Whatever the circumstances, GFW Letting will liaise with the Assessor regarding any available funding or exemption registration on your behalf and ensure that you’re adhering to the new legislation.

To discuss an EPC assessment, please email or call Donna Cheney on donnacheney@gfwletting.co.uk or 0191 284 7171.

The key to success? Belief in doing what you love

Here, we sit down with Donna Cheney, GFW Letting’s Regional Operations Manager, to discuss her thoughts on the role of women in business, reflecting on her own career paths and success.

You hold a senior position in GFW Letting which is a fantastic achievement; can you tell us how you got to this stage in your career?

“To be honest, establishing a career in the lettings industry was accidental. When I graduated, I joined a recruitment firm and was actually offered the job I was recruiting for (!) which was a lettings negotiator for a national lettings firm. Within two and a half years, I was promoted to branch manager and, after running that successfully, I was given a further two branches to manage that were under performing. In total, I spent 13 years at the company, before joining GFW letting as Regional Operations Manager.”

As women in business, do you feel you’ve been given an equal opportunity to succeed and progress your career?

“I have never felt like my gender has affected my career development. Achievement throughout my career and getting to the position I hold today is completely down to me, and my work ethic and determination as an individual, not a woman. Gender doesn’t define your success, a strong skill set and ambition does.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and what has this taught you?

“Becoming a branch manager was a huge challenge. I went from being a colleague to managing colleagues overnight and my relationship with them had to change, which was tough. I had to believe in myself and believe that the people around me trusted that I was right for the job. It made me realise that a team is everything. Leading by example and treating everyone as equals, male or female, with mutual support and respect is so important. Without that, you simply can’t move forward and be effective.”

What is the best advice you’ve been given and would like to pass on?

Donna: A manager once said something to me that has always stuck: “You have 24 hours in a day. For eight hours, you sleep (so have a good mattress), for another eight (balancing out weekends) you spend with your friends and family so love them unconditionally, and the rest, you work, so do something you love!”

If you’d like to find out more about our letting service, get in touch with Donna Cheney on donnacheney@gfwletting.co.uk or ​0191 284 7171.

Cold Weather Boiler Problems? We might have the solution…

The ‘Beast from the East’ has well and truly hit us all. We are all experiencing issues, whether that is not being able to get into the office, trekking through arctic conditions to complete day-to-day responsibilities or household catastrophes. We have received a number of calls regarding boilers and frozen pipes, but alas! Our engineers have given us a few DIY tips and tricks to put our minds at ease and keep us cosy during the snomaggedon…

  • There is a chance that your condense pipe has frozen (the white plastic pipe that goes, most likely, outside from underneath the boiler). Try and make sure that the pipe is well insulated, and if it is too late for that, try pouring boiling water on the pipe to release the blockage;
  • Make sure that you are leaving your boiler on, at least, 16 degrees centigrade. This will hopefully prevent frozen pipes.

If there is no other solution than to call for an engineer, please make sure that you clear, salt or sand any walkways to prevent injury.

On a side note, landlords, as well as your annual safety record, consider having your boiler regularly serviced. This will pinpoint any potential problems and ensure that the tenant isn’t left with no heating.