New Tenant Vetting Laws

Private landlords will soon be required to vet their tenants under new immigration laws announced in the Queen’s Speech. They will be legally responsible for checking the immigration status of all of their potential tenants. Fines to be introduced are likely to run into thousands of pounds for failure to ensure vetting. The Government has already started to take heavy criticism for changes.

The Residential Landlords Association stated that whilst immigration rules need to be enforced, the reality is that all tenants living in the UK will see their rents rise as letting agents increase fees to cover the costs of the further checks on tenants and to cover the greater risks that the new laws will bring.

Various sectors of the lettings industry have expressed concern that the laws will encourage potential discrimination and that landlords will refuse to let to people of different nationality for fear of the heavy penalties.

Westpine Property Lettings & Management believe that the government should ultimately take responsibility for immigration checks and border control and improve any failings in this process. A landlord receiving a fine for having an illegal immigrant as tenant could also be argued as governmental failing for allowing said person to pass through into the country without sufficient checks in the first instance.

However at Westpine, we believe the proposed changes will have little impact to landlords who rent through a reputable letting agent. Westpine carry out thorough identity checks for tenants under our Full Management, Rent Collection and Let only packages. Copies of passports, and if necessary, work permits and resident visas are taken for proof of legality. Our thorough identity checks take away the concern and ensure that our landlords can continue to rent to any party without fear of failing the law. The concern should be for landlords who do not use a responsible letting agent or for private landlords who refuse to carry out the vetting themselves.

Landlord referencing

Westpine disagree that the fees should rise for landlords and tenants as a result of the new laws. The checks are already included within our fees and any good-standing letting agcncy should already be carrying out the checks as part of their process and commitment to their current landlords. Should letting agents be increasing fees to cover the vetting, this could be seen as an indication of their earlier failings to carry out sufficient identity checks, or a simple desire to exploit and make unfair charges.

A list of regulated letting agents can be found at www.arla.co.uk and we would recommend any landlord who does have any concern over the new vetting laws to instruct an ARLA registered agent and ensure that the new laws are adhered to.

Westpine Property Lettings is a Letting Agent Bolton who specialist solely in lettings and property management. We can be contacted on 01204 694121.

 

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Detail, detail, detail….Rental property inventories

As the legal landscape for landlords has changed so much over the course of the past couple of decades, the importance of constructing an inventory has never been greater. Prior to the introduction of greater protection for tenants, the power was effectively in the hands of the landlord to decide deposit disputes. With full control of the deposit return, landlords were accustomed to having their decisions go un-challenged. Yes, there was the opportunity for tenants to take the matter to the courts, but with the cost of the case and no guarantee of victory, tenant challenges were rare. Tenants simply could not afford to make challenges for small deposit amounts.

However, the climate has altered so radically over the course of the last few years. Tenants have been offered more protection by various acts such as the Housing Act of 2004. Now deposits are required to be held in deposit protection schemes with clear instructions for disputes and with arbitrary bodies. The process has become a much fairer system which Westpine Property Lettings is fully supportive of. We recognise the need to adapt to those changes and protect the interests of both our landlords and tenants.

Under Westpine’s Full Management, Rent Collection or Let Only services, landlords can rest assured that we carry out full inventory construction at no extra cost to either the landlord or tenant. It is quite frequent that letting agents will charge one party or the other for this service, or even both! At Westpine we believe it is our responsibility as a management agency to construct a detailed inventory list to protect the interests of both our landlords and tenants. Too often disputes can arise during a deposit return over incorrect details and insufficient information on inventories which could have been easily avoided had a property inspection been completed at the start of the tenancy. The importance of a detailed inventory in black and white for all to see can end conflict before it arises.

So how do Westpine carry out the inventory process? Quite simply with detail, organisation and photographic evidence.

Property Inventory

It is imperative that the inventory includes a full description of all the contents of the property, as well as cosmetic information on the condition of the walls, floors, ceilings, windows and doors. For example a fridge should be listed with manufacturer, colour, internal contents and condition. Is this a fridge freezer? Are there any ice-cube trays, glass shelves etc? Best practice involves not using emotive words such as “lovely” or “beautiful.”

A schedule of condition on all items should be produced ranging from excellent, very good, good, fair, poor etc. This is essential for assessing reasonable wear and tear and potential tenant damage at the end of a tenancy. It is necessary to prove the condition of the item in question when the tenancy started. The best way of ensuring this is through photographs for costly and major items and to ensure that the tenant signs and returns the inventory, or is made aware that if they do not return the document signed, it is an indication of acceptance of the condition of the items. Photographs taken should have dates/times. This can then be accepted should any legal dispute occur.

Westpine recognise the need to pick up on potential issues during interim property inspections which we carry out during the course of the tenancy under our Full Management service. This can prevent further damage being done to the property and can identify issues before the tenancy ends and before the deposit is due to be returned. A detailed inventory which is organised from room to room and listed clockwise on door entry can help an agent when carrying out an inspection look for any missing items.

It is also vital that any exterior items are listed on the inventory. This can include items left in the garden, shed, garage and which the tenant has access to. Meter readings should also be read and included on any inventory to ensure that a tenant is aware of the utility company and their responsibility to make payments whilst they are a tenant. Unless this information is included and agreed by the tenant, it is not possible to enforce and the responsibility for payment could ultimately fall back to the landlord.

The inventory is absolutely vital for any landlord/management agency when it comes to the check-out of the tenant. Unless the information is detailed and photos were taken at the commencement of the tenancy, there is a risk that the contents can be substituted for lesser quality items. For example if an item was listed as “black television” a tenant could substitute his own black television. The listed television may have been brand new and 50” but may have been replaced with a 10 year old 32.” It is unlikely to be proven in court that this television was swapped during the tenancy. However, had size, manufacturer, serial number etc been listed and a photo taken, it is likely that a court would have ruled in the favour of the landlord over such a dispute.

Just as items can be removed during tenancies, furniture additions can also be left at a property. It can be very frustrating for landlords when old and useless furniture is left in properties and the former tenants treat the property as a dumping ground for items they do not wish to take with them. It can prove very costly to dispose of such bulky furniture. Without an inventory, there would be no way for the landlord to prove this furniture was left by the tenant.  A detailed inventory signed by all parties would remove any doubt over items that were in the property at the time the tenancy commenced. A landlord would then be able to relay reasonable disposal costs of the items to the tenant and this would be expected to be able to be deducted from the deposit.

Westpine recognise that a detailed inventory listing can be time-consuming for a busy landlord. Our service is catered to include this process at no charge. We understand that it is vital for the landlord, tenant and agent to have the inventory in place to settle disputes and protect the interests of all parties. Our advice is – use an agent which you can trust to carry out a detailed and thorough inventory, it may just save you a lot of money in the long-run.

Westpine can be contacted on 01204 694121, www.westpinelettings.com or at 87 Winter Hey Lane, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 7PA.

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Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Court Ruling on Dangerous Rental Property

A landlord whose property was ruled to be in a poor and dangerous condition has been ordered to pay £2,745 by courts, according to Barnet Council.

Mr Tomlinson pleaded guilty in front of a Magistrate Court after failing to comply with a notice requiring him to improve the condition of his property.

In April 2012, Barnet Council’s Environmental Health team served Tomlinson with an improvement notice after one of his tenants reported major issues with dampness and condensation at the flat that he owned.

The magistrates ruled that Tomlinson had been an experienced landlord for some time and had let problems continue at the property for 17 months.

Westpine Property Lettings & Management agree that the ruling against Mr Tomlinson is both fair and justifiable. For repairs affecting the health and well-being of a tenant to not be resolved after 17 months is unacceptable. The case reflects the necessity for all landlords to comply with improvement notices as soon as possible. Property owners must observe that these notices are not advisory and are indeed compulsory and must be acted upon straightaway.

Westpine’s policy for any reported property issue is to liaise with the landlord to resolve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible where required. Westpine are able to advise where the liability lies for each maintenance issue reported, whether tenant or landlord. We have links to a number of reliable and professional contractors in the local area who can attend the property to assess any damage and provide plans for a long term solution. We liaise directly with the landlord, tenant and contractor to keep all parties informed at all times and aim to have any serious issues which could affect the health or safety of an occupier resolved within 48 hours whenever possible.

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No landlord enjoys the cost of essential repairs to their property, however the consequences of failing to address health and safety issues can be much more severe. The landlord may risks fines and/or legal action. What can be a quick, simple and reasonably cheap initial repair can be allowed to turn into a serious problem running into thousands of pounds.

As part of Westpine’s Tenant Move-In Guide, we issue the tenant with clear instructions on how to prevent condensation and where it is present, limit its spread. There are situations of condensation caused by the tenant which is preventable. In this instance, Westpine have a strict policy to check windows and doors for any signs during property inspections carried out under our Full Management service level. Advice and instruction at this stage can prevent cost to all parties.

In Mr Tomlinson’s case, there has been no consideration for the health of the tenant. It is a proven fact that severe damp problems can lead to respiratory illnesses if not swiftly dealt with. A landlord who fails to act whether on the advice of a tenant, letting/managing agent or the environmental health department should ask themselves the following question. Would I allow my family and loved one’s to live in the property?…………

Westpine can be contacted on 01204 694121, http://www.westpinelettings.com, 87 Winter Hey Lane, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 7PA

 

Posted in May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ruling Outcome on Advanced Rent Payments

Rent paid in advance will not count as a deposit it was decided by the Court of Appeal this week. The ruling means that landlords and letting agents are not obliged to treat rent paid in advance as a deposit which requires protection under the Housing Act of 2004.

The decision was based around the long-running case of Johnson v Old, where the tenant was offered a 6 month tenancy and was asked for 6 months’ rent in advance as due to her circumstances she was unable to fulfil the criteria required for satisfactory references.

The tenancy agreement in the case proved confusing because it stated the rent should be paid monthly in advance, but also said that the rent should be paid six months in advance.

The tenancy was renewed on a couple of occasions under the same terms with the tenant paying 6 months rent in advance each time, before entering into a month by month periodic tenancy where the rent was paid monthly in advance. When the landlord tried to serve a Section 21 notice to gain possession of the property, the tenant responded that a Section 21 could not be served because she had paid rent in advance, which should have been treated as a deposit and protected.

The tenant’s argument was successful at the first hearing, but was then challenged successfully by the landlord at the second hearing. The tenant launched an appeal and the case then went to the Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of the landlord.

In response to the outcome, Steve Harriott, Chief Executive of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, stated: “This is a very helpful clarification of an issue which has been concerning landlords and agents. The judgement in this Court of Appeal case should assist those landlords and agents who want to ask for rent in advance and who can be reassured that this is not a tenancy deposit that needs protecting under the Housing Act 2004.”

Westpine Property Lettings and Management welcomes the verdict and the clarification between rental payment and deposit. Our opinion on this ruling is that advanced payments are usually requested when the tenant’s criteria do not fulfil all of the referencing checks. The landlord has the option whether to accept the tenant and make the offer of advanced rental payment in order to offset the risk involved in renting out the property to someone who has not satisfied all of the checks.

Where this agreement has been accepted by both parties, the payment would be seen as a rental payment that should be passed onto the landlord, as it is not monies which the tenant would be entitled to receive back at the end of the tenancy. In addition there would have been a deposit taken to cover against damage to the property and this would be the sum which would need to be paid into a deposit scheme and protected as required by legislation.

Had the ruling found in favour of the tenant, the tenancy landscape would have been dramatically altered. Westpine is of the opinion that this would have had a negative impact on potential tenants. Landlords would be unwilling to rent their property to tenants who did not fully satisfy referencing, if they could not receive any of the rental payment until the tenancy payment period had elapsed.

Westpine Property Lettings and Management Horwich Bolton

Westpine Property Lettings and Management Horwich Bolton – welcomes the verdict on advanced rental payments

Westpine strongly advise all Landlords to ensure that their tenancy agreement does not have contradicting terms and is clear to all parties. Conflicting terms can make it difficult for the contract to be upheld should any matters end up in the courts. Westpine use a clear tenancy agreement and should any exceptional circumstances apply, these are added as clauses with any previous contradictory clauses removed. Our tenancy agreement is used on behalf of all landlords who use our Let Only, Rent Collection or Full Management service.

Westpine fully support the need for protection of tenancy deposits and these are held in our DPS (Deposit Protection Service) on behalf of our Rent Collection and Full Management landlords. We are happy to advise our Let Only landlords on how to set up their own DPS account to register the tenant’s deposit.

Westpine also recognise the need to protect landlord rental payments and being Safe Agent registered, all monies are received into our separate client bank account before being transferred directly into the Landlord’s nominated bank account.

Westpine can be contacted on 01204 694121, info@westpinelettings.com, 87 Winter Hey Lane, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 7PA and further information on our practices can be found on our website www.westpinelettings.com

Posted in April 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Longer Tenancies – What does this mean for Landlords?

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According to recent research from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), tenants are now staying in the same rental property for an average of 20 months, setting a record duration. This figure is up from an average of 19 months in 2012, indicating that tenants are committing to longer term rentals.

Ian Potter, Managing Director of ARLA, reported:

“Our data suggested that tenants are increasingly sitting tight in their property and are either reluctant, or unable to move. This stagnation means fewer and fewer properties are freed up.”

Numerous letting agents are reporting large numbers of potential tenants on waiting lists for rental properties as demand has greatly exceeded supply. The number of new applicants seeking to rent in March 2013 saw an increase of 21% from February 2013, however the number of available homes only rose by 5%.
The number of agreed new tenancies increased by 13% on the previous month, and reflects a 19% increase from 12 months ago.

Westpine Property Lettings & Management believe that the above figures clearly show the continued growing demand for rental property, meaning tenancy agreements are agreed faster and, most importantly, landlords will be delighted with much lower void periods for their properties. The average 20 month stay suggests that, as tenants are viewing the tenancy as a long term venture, rental properties are being maintained to a good condition.

Here at Westpine we strongly believe in encouraging long term tenancies with high quality tenants. With this in mind, we do not charge either our landlords or tenants any renewal fees on our full management service should both parties wish to renew their tenancy for a further fixed term period. Once a tenant is in place, who maintains the property to a good standard and who pays the rent on time, Westpine will endeavour to extend this arrangement for as long as possible by promoting a strong working relationship with all parties.

With longer tenancies taking hold, Westpine believe that investment in rental property will further increase as landlords will be able to feel more confident that their investment will bring in a return month on month, with less void periods.

Westpine can be contacted on 01204 694121, info@westpinelettings.com or 87 Winter Hey Lane, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 7PA

Posted in April 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment