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PROPERTY

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Property THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE NRLA

SUMMER 2021

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ALL IN A DAY‘S WORK

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Homes Under the Hammer’s Martin Roberts on life as a landlord

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Country life The challenges of letting in rural areas Accessibility Adapting properties for disabled tenants



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Welcome

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Looking to the future as we leave lockdown

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he country has begun to open up. The shops and, more importantly, hairdressers are now back up and running, and by the time this issue hits your doormats, we should be able to enjoy a meal out once again. For landlords, next month should also see the tapering off of repossession restrictions in what is a significant step forward, as we strive to get to some form of normality. The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has been pushing for these behind the scenes, working in both Westminster and Cardiff Bay to shape the way we transition out of emergency measures to ensure the process is as seamless as possible. We are expecting an announcement from the Government imminently, however, at the time of going to press, we were still waiting for full details. For our part, we have asked for a comprehensive plan that tackles rent debt, introduces court reform to speed up the processing of possession claims and sets out firm dates for the tapering down of extended possession notice periods. We have also submitted a paper outlining simple actions that would bring about positive change. These include our proposals for a comprehensive package of financial support for the sector to help tenants clear arrears and, with current waiting times of a year from claim to repossession, plans to allow possession hearings to be held by video link to speed up the process. In addition to our work on Covid-19 recovery, we continue to offer support to our members on all aspects of their lettings.

BEN’S TOP READS

In addition to our work on Covid-19 recovery, we continue to offer support to our members on all aspects of their lettings

We have recently worked with industry experts to publish a new guide on adaptations. This has been developed to support landlords approached about making adaptations for their tenants, and help all landlords consider how to future-proof their properties and make them more inclusive. Elsewhere, with the Government making the decision to axe its Green Homes Grants scheme just six months after it was launched, we are developing proposals for an alternative programme that will allow landlords to access grant funding to carry out vital energy-efficiency improvements. As lockdown lifts, we will build on the success of our first year, outlining our aspirations for the future and how they can be realised, to create a private rented sector that works for all. BEN BEADLE Chief executive, NRLA

PASSION FOR PROPERTY Homes Under the Hammer star Martin Roberts on life as a landlord in uncertain times PAGE 18

ACCESS ALL AREAS Find out all you need to know about adaptations and whether your rental home could help a tenant in need PAGE 40

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Welcome, 1

SUMMER 2021



Contents, 1 VERSION

Property

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National Residential Landlords Association 212 Washway Road, Sale, Manchester M33 6RN nrla.org.uk

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Published by: LPTE Limited Produced on behalf of LPTE Limited by: Think, Capital House, 25 Chapel Street, London NW1 5DH Tel: 020 3771 7200

Contents

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Editor: Sally Walmsley Commissioning editor: Alex Garrett Design: John Pender, Matthew Ball, Alistair McGown Sub-editor: Rica Dearman Advertising: Tom Fountain (tom.fountain@ thinkpublishing.co.uk) Client engagement director: Anna Vassallo Executive director: Jackie Scully

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Changing building regulations see landlords paying the price for unsafe cladding

PORTFOLIO CLIENT SHUTTERSTOCK, GARETH IWAN JONES

All the articles in this publication are for general information only and are not intended to be advice for any specific person. Any advice contained in this publication is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), nor shall the association be held liable for the consequences or reliance upon such advice. Readers are recommended to seek professional advice before taking or refraining from taking any action on the basis of the contents of any article in this publication. The NRLA and the publisher do not endorse or approve any advertisement and have no liability for any loss caused by any reliance on the content of any such advertisement.

IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING Your update from the last quarter 9 A HELPING HAND Support call over the Covid-19 homeless crisis 12 THE VIEW FROM WESTMINSTER 14 WELFARE AND THE PRS The latest NRLA data 16 THE BIG QUESTION Do you let furnished or unfurnished homes?

TOOLBOX

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Printed by: Walstead Bicester, Chaucer Business Park, Launton Road, Bicester OX26 4QZ. Property magazine is printed on UPM Finesse Silk sourced from manufacturers operating within internationally recognised environmental standards, to ensure sustainable sourcing.

SUMMER 2021

Accreditation Code: NRLA167

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18 FEATURES 18 PROFILE Property guru and Homes Under the Hammer star Martin Roberts on life as a landlord and more 26 CLADDING CRISIS The effect on landlords and their livelihoods 32 COUNTRY LIFE What challenges do rural landlords face? 40 ACCESS ALL AREAS Adapted homes – in high demand, but short supply

47 IN FOCUS Blind cords – how to keep your tenants safe 51 MENTAL HEALTH How Covid-19 has affected landlords 53 ADVICE LINE Your quickfire questions 54 INTERIORS Benefits of identikit lets 57 CHANGING PERCEPTIONS Landlords and the media 59 MORTGAGES Budget announcements’ impact on landlords 63 IN THE COMMUNITY Landlord and volunteer Sue Hull 65 NRLA NEWS The Welsh postcode lottery of enforcement work 66 MEET THE LANDLORD Sarah Watt on managing her property portfolio

CONTACT US landlords@nrla.org.uk NRLA HELPLINE 0300 131 6400

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IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING

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PROPERTY UPDATE FROM THE QUARTER

Updates from Government GREEN HOMES GRANT AXED The Government has axed its Green Homes Grant scheme just six months after it was announced. Cash was offered to fund energyefficiency improvements, but there were issues with eligibility and sourcing installers. The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is developing a proposal for an alternative funding package.

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DEMAND FOR ‘URGENT ACTION’ ON RENT DEBT The Government “appears to lack a clear strategy to deal with rising rent arrears”, says the HCLG select committee. NRLA data and research was cited in the report into the impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector (PRS), with CEO Ben Beadle called to give evidence to the committee.

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Landlord confidence beginning to recover Landlords are starting to feel more positive about the future as Covid-19 restrictions start to lift. Figures from the NRLA’s Quarter 1 survey show that compared to last quarter:

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RESEARCH: HOMELESSNESS AND THE PRS

Rent guarantees and upfront council payments are most effective in helping tenants on benefits find homes in the PRS, a new study has found. The NRLA says to support landlords help tenants the Government must:

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●● continue to link local

housing allowance to market rents ●● improve the administration of Universal Credit benefit payments ●● use rent-guarantee schemes.

24%

of landlords are feeling less or much less confident

24%

of landlords are feeling no change

52%

of landlords are feeling more confident or much more confident


PRS IN FIGURES

3%

RICS PREDICTS RENTAL GROWTH In its latest Residential Market Survey, RICS predicts growth of three per cent in the next 12 months as tenant demand is ‘building a head of steam’. It said London is the only region where rents are not expected to rise.

66%

TWO-THIRDS OF STUDENTS ARE IN THEIR ‘USUAL’ TERM-TIME HOMES The majority of students are now back in their rental homes. Figures from the Higher Education Policy Institute found 66 per cent are living in their usual term-time accommodation, with 34 per cent not returning. Of the 1,000 students questioned, 56 per cent are not expecting to receive face-to-face teaching this year.

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CHARITY SEES RISE IN TENANT CALLS Citizens Advice reported that in the first two months of 2021 it saw a 40 per cent increase in calls from PRS tenants. It said that despite the current ban on repossessions, a third of those responding to its poll said they were worried about the issue.

First signs of tenants moving back into central London Property portal Rightmove said there are signs that tenants are moving back to central London. In an analysis for the BBC, it said renters are once again searching in zones 1 and 2. Central London flats saw a ‘double-digit fall’ in rents during the height of Covid-19, with increases of up to 20 per cent in towns such as Bury and Halifax. Rightmove said that as restrictions ease and workplaces start to open up, tenants are moving back to take advantage of cheaper rents.

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Landlord sales down – but profits up

The number of homes sold by landlords in Great Britain hit a seven-year low last year at 131,900, Hamptons International research found. However, the average landlord in England and Wales sold their buy-to-let (BTL) for £82,450 or 42 per cent more than they paid for it, having owned the property for 9.1 years. The average London landlord sold for £302,200 or 71 per cent more than they paid for it, having owned it for 9.8 years.

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+42% (£82,450) 9.1 YEARS

+71% (£302,200)

9.8 YEARS

ENGLAND & WALES

LONDON

AVERAGE BTL SALE PRICES REALISED

AVERAGE BTL SALE PRICES REALISED

COVID-19 RESTRICTION TO TAPER FROM NEXT MONTH Back in March, the Government confirmed restrictions on enforcement of repossessions would taper off from June. Details had yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press, but the NRLA has submitted proposals on how to tackle the backlog. These include: ●● the introduction of virtual hearings ●● accelerated procedure in pre-Covid-19 mandatory Section 8 cases ●● a dedicated ‘Nightingale court’ for Section 21 claims.

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The latest view from Westminster

Welfare research – letting to those on benefits

Do you let furnished or unfurnished properties?

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Portfolio NEWS & ANALYSIS FOR THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR

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A helping hand for those in need

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Landlords can help solve the housing crisis – but Government support is vital, as Sally Walmsley reports

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ovid-19 will cast a shadow over the private rented sector (PRS) for years to come. The economic legacy of the pandemic is being felt with unemployment levels up – and set to increase after the furlough scheme ends in September.

The latest Government figures showing the number of people receiving Universal Credit has doubled from three million in March 2020 to six million in the 10 months to January 2021. Alongside this, data from July to September last year showed 68,680 households were

homeless or threatened with homelessness, with the number of households in temporary accommodation at 93,490. FINANCIAL SUPPORT Private landlords are part of the solution to this crisis, but local authorities need to engage with them if they are to help.

Since the start of the pandemic, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has been calling for a comprehensive package of financial support for the PRS, to help tenants who have lost income as a result of Covid-19 to continue to pay their rent and remain Summer 2021 / 09

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APPEAL TO GOVERNMENT As part of its mission to create a rental sector that works for all, the NRLA now wants: ●● Increased Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates: The Government permanently committing to aligning LHA rates to the 30th percentile of market rents at minimum, rather than as a short-term response to the coronavirus crisis. The NRLA is further calling for the Government

to realign rents to the median market rents, the 50th percentile. ●● Universal Credit grants: An end to the five-week wait for Universal Credit at the beginning of a claim, with the advance payment currently made as a loan converted to a grant, so tenants do not automatically fall into debt at the outset. The association is also calling for the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit to be retained. ●● Long-lease schemes: The Government should work with local authorities to offer a minimum package of support for both landlords and tenants, to mitigate the higher risks, which landlords perceive in letting to those at risk of homelessness. The NRLA

suggests improvements to the two leasing models used by councils, one fully managed, the other in which the landlord retains overall responsibility for the let, with rent levels reflecting the burden of risk. THE BENEFITS SYSTEM Meera Chindooroy, deputy director for campaigns and public affairs at the NRLA, said: “With the number of people relying on Universal Credit doubling during the pandemic and a serious shortfall in social

housing, the Government needs to ensure that private landlords have confidence in the benefits system. The PRS provides much-needed homes for all tenants, including those who are vulnerable and on low incomes, and we need to make sure landlords are encouraged to do that, not penalised. “We have made representations to Government and are working with members and stakeholders across the housing sector to develop policies that will encourage landlords to support those in need.”

“The Government needs to ensure that landlords have confidence in the benefits system” MEERA CHINDOOROY

LOCAL AUTHORITY LONG-LEASE SCHEMES A number of local authorities are now offering private sector leasing schemes. The schemes usually take one of two forms: the first in which the local authority takes full responsibility for managing the tenancy and maintaining the property; and one where the landlord retains control. OPTION 1: FULLY MANAGED While the details may differ dependent on the council area, the broad concept is that the local authority will rent your property from you to house tenants, often guaranteeing the rent. In these circumstances, payment will be made regardless of whether the property is occupied or not – or whether the tenant is paying their rent.

The council will also be responsible for the maintenance of the interior of the property for the length of the agreement, which is typically a longer lease of up to five years – although the landlord will still be responsible for structural issues. The downside is the pay-off for the peace of mind provided by such an arrangement – the rent level, which may be fixed to the LHA rate. OPTION 2: SELF-MANAGED This option requires landlords to be much more hands-on. The tenancy is managed by the landlord like any other, so you would have more control over who the property is let to. However, the local authority will likely

screen prospective tenants and provide other incentives, such as direct payment of LHA, providing the deposit or an incentive payment to you as the landlord. The local authority often also offers tenancy sustainment support to the tenant and the landlord – helping to resolve any issues at an early stage. Typically, rents are set in line with LHA rates or ‘Affordable Rent’ (where rent is set at up to 80 per cent of market rent), so landlords can’t change as much as they would be able to on the open market. ● If you are interested in getting involved in a longlease scheme, you should visit your local authority website to see what schemes are on offer in your area.

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in their homes. This would include interest-free loans made available to tenants, as have been introduced in Scotland and Wales. The NRLA has already made written representations to the Government, asking for significant investment in welfare, to help tenants and improve landlord confidence in the benefits system, and will continue to lobby on the issue in the coming months. It has called for targeted schemes to encourage landlords to let to those who are at risk of, or have experienced, homelessness, working in conjunction with local authorities. While landlords can be nervous about letting to tenants considered ‘high risk’ due to their financial circumstances, the uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus crisis, which saw many reliable tenants suddenly unable to pay their rent, may make such schemes more attractive. The NRLA has had some success in bringing about change to the way Universal Credit works, such as the introduction of an online application for direct payment, replacing the old UC47 form, improved guidance for landlords and support for those struggling to engage with tenants.

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Advertorial: Openreach, 1

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Full fibre for apartment buildings

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Being connected has never been more important to the social fabric of the UK

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penreach is in the middle of one of the biggest engineering projects ever, rolling out next-generation full fibre to as much of the UK as it can. The company will connect up to 20 million homes and businesses by the mid-tolate 2020s. Full fibre will fundamentally change the way we live and work. The national rollout is set to boost UK productivity by £59bn by 2025, with a potential 3 billion commuting trips saved.

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WHAT DOES BETTER BROADBAND MEAN FOR TENANTS? It’s clear that people have become more reliant than ever before on a secure, fast internet connection. Recently, it has been a lifeline, keeping people and families connected during lockdown. Longer term, it’s about enabling digital inclusion and meeting the expectations of future generations. At the moment, Generation Z (people born between the late 1990s and early 2010s) are the country’s biggest content consumers. They’ve never known a pre-digital, web-free world and expect information

Contact Openreach to get your property connected to full fibre

and access to online services in seconds – and they expect to live in homes that can keep them connected. At the other end of the spectrum, full fibre enables older and more vulnerable people to access social services and healthcare online. Video consultations are great for those who find it difficult to get out and about. Providing access to digital services is a key contributor to improving the quality of life for residents. It helps tackle social isolation and has a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s been estimated that there’s a ‘digital exclusion tax’ of about £560 per year on households that can’t access the best deals online. Full fibre helps rebalance that inequality.

WHY DOES FULL FIBRE MATTER TO LANDLORDS? Studies show that 78 per cent of people would be put off buying or renting a property if it had slow broadband, and 28 per cent would be willing to pay more for a home with fast internet. The good news for landlords is that it’s free and relatively easy to upgrade the connection to their apartment buildings. Engineers don’t even need to go into individual apartments. The key is getting your building upgraded while Openreach engineers are in the area as part of the national rollout. You just need to give permission – a wayleave – for

them to carry out the upgrade inside the property. As an open-access network, hundreds of organisations – from big players like BT, Sky and TalkTalk to local and niche providers – use Openreach lines to deliver phone, broadband and TV services. So that one connection opens up a whole world of choice of services and providers. l If you own a rental property, talk to us about when we’ll be in your area and how we can upgrade the connection to your buildings – and keep your tenants happy. openreach.co.uk/mdu

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View from Westminster, 1

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A look at key achievements, campaigns and launches over the last quarter

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AWARD NOMINATIONS The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has reached the finals of the Association Excellence Awards and the National Association Awards. The NLRA is in the running to be named best association/membership organisation, with its Covid-19 work and Property magazine also up for awards. The winners will be announced this summer.

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RESEARCH The NRLA has been awarded Market Research Society partner status this spring. The accreditation will give assurance to Government and other stakeholders about the quality and reliability of its research. ADAPTATIONS GUIDANCE New guidance to help landlords manage requests for home adaptations from older or disabled tenants has been launched. Find out more at nrla.org.uk/adaptations EXCLUSIVE MORTGAGE OFFER FOR NRLA MEMBERS NRLA Mortgages is now offering an exclusive new buy-to-let mortgage for NRLA members through lender Landbay. Visit nrla.org.uk/landbay INVESTORS IN PEOPLE Investors in People status has been awarded to the NRLA for its commitment to the workforce and the way it leads, supports and manages its staff.

Planning beyond the pandemic

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he National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) recently passed a significant milestone. It turned one year old. Of course, this is a little disingenuous, as the two organisations from which it emerged had accrued a combined 69 years of working on behalf of landlords, but nonetheless, it gave me reason to reflect on what we have achieved as an organisation and as a community of landlords during the past year. In many ways, this has made for a frustrating time, but also a rewarding one, as the new organisation has been able to focus on supporting landlords through a challenging time. In the past 12 months, our documents and practical guides have been used more than 1.1 million times; we have given landlords a voice in the media in excess of 7,000 times; and hosted more than 38,000 delegates at online meetings and events. It’s not been a conventional year, but it has provided a solid foundation for years to come.

WESTMINSTER ANALYSIS By Chris Norris

Our focus will be on presenting landlords in the best possible light Looking to that future, we are cautiously optimistic. Having spent the past few months working with the Governments in Westminster and Cardiff to plot a route out of the legal restrictions landlords have had to work within since last spring, a path is starting to open up. There is undoubtedly some way to go, but we are finally able to look ahead to priorities not directly connected with Covid-19. Here are a few headlines to look out for in the year ahead: Ultimately, we’ll be working to share our vision for the private rented sector. Part of this will be shaping the housing legislation that was delayed by Covid-19, but we

are also turning our attention to balancing the need to reduce our carbon footprint with the existential threat posed by the cost of bringing older, less efficient homes up to modern standards. Although more attention is given to changes to possession rights and processes, energy efficiency could have a greater impact on the viability of our sector. We’ll also be promoting the role and contribution of private landlords in the wider economy through original research commissioned by the NRLA. We will use this ahead of the next Budget to demonstrate both landlords’ value and the risks associated with increasing the tax burden. Above all else, our focus will be on presenting landlords in the best possible light and unapologetically promoting the hard work undertaken every day by NRLA members in providing homes and driving essential economic activity. Chris Norris is director of policy and campaigns at the NRLA.

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Something to shout about

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Infographics, 1

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Letting to tenants claiming benefits

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HAVE YOU LET TO TENANTS CLAIMING BENEFITS IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS?

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34% 46% 20% Yes

No

Unsure

IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS, HAVE YOUR TENANTS CLAIMING BENEFITS FALLEN INTO ARREARS? PRODUCTION

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Yes

51% No

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Don’t know

CONCERNS WHEN IT COMES TO LETTING TO TENANTS CLAIMING BENEFITS

PROPORTION OF LANDLORDS LETTING TO TENANTS CLAIMING BENEFITS Data shows more and more landlords are willing to rent to tenants on Universal Credit.

2021

34% 2020

28% 2019

23% 2018

21%

Landlords have a variety of concerns when it comes to letting to tenants on benefits. Major issues flagged were: ABILITY TO PAY THE RENT ON TIME: 25% HIGHER RISK OF RENT ARREARS: 22% PERCEPTIONS OF PROBLEMS WITH THE SYSTEM: 15% RENT TOO HIGH: 14% PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE WITH THE SYSTEM: 13% MORTGAGE CONDITIONS BAN LETTING TO CLAIMANTS: 7% INADEQUATE LOCAL HOUSING ALLOWANCE (LHA) RATE: 7%

What positive changes could mitigate these concerns? DIRECT PAYMENT OF RENT FROM DWP: 64% FINANCIAL OR OTHER INCENTIVES: 29% HIGHER LHA RATES: 27% REVERSING TAX CHANGES: 26% REDUCING LOCAL LICENSING: 15% INCREASING OR ABOLISHING THE SHARED ACCOMMODATION RATE: 7%

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More and more tenants who would usually rely on social housing are now looking to the private rented sector for a home. However, concerns over Universal Credit payment issues, arrears and affordability mean this isn’t always plain sailing. The National Residential Landlords Association’s Quarter 1 survey examined the challenges and potential solutions.

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Do you let furnished or unfurnished properties? To furnish or not to furnish? That is (this season’s) question

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ully furnished lets can give that real ‘wow’ factor in photographs, potentially giving your property the edge when it comes to attracting tenants – and means they can move in right away. But furnishing your property does bring with it additional responsibilities, from arranging portable appliance testing (PAT) to organising insurance. There are also concerns about potential damage and the subsequent repairs and replacements needed. Unfurnished flats are great for tenants who already have all they need for their home and want to put their own stamp on the place. But while this may seem ‘easier’ for the landlord in terms of maintenance, moving furniture to and from a property every change of tenancy can cause significant wear and tear. It isn’t just a yes or no question… Some landlords offer partially furnished homes, while others are flexible, bringing in or taking away furniture based on their tenants’ individual needs. Of the 201 of you who got in touch on social media, 53 per cent let unfurnished properties, with the tenants expected to provide what they need. Just 15 per cent offer fully furnished properties, while 21 per cent offer a mixture of both in their portfolios. The remaining 11 per cent offer partially furnished homes – or respond to tenant need. 16 / Summer 2021

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THE BIG QUESTION

HERE’S WHAT YOU HAD TO SAY… Landlord Laurence Stevens is from Wilmslow and has rental properties in the Stockport area. I have 15 rental properties and they are all furnished. When I started renting property in 1989, there was more protection for the landlord if the property was furnished. “I think tenants will be careful moving furniture into a property so as not to damage doorways, wallpaper, etc, but moving out would be a different matter. “I don’t allow decorating, although a fair few have ignored that and caused me a lot of remedial work. I’ve had tenants rip up perfectly good Axminster and Wilton carpets so they can put laminate flooring down.” Louise McManus is a landlord with properties in Yorkshire. She has both furnished and unfurnished properties, to reflect demand. I have properties in central locations in both Leeds and Harrogate, and for reasons I don’t really understand, tenants in Leeds seem to prefer furnished properties and those in Harrogate, unfurnished. “In Leeds, I have a twobedroom ‘normal’ city-centre

flat and a three-bedroom ‘wow’ penthouse flat. In Harrogate, I have one- and two-bedroom flats and threeand four-bedroom houses. “The tenants in the flats in Harrogate are very similar to those in the flats in Leeds, so there is no obvious reason for the difference.” Ashley Wong is the landlord of six buy-to-let properties of which two are furnished flats in London and four are unfurnished houses in the Midlands. She said the decision to furnish or leave unfurnished is driven by variables like the property location and ideal tenant profile/demographics. For my London flats, I target young, professional singles and couples, as the properties are midway between the city and Canary Wharf. Given these groups are relatively mobile with good disposable incomes, they prefer properties in move-in condition and do not want the hassle of shopping around for their furniture. “I opt for landlord-furnishing packages, as the furnishings are aesthetically pleasant and they come with optional necessities, for example, kitchen utensils. This nonetheless can add up to a small upfront investment. The other downsides to furnishing

properties are checking the items are in compliance with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988, insuring them and replacing them from time to time if the assured shorthold tenancy stipulates this. “My Midlands properties on the other hand primarily house families whose focus tend to be proximity to good schools, motorways and amenities. They like to have their own furniture, so I have no responsibilities nor concerns about the insurance and wear and tear. Where


Vox pop, 1

PORTFOLIO

Send us your views by emailing landlords@ nrla.org.uk, respond via our social media channels @nrla and the NRLA Facebook page

tenants are looking for furnished homes. “I know landlords who are flexible and will keep or remove items depending on the tenants’ needs, but not all are able to do so due to storage issues. I have also spoken to a landlord who will only let furnished flats after tenants kept leaving items they no longer wanted behind.”

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I provide electrical items such as washing machines, I will need to carry out the PAT test, to ensure the provided electrical goods are safe.” Dave Jennings is a single-property landlord living in Essex. My wife and I decided to invest our money in a buy-to-let to provide us with some income in our old age. My wife’s sister had a friend who was looking, liked the flat and moved in shortly after. We installed a fridge

and a cooker, but she already had her own furniture and washing machine.” Property manager Magda Cichocka runs HomeTime Property Management Ltd in Luton. The landlords I have spoken to say that if you are renting a flat or house to a single household, they prefer unfurnished, as they often already have their own furniture, whereas in houses in multiple occupation, I would say about 80 per cent of

Jean Endean has been a landlord for more than 30 years with properties in north London. My tenants are couples or families in their 30s and 40s, and I have found demand has changed dramatically since I started. Then, all my accommodation was furnished; I now only have one older tenancy that remains furnished. “With the advent of eBay and Gumtree, tenants prefer to install their own furniture and effects, but still want a fitted kitchen, including a dishwasher. I also find that tenants do not even want rugs and prefer to buy their own.” Vishal Vyas is a small portfolio landlord based in east London and has properties in Yorkshire, Humberside and the North East. We let unfurnished homes, as we find our tenants prefer their own white goods and furniture which, if

they have been renting for a while, they will have accumulated over the years. “We refurbish our properties to a high standard at the start, so the tenants will have a great base with new kitchen, new bathroom, carpets and blinds from which they can build on. “In the past, we have made the mistake of leaving in washing machines and cupboards that the previous owner had left behind, then had to replace the white goods at our own cost and pay for removal if the new tenants did not want the items.” Deborah Durbin has been a landlord for eight years and has a portfolio of 23 properties in and around Weston-super-Mare. I always let my properties unfurnished, although I do provide blinds and curtains. Landlords have enough legislation to deal with, without being responsible for furniture breaking or getting damaged. “I would advise not to furnish unless you are specialising in student or holiday lets.” THE NEXT BIG QUESTION: Ahead of the next issue of Property, we ask: When it comes to repairs, are you a DIY-er, or do you have an army of trusted tradesmen behind you? Have your say on our social media channels, or email landlords@nrla.org.uk

Summer 2021 / 17

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The summer house at Martin’s home near Bath

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A lifelong passion for property Landlord, property guru and Homes Under the Hammer star Martin Roberts on why landlords deserve plaudits not punishment, and how investing in property can offer peace of mind in uncertain economic times WORDS BY SALLY WALMSLEY PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARETH IWAN JONES

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Profile: Martin Roberts, 1 Landlord and TV presenter Martin outside his home

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artin Roberts is a familiar face on our TV screens. A star of Homes Under the Hammer for the past 18 years, he has become a trusted figure for would-be investors. What many people do not know is that Martin is also a landlord, with rental homes in Plymouth and Derby, after he began investing in buy-to-let (BTL) homes in his mid-30s. The seeds of his lifelong love affair with property began as a youngster. Martin, a journalist by trade, grew up in a home with a strong ‘do-ityourself’ ethos and decided to dip his toe into the world of property investment after realising how lucrative it could be. He says: “I grew up in a house where my dad was always in the middle of some DIY project or other. Everything was a mess – he would always be refurbishing the kitchen or redesigning the garden and I think that just got into my psyche. “When I got my first house in my early 20s, I just did what came naturally. I did the bathroom, knocked through the kitchen… the usual. “I was working for a local radio station and had this moment of realisation that while I’d saved a couple of grand in the two years I’d been working there, over the same period of time – and after all the work I had done on it – my house had doubled in value, from around £23,000 to £56,000. This made me think about how the things I had learnt growing up could give me financial freedom – which is really where it all started.” A CAREER IN TV PRESENTING Martin continued to work as a broadcast journalist and presenter; he was a travel editor for a women’s magazine and co-presented hit TV show Wish You Were Here…? It was when the programme

Above: Martin and his father, Norman Roberts, on a woodturning course. Left: Martin with Homes Under the Hammer co-presenters Dion Dublin and Martel Maxwell

was coming to an end that one of the team came up with the idea for Homes Under the Hammer and asked if he would be interested. For the uninitiated, the show features several properties up for sale at auction – often homes that need significant work. They are valued, then auctioned, with the buyers discussing their plans and the presenter going back to see how they got on – and what the refurbished property is worth. He says: “I love working in property and am really hands-on, so I jumped at the chance. I liked the idea of showing people that this was something they could do, with the right support and advice.” A whopping 1,730 episodes and 3,000 properties later, and the show is still going strong.

“I grew up in a house where my dad was always in the middle of some DIY project. He would always be refurbishing… and I think that got into my psyche”

Martin says: “There have been some memorable transformations – some for all the wrong reasons. We went back to one of the houses and all the buyer had done was spend £16.99 on replacing the toilet seat. And in one of the most bizarre transformations, one of the kitchen cabinets had been transformed into a rabbit hutch.” However, there have also been emotional moments. “We went to see a property in Stockport,” Martin continues, “and when I asked the young buyers why they had bought it, they told me a story about watching Homes Under the Hammer with their mother who was in a hospice. She told them: ‘When I die, I want you to use some of the money to buy a property – and do what that man tells you to do’ – pointing to me on the TV. It was very emotional and had me, the cameraman and the director all in tears.” MORE SUPPORT FOR LANDLORDS When it comes to investing in property, Martin admits prices have soared since he started out, but points out that borrowing is now much more affordable. “People talk about property being expensive, but I remember my first mortgage was 15 per cent fixed rate – and I thought that was good,” he says. “It might have been easier to get the money years ago – when mortgages were offered to people who might struggle if things got tough – but borrowing is cheaper now. Where there is a will, there is Summer 2021 / 21

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Martin says that since the pandemic hit, more people have started looking to property to provide an additional income. He says: “I think during these uncertain and chaotic times, more and more people are wondering whether property investment is something they could do – and whether they need to add a string to their bow, not least due to unpredictability when it comes to jobs.” His top tips for anyone thinking of taking the plunge and investing in property are: ●● do your research before jumping in ●● take advice, from the NRLA, or people who have done it before ●● read books ●● start local ●● stay within your budget ●● look at property that you can add value to within your capabilities ●● don’t pay over the odds for a property ●● research areas and properties ●● believe you can do it. He says: “If you work hard and follow the rules, you can make a success of it. Homes Under the Hammer proves that. “The people you see on the show are not professional developers, but more often than not they are successful – and an investment such as this could be a lifeline financially. “In terms of what to avoid, I would say beware of any get-rich-quick schemes, don’t overstretch yourself financially, and calculate and measure the risk. It doesn’t have to be perfect the very first time, but you need to take the first step or you will never make the journey.”

Originally built as a spaceship for his children, this is where Martin records shows on talkRADIO

often a way. Sometimes you just need to think creatively. “Could you make it work as a joint venture with a friend or family member? As long as it is all sorted out legally, there is no reason you couldn’t team up with a friend who might be cash rich and time poor, if you are the opposite.” While Martin started out buying and selling property, he later moved into BTL and believes landlords need to be given more credit – and viewed more favourably by politicians. He says: “Private landlords are massively undervalued and should not be seen as devils, but as saints. They are providing homes, buying houses that are often in a bad condition and using their own money to bring them to a good standard and introducing housing stock back into the market – providing accommodation that no one else is going to provide. “The thanks they get for this is being penalised by politicians – with wave after wave of regulation change hitting them in the pocket: the mortgage interest relief

changes, stamp duty surcharge, the loss of the wear-and tear allowance… it is a constant battle. There should be more tax incentives and support, not less. “I also think the way the Government is pushing smaller landlords out in favour of institutional investors is a travesty. It is the people with three to four properties who look after tenants and are at the end of the phone if needed, not some faceless, nameless people just in for the profits and shareholders’ interests. I feel it is a real shame and is why it is important there are groups like the National Residential Landlords Association [NRLA] out there to protect their interests.” SUPPORT FROM A TRUSTED TEAM Martin says he gets a real buzz out of creating homes for his tenants – but says that building a trusted team has been key to his success in running a property business alongside his media career. He says: “When I first started out in property and interest rates were high, the rental model was trickier,

“Private landlords are massively undervalued. They are providing homes, buying houses… and introducing housing stock back into the market” Summer 2021 / 23

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Martin says: “I would advise any landlord – regardless of their experience – to join the NRLA. “The association really sets the benchmark for professionalism in the industry and provides assistance in what can be a scary world. “It also lobbies on behalf of a group of people who are largely silent, but need a voice to convince decisionmakers just how important they are.”

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“My best piece of advice would be that if you want to succeed at BTL, you have to take it seriously. Run your business professionally and have a system” plus – not long out of university myself – I just didn’t ‘feel’ like a landlord. I took the plunge when rates had started to drop and I had a lot more money and experience. I was used to doing everything myself, but when it came to running a rentals business alongside my media commitments, I realised I needed to build a trusted team. “Having a good agent who can take a lot of the day-to-day stresses from you makes a huge difference – and you don’t feel that you are on your own. “My first property was a student let down in Plymouth, which I own to this day. I felt student lets were something I knew about – I had friends there and the property was a good size for the money.” In terms of the number of rental properties he owns, Martin laughs: “More than one and less than 100; I have enough

to provide a steady income. I like to stick to particular areas looked after by people I trust. Having properties dotted everywhere makes no sense to me. I like providing good-quality homes for people. I get a real buzz from seeing someone enjoying a place I have created. I like to meet my tenants – and I like being my own boss. “Like many landlords, I have had my share of people taking the mickey and painful experiences, but I would say this is the exception rather than the rule. “My best piece of advice would be that if you want to succeed at BTL, you have to take it seriously. Run your business professionally and have a system in place. You need to know when the gas safety inspection is due, when insurance needs renewing – and don’t be put off by the ever-increasing amount of paperwork.”

SO, WHAT IS NEXT FOR MARTIN? Already running his own property courses and tutorials, Martin has spent the lockdown period developing his YouTube channel, ‘Martin Roberts Property Titbits’. He says: “It is something that has been on the cards for ages, I just never got round to it – so it has been my lockdown project. “There’s something for everyone on there, from all you need to know as a first-time buyer to buying at auction; the landlord/ tenant relationship; even behind-the-scenes stuff from Homes Under the Hammer. “I have also put together ‘how to’ videos for adults and children, everything from building a bookshelf to your own swing-ball set. “I think DIY is a lost art; it was something that was so important to me – shaped my life really – so there are lots and lots of instructional videos.” Martin also has his own charity, the Martin Roberts Foundation, which raises money for educational and wellbeing initiatives for children and young people. As part of this work he has written a children’s book series, The Villes, including storybook Sadsville, which encourages children to explore any feelings of sadness they might be experiencing and suggests ways to address them. During the pandemic, free copies and a special teachers’ guide were distributed to all primary schools and public libraries across the UK. l For more information, visit martinroberts.com

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CLADDING CRISIS

WHO PAYS THE PRICE? Landlords face crippling costs to remedy unsafe cladding identified in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster BY ALEXANDER GARRETT

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The Grenfell Tower tragedy has seen the Government review building regulations

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hen Liverpool landlord Steve retired 15 years ago, putting some of his pension into a buy-to-let (BTL) flat seemed a sensible thing to do. “It looked like a good investment at the time, and until last year that proved the case,” he says. In 2017, when the Grenfell Tower fire happened, Steve was relieved to find out that the building where his two-bedroom flat is didn’t have the same aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, which was blamed for the severity of the fire at Grenfell, which killed 72 people. He was in for a shock. In 2020, leaseholders learned that the expanded polystyrene cladding the building was covered in had been found to be flammable and would have to be removed. A ‘waking

watch’ service was introduced to keep an eye on the building 24/7, and the service charge rocketed by 250 per cent. “My net income from the flat went from £5,000 a year to minus £2,000; I won’t be able to remortgage when my fixed rate runs out, which means I default to the variable rate and my mortgage costs will double. Beyond that, I face a bill of up to £50,000 for works to remove the cladding and make the building safe,” says National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) member Steve. “I have no idea how this will end up or even when it will end.”

“I face a bill of up to £50,000 for works to remove the cladding and make the building safe”

It’s a story that is familiar to many small landlords, who bought leasehold flats in blocks around the country, believing them to be safe, and now face crippling costs that threaten to wipe out the value of their investment. It’s believed that around 1.5 million leaseholders are affected by the aftershocks from the Grenfell fire, and according to one estimate (based on data compiled by credit agency DBRS Morningstar), as many as half of them could be landlords. After external cladding was initially identified as the main culprit at Grenfell, the Government set out to identify buildings that were unsafe and concluded that the problem went far wider than ACM. By January 2020, many more buildings in the country with external cladding were required to undertake an External Wall Fire Review (EWS1) assessment, Summer 2021 / 27

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and if potentially dangerous materials were discovered, insurance premiums rocketed and emergency measures such as instigating a waking watch were required.

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NON-COMPLIANT CLADDING COSTS Glasgow-based Simon Howard moved into property investment four years ago, and now owns six properties around the country. Most are houses, but two are flats – one in Salford Quays and one in Manchester’s Green Quarter. “I bought them both after Grenfell and the only stipulation by the lender at the time was whether they had ACM cladding, but neither did,” says Simon. But surveys subsequently detected problems. At the Manchester property, non-compliant cladding was found, and it was decided that some of the render was also dangerous. “They did an EWS1 and said the cost of remediating would be £3.3m. If we had to pay in full, the cost to me would be £23,000,” he recounts. The service charge tripled overnight. At the Salford Quays property, the verdict was that cladding and insulation were fine, but the ‘compartmentalisation’ – the physical division between apartments – was not installed properly. In this case, the cost of remediation has been estimated at £11.7m, or £80,000–£100,000 per flat. Simon’s flat only cost £100,000. “Both properties have mortgages that expired last year and I was unable to move them, because each property was valued at zero by the lender,” he says. “The biggest cost I face now is the mortgage. Over two years, that will cost me £10,000 extra on the two properties.” The biggest question for many landlord leaseholders is who will pay for the major building works required to make their property safe. Joan Astbury, a retired NHS physio, and her husband, David, who worked for the Environment Agency, own three flats at The Decks, a waterside development in Runcorn, the first of which was bought for her disabled son, who

Britton House in Manchester’s Green Quarter (above) and the Millennium Tower, Salford Quays, have been affected by the cladding crisis

passed away before he could move in. “We bought them in 2011 when they were finishing off, using lump sums from our pensions,” says Joan. Once problems were detected at The Decks, all leaseholders had to stump up for increased insurance, a waking watch scheme and then the installation of fire alarms throughout. “In the past two years, we have spent around £10,000 on increased insurance and fitting fire alarms,” says Joan. “I don’t mind because I have got lovely tenants and I don’t want to put them at risk.” But the cost of remediation work has

been estimated at £40,000 per flat and there is little prospect of the Government’s £3.5bn Building Safety Fund meeting the bill – as funding is only available for remediation on residential buildings 18m and over. This is despite the issues raised by the cladding scandal impacting buildings of all sizes. PAYING THE PRICE Housing Minister Robert Jenrick has said that long-term loans will also be available, with a maximum outlay of £50 per month, but Joan says: “For us, that is £150 a month, £450 a quarter on top of the insurance. We can afford it, but we won’t be making anything from the flats at all. The rents barely cover the costs up to now and this extra £450 a quarter means we’ll be paying out of our own pocket.”

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For others, it’s even less clear what will be covered. Paddy Horsington, a teacher and part-time landlord who owns six BTL properties, discovered late last year that his flat in a converted office block in Wiltshire has problems. “It has wooden cladding and balconies, but it’s also what’s in the cavity walls,” says Paddy. “The big problem is: what will the Government actually cover? It is saying it will cover cladding, but will that include internal materials? I asked the management company if insulation is covered. It said it’ll put in for funding, but it’s not clear if it will cover it or not.” Cladding safety concerns have

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leaseholders in the blocks where I own are landlords. It has been an issue for the managing agents getting hold of some of them because they are absent.” He says the cladding crisis has highlighted the danger for all landlords of buying leasehold property. “I definitely wouldn’t buy another leasehold property, because you’ve got no legal rights,” says Simon. “If the freeholders do push through these huge bills, you get 28 days to pay under leasehold law; after that, you forfeit the lease, but you have still got the mortgage.”

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The NRLA is preparing a series of case studies about landlords who have been affected by the cladding crisis. Please send us your experiences by emailing landlords@nrla.org.uk

“WHY SHOULD WE HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR MISTAKES?” Mhari Oakes owns a BTL flat at The Decks in Runcorn. She says she “can’t sleep for the injustice of it all”. She bought her onebedroom flat four years ago. “When Grenfell happened, we had a letter from the management company saying: ‘we are writing to tell you that the building is 100 per cent safe’,” Mhari says. But since the building’s cladding was subsequently judged unsafe, she’s had to pay £3,600 for rocketing insurance bills and £2,000

for a new fire alarm on a flat that is only worth £60,000. She also faces a possible £40,000 remediation bill with no prospect of it being refunded by the Government. Mhari says: “At the time, the Government said only the type of cladding used at Grenfell was dangerous. But then the building regulations were changed. Who is responsible for these? Who allowed our building to be constructed with a material 10 times more Mhari and her daughter

flammable than is safe? Taylor Wimpey built it; why should we pay for their mistakes?” Taylor Wimpey said the development complied with

regulations when built and recently announced a new £125m investment to bring blocks constructed in the past 20 years up to standard. A spokesperson said: “The Decks complied with building regulations at the time of construction, but as fire safety guidance has evolved, improvement works may now be required following the conclusion of an EWS1 assessment. We are committed to helping residents at The Decks with fire safety improvements if needed.”

MHARI OAKES, TWITTER @THEDECKSRUNCORN

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MORE ISSUES FOR LANDLORDS also hit The Decks in Runcorn Landlords are conscious that unlike notice, and I may not be residents, it is not their own home that’s able to get a new one. But at stake, and they recognise that safety if I do and the building closes, I may have concerns are paramount for those who live to rehouse them,” he adds. in affected homes. Nonetheless, landlords Not being able to sell properties that are do also face particular issues of their own affected until works have been carried out – such as the fear that tenants will leave and is another key issue for some landlords; and nobody will want to rent a property that is while there is scant opportunity to recover blighted by any question about its safety. costs by putting up rents, in some cases, As Steve explains: “The estate management the local market has actually been saturated company where my flat is could run out by leaseholders who have been forced to of money – it is already in arrears by more become accidental landlords, because they than £100,000, and we have been told needed to move home and couldn’t sell. that if it can’t pay its bills, then the entire And landlords who have fallen victim building might have to be closed.” to the cladding scandal can’t always count In that case, he says, leaseholders with on getting a sympathetic hearing. “Some tenants have been told they would have people have said: ‘You are just an investor, to find them new accommodation at their what do you expect?’” says Simon. own expense. “My tenant has given in their “Probably about a quarter of the

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New Government regulations could see landlords give up on rural properties that leave them out of pocket

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THE CHALLENGES OF RURAL RENTALS Landlords who let property outside towns and cities face more challenges than their urban counterparts, which could see many leaving the market altogether BY GILL OLIVER

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overnment proposals to improve the energy efficiency of rental properties are prompting thousands of landlords in country areas to consider selling up and could result in the loss of more than 50,000 homes in rural areas, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). While the pandemic has triggered a wave of demand for rented property outside towns and cities, the CLA’s warning has highlighted the challenges faced by rural landlords, which range from low rental levels to the difficulty of connecting to services. Much of the policy and regulation coming out of central Government is urban-focused and has not been ‘rural-proofed’, says the CLA. The proposal for all rental homes to have an Energy Performance Certificate

(EPC) rating of C by 2025 (for new tenancies) is a prime example. The CLA points to the fact that rural homes are more likely to be older, larger and detached – which makes them more difficult to heat and insulate. Also, the English Housing Survey Energy Report states that three-quarters (76 per cent) don’t have access to mains gas. Given that the assessment methodology automatically marks down non-gas mains heating, it’s an obvious challenge. “Assessments tend to come out with an EPC rating much lower than the actual performance of the building, and

A property recently let by Rural View

recommended measures such as solid wall insulation just don’t work for old buildings,” says CLA business and property consultant Hermione Warmington. “They’re often not viable, tend to be extremely expensive and the subsequent heat saving isn’t proportional to capital costs.” She adds: “In terms of cost, oil is the most efficient heating type for off-gas grid homes but in carbon terms, it’s a disaster that’s going to be phased out in the coming decade.” COUNTRY HOUSE QUANDARIES Letting and property management agent Rural View specialises in period cottages in rural Wiltshire, north Dorset and south Somerset. Co-founder Charlie Graham says many are listed and a good chunk of properties it deals with are on farmland, or privately owned estates. “Minimum energy-efficiency standards are designed for boxes in Stevenage, rather than rural cottages,” he says. Summer 2021 / 35

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“A period property in the country is always going to have a bit of damp in the walls and as you can’t do much about that, it’s a case of managing it. Most scrape through to minimum E on EPC and if they don’t, landlords do the work to get them there, but to reach a C by 2025 is a whole new ball game, and I can see a lot of landlords will part with their properties, or not let them any more.” And Ian Perkins, property compliance manager and domestic energy assessor at Cobb Amos, which lets and manages properties in rural Herefordshire, Shropshire and mid-Wales, describes listed buildings as “a real minefield”. He argues the exemption scheme hasn’t been fully tested and official advice is “woolly”. “If you have a listed building and it falls below level E, there are certain measures you can’t take, for instance, put in PVC glazing or solar panels,” he says. There are also fears that landlords will be required to spend £10,000 every five years – the proposed new cap on spending to improve energy performance – before they can be considered for exemption if their property rating remains below band C. “No landlord would hold on to an asset where they’ll lose money, once you take into account the significantly lower rents that you see in rural areas,” says Hermione.

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NO SIMPLE SOLUTION A recent CLA survey found that a quarter of assured shorthold tenancies are let by its members at below market rate, while research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that more than 150,000 people in rural local authorities are on the waiting list for social housing. “There’s a severe lack of social housing in rural areas and that need is often filled by our members,” says Hermione, “but if landlords have to spend all this money trying to improve the energy-efficiency

“If you have a listed building… you can’t put in PVC glazing” IAN PERKINS, COBB AMOS

RURAL APPEAL Country cottage lets became more sought after during lockdown restrictions, but older properties can be hard to heat and insulate, and usually mean lower rents for landlords

rating against a system that is ill-suited to assess older rural properties, they won’t be able to afford to keep letting homes below the market rent, and the people in those homes will be displaced.” There’s no simple solution. Jessica Waddington, senior associate director of land management at Strutt & Parker, says that, from a landlord’s perspective, “anything that hasn’t got a cavity wall is never going to get to C band without spending a significant amount. And if you’ve got a large portfolio of properties, it becomes a huge amount. I support what the Government is trying to do, but don’t agree with the way it assesses older constructions. There must be a level that allows

you to get there without bulldozing the house and starting again.” She isn’t convinced renewables are the answer: “An air source or ground source heat pump is not necessarily appropriate in an older property. If it has single-glazed windows or hasn’t got solid wall insulation, putting that type of heating into a property that’s more leaky than a newbuild won’t work because the heating won’t be sufficient. You may be compliant from an EPC point of view, but you’ll have a tenant on the phone complaining it’s cold.” Energy efficiency is the most pressing issue right now, but it’s just one of a number of challenges that rural landlords have to deal with. Cobb Amos’s James Gwynne says: “Rural properties might be old farm buildings, so concerns around Summer 2021 / 37

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EXODUS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE On the plus side, the switch to working from home has opened up rural properties to a far wider market, with a recent CLA survey revealing Covid-19 has resulted in 44 per cent of people being more likely to consider moving to the countryside. And the shortage of homes means that good properties can often be let easily. The past 12 months have seen a surge of people looking to buy in the countryside, who have rented until their perfect property came along. Jessica says: “Everyone’s desperate to have their own little piece of England with

Cobb Amos lets properties around the picturesque town of Knighton

AN HOUR’S ROUND TRIP FOR A PINT OF MILK There are few parts of the UK more remote than Powys in Wales. Letting and property management agent Cobb Amos covers the area around Knighton and Rhayader, where it has quite a few isolated properties. Property compliance manager Ian Perkins says: “We used to manage a cottage just

a house, an outbuilding and a decent-sized garden.” Based in Hertfordshire, where the semi-rural setting is only 19 minutes by train to St Pancras, she says three- to four-bedroom homes command £2,400– £4,000 a month. “A lot of people were spending a huge amount of rent for a six-month tenancy just to get out of London for the summer last year,” she recalls. Nevertheless, for some landlords the challenges already outweigh the rewards. Part-time teacher Sandra Towers is the

“I support what the Government is trying to do, but don’t agree with the way it assesses older constructions” JESSICA WADDINGTON, STRUTT & PARKER

outside Knighton that was at the end of a track and a good 10 miles from anywhere. It was rented by an elderly lady and her daughter, and if they ran out of milk, it was an hour’s round trip to go and buy more.” Another of the agency’s tenants, who is a widow, lives in a property just outside Ludlow, which

is not connected to the mains gas grid. “It’s an agricultural tenancy – her late husband worked on the farm and she’s been a tenant in that property since 1966,” Ian explains. The agency also manages a couple of properties that have housed the same tenants for more than 20 years.

National Residential Landlords Association regional representative covering Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Black Country. Based near Ironbridge, she has a portfolio of six rentals, but has deliberately shied away from buying rural properties because of energy-efficiency regulations. She says: “Most rural stock is much older and that’s a challenge.” She believes many landlords with older rural housing stock will exit the private rented sector before the C band becomes mandatory. “Rural landlords may well sell up because of increasing costs, increasing legislation and concerns about tax. It’s just becoming too much, to the point where people are thinking: ‘This isn’t really worth it. I may as well cash in on it now and sell up’.”

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energy efficiency, damp and mould are quite common. Sometimes our landlords feel their hands are tied, because it’s not something that goes away with a little bit of damp proofing and a dehumidifier.” Jessica says her team manages properties not on mains sewerage and the relevant legislation adds another layer of complication and expense. She estimates replacing a septic tank with the required private sewage plant costs £12,000–£15,000 per house. Rural properties aren’t always on mains water and may come with a private water supply such as a spring, borehole or drinking well, points out Ian. In this case, they must comply with environmental health private water supplies regulations, which often means regular testing. “There are now many more requirements for landlords to lay out money, and margin on rentals is being squeezed,” he adds. Another expense is broadband, since internet connection is crucial, says Jessica. “A lot of our landlord clients worked hard a couple of years ago to get their own fibre supplied, so they could connect their cottages. You couldn’t let a house nowadays without internet and even if you managed to, it would severely affect the rental price. “Even though a landlord might have to pay through the nose, it’s worth it because it affects the rent so dramatically,” she adds.

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Many landlords are unaware that there is funding available to them to adapt their properties to help tenants with disabilities 40 / Summer 2021

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Josh Wintersgill is frustrated at the lack of accessible properties available to rent

Access all areas

Tenants with disabilities struggle to find suitable homes. A new NRLA initiative is encouraging more landlords to consider adapting their properties

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ike so many young people during the pandemic, 27-year-old Josh Wintersgill is desperate to get on with life. He’s currently living with his grandmother and wants to find a flat to rent with his partner and her two children. But for Josh, founder of the company Able Move – whose easyTravelseat enables people with reduced mobility to travel more comfortably – the hunt for the right rental property is harder than most, as he has been reliant on using a wheelchair since he was a child. Josh and his partner are looking in Chippenham and ideally need a threebedroom bungalow with an en-suite wet room, level access (no steps or lips on the front door) and a decent-sized garden.

He also needs doors to be at least 800mm wide for his wheelchair. But, says Josh: “We have been looking for nearly a year now and nothing suitable has become available. You often feel like you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack – and the needle isn’t even in there.” Josh recounts being shown flats that turn out to be upstairs or inaccessible due to a step into the communal area. “Or it’s a downstairs flat with access, but a bath or shower, which are no good to me,” he says. “You always find something that is accessible outside but inaccessible inside, or vice versa. I can’t explain how frustrating that is. And if you do get lucky, you often have to wait several months in a property that doesn’t work for you until the adaptations have been approved and completed.” Summer 2021 / 41

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SUITABLE HOMES Josh’s frustrating experience echoes the findings of the National Residential Landlords Association’s (NRLA’s) new report, Adapting the Private Rented Sector, which exposes a chronic lack of accessible properties for disabled tenants. Four in five wheelchair users in the private rented sector (PRS) are living in a home that fails to meet their needs, and 91 per cent have experienced barriers to renting, according to the accessible housing fund Abode Impact, which was involved in the report. The fast-growing demographic of older renters is also cause for concern, with nearly threequarters classified as disabled or suffering from a chronic illness. By 2046, the number of households aged over 64 will rise from five per cent to 12 per cent. Lack of awareness is the first issue. Many landlords simply don’t realise there is a huge demand-supply imbalance of accessible housing – nor that there is funding available to them to adapt their properties to help meet that need, says Meera Chindooroy, the NRLA’s deputy director for campaigns and public affairs. “Many local authorities haven’t engaged with private landlords on the issue, and many letting agents aren’t aware of what accessibility features are already in the properties they deal with, so we hope our guidance will start that conversation,” says Meera. UNCOMPLICATED ALTERATIONS Landlords may also imagine the process of adapting a property to be more complex than it actually is. They may already have features to promote, says Meera, such as a downstairs toilet/bathroom or a kitchen with sufficient turning space for wheelchairs. Many adjustments are minor and can be made with the tenant in situ, such as adding grab rails, installing lever taps or lowering locks. Cost is another obstacle. The NRLA’s research found that 79 per cent of landlords knew nothing about the grants available to them for adaptation work, from Disability Facilities Grants for major adaptations to local authority funds for minor changes. “Councils may also have

unnecessary cost to landlords,” says Guy. “The situation I would like to reimagine with local authorities is to get works funded for a known wheelchair tenant to a known property before the tenant moves in. It isn’t necessarily The system isn’t currently set up for too complex this. With a wheelchair user, it’s a to adapt a different scenario than an existing property to suit tenant with changing needs. If the disabled renters property isn’t accessible, a wheelchair user cannot move in. That’s why the NRLA campaign is so urgent and significant.” AccessiblePRS has many more tenants The costs of building in looking than it has properties or landlords wheelchair access “can on its books. “The private rental model wheelchair access is a complex picture be insignificant, and add for involving many moving parts – landlords, value to the property” properties, tenants, processes, adaptations, funding – and the system isn’t set up discretionary funds for works to make good for putting them together easily,” the property at the end of the tenancy, such Guy comments. as removing a stairlift,” says Meera. The motivation for landlords, he adds, When the landlords in the NRLA’s survey often comes from personal experience found out more about available funding, of a friend or family member who has a 68 per cent said they were more willing to disability and has struggled to find adequate adapt their properties. The costs of building housing. “Others see owning an accessible in wheelchair access “can be insignificant, property with a long-term tenant as a and they add value to the property anyway” positive investment, given the supply if the property is undergoing a complete and demand situation.” refurbishment, points out Guy Harris, director at AccessiblePRS. He works ACCESSIBILITY FOR EVERYONE with both institutional and private Similarly on a mission to get more private landlords, and is launching a new scheme landlords on board with making their to facilitate wheelchair user tenants in the properties accessible to disabled tenants mainstream market. is Sallie Stone-Bearne, founder and director “Most rental properties are in good of Branch Properties Accessibility condition, however, so making adaptations Specialists. She is also helping Josh [on a speculative basis] seems an with his property search. Summer 2021 / 43

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“Our clients come to us in desperation. They’ll arrive at a rental property to be told ‘it’s only one or two steps’ or it’s split-level. That’s impossible if you’re in a wheelchair,” she says. “Many of them have had accidents and seen their lives changed overnight. They recover in hospital, then can’t physically get into their home,” says Sallie. And though it’s too soon to know the full extent of the impact of Covid-19, doubtless the numbers of people facing mobility issues – due to long periods of hospitalisation, or the effects of long Covid-19 – will have swollen in the past year. Landlords, understandably, want to know what’s in it for them. Why go through the effort and expense involved in modifying a property for disabled tenants? “The answer is fewer void periods as tenants in wheelchairs tend to stay a minimum of three years. They will take care of your property, as it’s such a struggle to find somewhere suitable. And we need to change the perception and show that adapted properties can look stylish. Wet rooms can be beautiful. They don’t need to look hospital-like,” Sallie comments. THE BENEFITS TO LANDLORDS If anything, more inclusive property design – such as lower-level plugs and switches, step-free access and wet rooms – opens up a wider pool of tenants, including elderly renters, rather than narrowing the appeal to a particular sector. “It becomes a property that’s accessible for everyone, not just wheelchair users,” says Sallie. There are furniture companies too, such as Häfele, that provide accessible living ranges, including height-adjustable worktops, rise-and-fall cupboards and sinks,

Grants are available to landlords to adapt properties for disabled tenants

“It becomes a property that’s accessible for everyone, not just wheelchair users” and linear induction hobs that remove the need to lean across a hot surface. In instances where the tenants have sustained life-changing injuries, the costs of any work to a property are typically covered by insurance claims. “All our clients are the victims of personal injury or clinical negligence, and their insurance covers the costs, which are usually £30,000–£60,000 for a rental property,” says Phillip Gill, managing director of disability property specialists PLG. “Access and bathing facilities are the main issues, and we install a lot of lifts – which isn’t as big a job as you might think. “We work closely with landlords to agree a solution that suits all parties – and that includes agreeing the level of work on the way in and the way out, as landlords may want

the property restored to how it was before the tenancy,” he continues. As a landlord himself and a former London estate agent, he says he wants to show he understands landlords’ concerns. “One key thing they want to know is that the client is good for the money. Our clients don’t get made redundant, as they mostly don’t have jobs and they’re not going to up sticks,” he says. But clearly more reassurance is needed as the pandemic has seen “a massive lack of instructions”, he says. “Normally, every client of ours gets sent three or four properties a day in their search area on Rightmove. Now we’re seeing one property a day per three or four clients.” INAPPROPRIATE LIVING CONDITIONS Sallie is particularly concerned about what the lack of wheelchair-friendly rental properties means for young disabled tenants, with many being offered wholly unsuitable housing instead. One 25-yearold client of hers was told by his council that a care home was his only option. And Josh’s fruitless search for a flat in Bracknell, when he was a 20-year-old student completing a work placement with a large IT company, resulted in the local authority paying £40,000 for him to stay in a neuro-rehabilitation centre for 10 months. “In the first few weeks, I had a gentleman with dementia trying to get into my bed, and other individuals in the centre threatened to beat me up. It wasn’t an environment for a young person to be living in, and it was all because of the lack of accessible housing,” Josh says. “Due to the lack of accessible housing in the PRS, people are either forced into social housing or have to remain living with family,” he adds. “Let’s do the right thing and start making the PRS more accessible for all.” MORE INFORMATION The NRLA’s Adaptations: Good Practice Guidance can be downloaded at nrla.org.uk/campaigns/adaptations Josh Wintersgill and Sallie StoneBearne appeared on episode 3 of NRLA podcast Listen Up Landlords. To listen, visit nrla.org.uk/podcast

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Assessing the mental health of landlords

Changing the way landlords are perceived

How the Spring Budget will impact mortgages

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Blind cords – the hidden killer

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We all know about the importance of smoke alarms and gas and electrical safety testing, but what other potentially fatal hazards could be lurking in your rental home?

t was a tragedy that should never have happened. Toddler Joey Walker died at the age of two after becoming entangled in a blind cord in his rented home last year, after his mother turned her back for a second. The blind – which did not meet current

safety standards – had been installed by the previous tenants. Sadly, the toddler was not the first to lose his life in this way. Research from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) shows at least 35 children have died in the UK since 1999

as a result of looped blind cords. A new standard introduced in February 2014 requires all blinds to include safety devices for preventing any cords or chains from creating a hazardous loop. However, older blinds are still in use across the country in both privately owned and rented homes.

Under current rules, landlords are not legally required to inspect blinds, or to make sure cords are safety-compliant. However, in the wake of Joey’s death, in Denton, Greater Manchester, senior coroner Chris Morris, has written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick Summer 2021 / 47

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and local council bosses, asking for change. He said: “It is a matter of concern that residential landlords are not currently subject to any obligation to inspect window coverings. In my opinion, action should be taken to prevent future deaths.”

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CALLS FOR BLIND SAFETY Research from RoSPA carried out in 2019 found that 27 per cent of private rented sector (PRS) homes with blinds in the child’s bedroom had them installed before the new safety rules came in. In addition to this, more than a third (34 per cent) did not have safety mechanisms fitted. It advises landlords to have new blinds put in or, where that is not possible, to install safety devices to minimise the risk. The British Blind and Shutter Association (BBSA) launched the Make it Safe campaign in 2009, following the death of two-year-old Muireann McLaughlin in Scotland the year before. She, too, died after becoming entangled in a blind cord. Trading Standards has now launched new guidance, specifically for landlords, outlining the legal standards, advice and information about the safety devices on the market and how to install them.

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RAISING AWARENESS Andrew Chalk, director of operations for BBSA, said one of the most important

aspects of the project is raising awareness. He said: “The campaign began in 2009 to look at ways of making products safer, and the first thing we did was to find out more about the fatalities we have seen and how they occurred. “It is through that work that we found we needed to raise awareness among landlords and tenants in the PRS. Everyone knows about the importance of gas and electrical safety – we want to ensure that blind safety is also on landlords’ radars to avoid further tragedies. “You can now buy inherently safe versions of every blind style – but whatever blinds you already have in your rental properties, there are ways of making them safer. “You can install cleats to tie back loose cords, put in devices that will hold cords or chains taut to prevent loops forming or breakaway systems – where the cord snaps if excess weight is placed on it. “However, if it is not possible to retrofit devices, you should replace the blinds.” The guidance details all the options of blind safety and includes video guides to help with installation. l To access the NRLA’s child-safety guidance, visit nrla.org.uk/safety l To access the new BBSA guidance for landlords, visit bbsa.org.uk

“You can buy safe versions of every blind style – but whatever blinds you already have in your rental properties, there are ways of making them safer”

ADVICE FOR LANDLORDS Landlords must ensure that all installed blinds include cords or chains that are safe for their tenants. The new guidance from Trading Standards says: l● blinds installed by the landlord or their agent after February 2014 must be compliant with the childsafety requirements l● if the blinds cannot be made safe by the addition of a compliant safety device(s), they should be replaced l● blinds installed by the tenant should be checked to ensure they are compliant as part of the landlord/agent inspections l● tenants should be advised of the child-safety aspects of internal window blinds l● compliance with the standard is required irrespective of the age of the tenants, including where no children are present.

MAKING YOUR EXISTING BLINDS SAFER If you have a window blind that has an operating cord or chain that could form a loop, you must keep it out of the reach of babies and young children. There are a range of safety devices available for every type of blind. CHAIN-BREAK CONNECTOR These will break apart when undue pressure is applied on the operating chain but, after inspection, can be reconnected again. Chain sizes vary, so you must use the chain-break connector that is designed to be used with your specific chain. CORD/CHAIN TIDIES AND TENSIONERS These devices should be securely fixed to an adjacent surface (wall/ window frame) and at the maximum distance from the top of the blind so the cords and/or chains are held permanently taut by the device. CLEAT This should be securely fixed to an adjacent surface out of the reach of children and at least 1.5m from the floor. The cords must be secured in a figure of eight after every operation of the blind. Ensure all spare cord is securely contained on the cleat. If you do install safety devices, ensure tenants are fully informed as to how they operate and how to use them safely.

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Is a mental health crisis looming for landlords?

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ong hours, 24/7 call-outs, unending paperwork… running a lettings business is tough – and even harder if you are juggling a full-time job on the side. Add a global pandemic and economic downturn to the mix and you are looking at a combination that could have serious consequences on your wellbeing. Many charities have warned of an impending mental health crisis in the wake of the pandemic – with the effects to be felt for years to come. According to the most recent National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) data, 40 per cent of landlords said

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the pandemic had had a ‘negative or very negative’ impact on their mental health. In the same survey, 60 per cent said they had lost income as a result of the pandemic, with 23 per cent losing more than 20 per cent and 34 per cent planning to sell some or all of their homes. With an estimated 840,000 private tenants in arrears, it is no wonder some landlords are reaching breaking point. FEELING THE STRAIN Landlord Sarah Saxby has a single property in Essex, which she bought to supplement her pension. Her tenant has not paid any rent for 12 months and currently owes £10,000.

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WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP Admitting that there is an issue is a huge step. Here are some groups and charities that can offer professional help and advice:

4141; text 07860 039 967; email pat@papyrus-uk.org Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): Call 0800 58 58 58.

Samaritans: Call 116 123; email jo@samaritans.org Mind: Call 0300 123 3393; email info@mind.org.uk Papyrus – for people under 35: Call 0800 068

In addition, you can also: call your GP for an emergency appointment call 111 out of hours – they can help you find the support and help you need.

“At a time when I should be grieving for my dad, I am being left high and dry by the state I never take from” She said the situation has had a huge impact on her mental health. “For me, it is not the money – albeit paying for someone else to live for 12 months is a little frustrating – but the impact on me as a person,” she said. “A feeling of helplessness, of not being able to get my flat back because the courts are not open, or there is a freeze on bailiff evictions. “During this time, I have lost my dad early to cancer, but I am just meant to soldier on and deal with a tenant not paying me for 12 months and not being able to regain my flat. It has made me very low and angry. At a time when I should be grieving for my dad, I am being left high and dry by the state I never take from.” Sadly, Sarah’s position is not unique and while the NRLA is campaigning to bring about practical changes encouraging Government to offer financial support to the sector, and to tackle the backlog in the courts, it also wants to reassure members that they are not alone.

NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle said: “The NRLA is here to help landlords with all aspects of their lettings business. These are immensely difficult times for a lot of landlords, and it is important to recognise when you’re feeling anxious, helpless or low, and to reach out and get the support you need. “This could be making an appointment with your doctor or another healthcare professional, or speaking to trained counsellors who can help you if you are struggling with your mental health. There are also charities that can help with debt advice. “While our circumstances are all different, we are going through this together, and you are not alone.” The NRLA has developed an advice page for landlords who may be struggling with their mental health, signposting them to relevant support organisations and online resources. Visit nrla.org.uk/support Summer 2021 / 51

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The NRLA team has been busy taking your calls. Here are some of the questions you have asked us…

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I am the landlord of a five-bedroom property, with some of the rooms rented out. I want to move back into the property, to live alongside the existing tenants, but I am unsure of my rights. Can you help? While it is not best practice, if the tenant has a room-only agreement, then the landlord has the right to move back in and make use of the other rooms as they see fit. The tenants only have possession of the rooms they are renting and not the whole property under this arrangement. If they are on a joint tenancy, you would have no right to move in, as, under the terms of the contract, they have possession of the whole property.

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We have had a tenant in one of our flats for almost eight years. I want to increase the rent and they have agreed to a new amount over the phone to start in June. The tenancy agreement makes no mention of rent increases. Therefore, do I issue a new agreement from June? And do I need to serve them with any other forms? There are two options open to you. You can either issue a new tenancy agreement as you suggest or use a Section 13 form (also known as Form 4), giving one month’s notice of the increase. As these forms are regularly updated without notice, it is always best to download the latest version direct from the Government website. For more information and to download the latest form, visit nrla.org. uk/section-13

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You do not need to amend the tenancy agreement if your tenants have a baby

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I propose to send my long-standing tenants a new agreement this year with a modest rent increase. What other obligations do I need to fulfil? The tenant has the current Energy Performance Certificate, and the Electrical Installation Condition Report is being done. As the renewal is effectively a new tenancy, many landlords like to serve all of the documents they would serve at the start of a tenancy for completeness. However, pay attention to these key areas: ●● The How to rent: a checklist for renting in England booklet has been updated in the past year, so you will need to provide them with a copy of the updated version.

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●● The deposit may also need

to be protected again, depending on your chosen scheme. Contact the scheme and they should be able to update the deposit protection for you.

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I have a tenant in a flat who has moved an armchair in that has no fire safe/retardant label. I discovered this as a result of a fire safety inspection, and although I have asked him to remove it, two weeks later it’s still there. What should I do? If you have advised the tenant the chair should be removed, told them that they are in breach of their contract and the danger it presents, you have realistically done all you can. You don’t have the right to

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remove the furniture from the property. It may be a good idea to inform the local council to ensure there is a record of the fact you have raised concerns.

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My tenants are expecting a baby; do I need to update the tenancy agreement or make changes such as installing stair gates? And will I need to consider anything else, for example, room sizes? You do not need to amend the tenancy agreement if your tenants have a baby, and you would not be expected to provide baby gates or suchlike. In relation to the room sizes, we would suggest you check that the second room meets your council’s minimum room-size requirements for rented homes. This can differ depending on the local authority, so check their website for details.

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Landlord Rob Hunter talks about the unique benefits of identikit lets – and meeting the demands of today’s renters

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ith swanky purpose-built student halls and build-torent blocks springing up in cities across the UK, more and more landlords are upping their game – and holding their own against the big businesses. Landlord Rob Hunter buys and renovates houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the university city of Lincoln, and is one of the many landlords out there going the extra mile to meet the standards demanded by today’s students and professionals. Qualified property litigation solicitor Rob started out as a landlord in 1994 with a single property in London and grew his business in the capital before moving to Lincoln in 2014. Rob’s firm, Bond Housing Group, takes tired HMO properties back to brick to creates new studios, which he rents to both students and professionals. He now has 23 on his books. He says that keeping a close eye on tenant demand is key to creating popular properties. KEEPING IT SIMPLE While some landlords pride themselves on creating a unique living environment for each of their tenants, Rob takes a different approach, putting

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AFTER The transformed outdoor space comes with bicycle storage

BEFORE

“The way I approach furnishing the studios is very much a hotel system – identical facilities, fixtures and fittings” together high-quality but identical studios, allowing for easy repairs and replacements, and making fit-outs much simpler. When he bought 144 West Parade, it was a tired HMO that had been repossessed and was in a state of disrepair. After the house had been reconfigured, Rob created studios that would tick all the boxes Rob Hunter creates new studios

for students and young professionals – with a strong focus on the practicalities. He says: “While it is important to some landlords to make each let unique, to me, each studio is unique to the tenant living there, so if they like the way it looks, why should it matter if it is the same as the others? “The way I approach furnishing the studios is very much a hotel system – with identical facilities, fixtures and fittings in all.

“One of the benefits of creating identical studios is that it is easy to replace something like for like if anything goes wrong. “In fact, we have a floor of the office that is full of stock, so if something breaks, we can take a replacement over and fit it right away.” Rob buys all the furniture for his lets from Ikea. “Ikea produces good furniture, which stands the test of time,” he says. “All the bathrooms are fully tiled and I buy tiles in bulk to get a good deal, around once every two to three years.

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“Everything we do is geared towards a quick turnaround. I don’t factor in any void periods, so designwise, we try to keep things as straightforward as possible to minimise any potential issues when it comes to a change of tenancy.” INDEPENDENT SPACES Rob says it is important for today’s tenants to have access to all the facilities they need in their own space as well as in shared areas. “One thing I have noticed – which was true pre-Covid-19 and is even more so now – is that people don’t want to be living on top of each other, or getting under each other’s feet,” he explains. “There is a huge demand for accommodation that has some independence, but still allows people to socialise should they want to. “Obviously, in terms of the pandemic, this type of design has also made it easier if tenants have had to self-isolate, or need to do so in the future.”

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It is with this in mind that Rob includes a fridge and cooking facilities in each of the studios, as well as a communal kitchen downstairs. Recently, he has also seen increased demand for personal washing machines in studio flats. He says: “Tenants like a fridge in their room to store their own food. We used to put freezers in as well, but found tenants would prefer a washer/drier, so included these and put in a communal freezer downstairs.” AFTER

Each of Rob’s studios is completely self-contained

A SUCCESSFUL MODEL Rob has also transformed the garden of number 144 – now accredited by the University of Lincoln Students’ Union – into a shared space, with sheds offering secure storage for bicycles, something that he says can be a deal-breaker, particularly when it comes to student lets. He says: “Bicycle parking is a massive thing – if you don’t have a secure area for bikes, some people won’t rent. “We took a lot of time and effort to create a useful space in the garden, with storage and space to socialise, but the cost was actually relatively small and it’s a really great selling point.” Concluding, Rob says the success of the design model can be demonstrated through the lack of voids – despite a difficult 12 months for the sector. He says: “Despite all the changes we have seen in the private rented sector as a result of Covid-19, the property, along with all our other properties, is fully let until summer 2022, which tells me we are giving tenants what they want.”

WE SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS Landlord, presenter and designer Sian Astley (@Moregeous) helps with your design issues. Here, she looks at the challenges posed by small kitchen spaces. As a hands-on landlord doing my own viewings, I’ve found that kitchens not only sell properties, but now rent them, too. My top tips would be: Buy smart, not cheap. Affordable, off-the-shelf

brands like Howdens or Ikea give good pricing and decent-quality, readily available replacements should items get damaged. Keep doors classic. White units don’t go out of fashion and also make small spaces feel bigger. Don’t buy unnecessary appliances – small kitchens don’t need dishwashers. In single-person units, an undercounter fridge with an icebox will suffice. Cleverly designed kitchen sinks now wrap into corners and are deeper but narrower.

Make use of wall space for storage in small kitchens

Specialist companies make mini-kitchens, but they’re very niche. If you’re not the best designer, then pay someone to help you; for

around £200, you could ensure a highly desirable rental – money well spent. In tiny kitchens, go up high with storage, fitting both high-wall and lardertall units. A single three-drawer pack will give a single tenant/ couple all the cooking storage required, reducing the need for other cabinets. Use accessible wall space by fitting hanging racks. If you have a property problem and would like Sian to help, email landlords@nrla.org.uk

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Changing perceptions From the fictional Rupert Rigsby of TV’s Rising Damp to the present day, the role of the landlord is all too often synonymous with the role of villain. How do we change things?

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here is no denying landlords have an image issue. People still think of the Rachmans of the world when they hear the word ‘landlord’ – and not the legions of professionals working to provide homes for the ever-increasing number of private renters. The ‘landlords versus tenants’ rhetoric that we so often see is both unhelpful and outdated, and something the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is committed to changing. Contrary to what some media outlets would have you believe, not all landlords are ‘fat cats’. In total, 94 per cent of buy-to-let properties are owned by individuals. Of these, 45 per cent own just one rental property, one in three is retired and 44 per cent of these bought the property to boost their pension. Government figures also show the vast majority of private renters are happy in their rental homes. The latest data from the English Housing Survey shows that 84 per cent of private rented sector (PRS) tenants are satisfied with their accommodation. While not perfect, it is higher than the figure for the social sector, which stands at 81 per cent.

Landlords have also stepped up during Covid-19 to work with tenants to support them through difficult times, with 48 per cent of NRLA members offering reduced rent or a rent-free period during the pandemic. At the same time, some have been left struggling, or even homeless themselves, after tenants stopped paying rent. WHAT IS THE NRLA DOING? To help build a better image of landlords, the NRLA routinely shares stories featuring those going above and beyond to help their tenants. It has also invested in rigorous research, backing up its statements about the PRS with solid data. These statistics can also counter the anecdotal evidence or individual cases studies so often used in the media to criticise the sector as a whole. The association’s high-profile campaigns on important issues are not going unnoticed, with the NRLA mentioned in Parliament 33 times since its inception last year. The NRLA was also called to give evidence on the impact of Covid-19. GETTING INVOLVED To build on this, the NRLA is encouraging members to Rising Damp’s unscrupulous landlord Rupert Rigsby

NRLA member Candy Richards has spoken up about her experiences as a landlord

SPEAKING UP FOR LANDLORDS Landlord Candy Richards has spoken out about her experiences in the media Candy Richards has a tenant who she says is 18 months in arrears and has withheld his rent despite working, as well as committing antisocial behaviour. She felt landlords were being unfairly treated and wanted to ensure their voices were heard. She said: “I have taken part in two TV interviews for the NRLA: one was over Zoom, the other was filmed in my home. Prior to the interviews, the interviewers gave me an overview of what they would like to cover, which helped me to prepare what I was going to say.

get involved in its campaigning and share their stories. Putting a human face to the landlord label – and outlining real-life experiences – is vital when it comes to changing hearts, minds and eventually attitudes. A number of NRLA members have featured in print and broadcast media over the past 12 months, explaining how the pandemic has affected them. These included a single parent

“I spoke honestly about my personal experience, but also the key messages I wanted to get across. “Landlords are routinely demonised within the media, and the only way to challenge this is for landlords to speak out and be visible. “I was nervous beforehand about whether I would face any backlash for sharing my story, but I only received positive feedback after my interviews were broadcast. “Speaking out and supporting the NRLA to advocate for change has helped me feel I have taken a little control back and played my part in standing up for the rights of landlords.”

who had to cancel Christmas presents when her tenant stopped paying rent – despite still working, and a family trapped abroad with a sick child, unable to move back home as their tenant refused to move out. l If you would like to share your story, email press@nrla. org.uk; to find out more about the NRLA’s active campaigns, visit nrla.org.uk Summer 2021 / 57

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Taking stock and making plans

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Now that the dust has settled post-Budget, Doug Hall, director of mortgage broker 3mc, examines the chancellor’s announcements and how they will impact landlords

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ne of the main Budget headlines for the property market was that the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday on the first £500,000 of a home’s purchase price was to be extended by three months until the end of June. It will then taper off, applying to the first £250,000 until the end of September, before returning to £125,000 at the beginning of October. The extension will apply to landlords as well as homebuyers, and while property investors will still need to pay a three per cent SDLT surcharge on buy-to-let (BTL) properties and second homes, it means there will be a maximum potential saving of £15,000 on completions before the end of June. This maximum potential saving then drops to £2,500 from the start of July, until normal service is resumed in October. Given that the end of June is not that far off, it’s likely that the SDLT extension will mostly benefit those landlords who have already started the process of buying a property, although there may be some opportunities – such as auction purchases – where investors can complete new transactions before the first deadline.

Property investors benefit from the extension of the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday

It’s also worth noting that SDLT applies to property investors who are transferring ownership from their own name to a limited company, and vice versa. So, the extension of the stamp holiday also increases the opportunity for landlords who want to change the structure of their BTL investment and reduce the costs of doing so. LANDLORDS AND TAX The main reason for changing the ownership of a BTL investment from own name to limited company is, of course, for tax planning, and there were new considerations for tax planning announced by the chancellor.

Pre-Budget rumours had hinted at an increase in capital gains tax (CGT) as the Office of Tax Simplification last year cited it as a possible target for reform and a reasonable way of helping the Government to balance its books. But CGT remained untouched and will stay at 18 per cent for standard-rate taxpayers and 28 per cent for higher-rate taxpayers on any profits made on selling an asset, including investment property. This includes landlords who choose to sell a property to a limited company structure in order to incorporate a property currently owned in a personal name. Corporation tax, however, will increase as a result of the

It’s also worth noting that SDLT applies to property investors who are transferring ownership from their own name to a limited company

Budget, with the top rate rising from 19 per cent to 25 per cent from April 2023. This rise will be on a sliding scale, with businesses that make an annual profit of up to £50,000 remaining at the current 19 per cent tax rate. Landlords who own BTL property via a limited company will pay corporation tax on the company’s profit. Indeed, for property investors in the higher-rate income tax band, this is one of the advantages of owning a limited company, as the rate of corporation tax charged on their investment will be lower than their rate of income tax. Landlords are then subject to personal tax if they take income out of the company, of course, but the differential between corporation tax and income tax for higher-rate taxpayers is one of the reasons why many choose to hold their investment in a limited company. Summer 2021 / 59

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Toolbox: Mortgages, 2

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THE SPRING BUDGET Some of the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be welcome to landlords

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appropriate way to structure your investment. The good news is that there are excellent rates available for both personal investors and limited companies. In fact, we have recently launched our first exclusive product for National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) members, which is available to limited companies and offered by the lender Landbay. (Get in touch if you would like to know the details.) RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGES Another measure announced in the Budget was the introduction of a 95 per cent loan to value (LTV) Government guarantee for residential mortgages.

The Budget was relatively kind to BTL investors; it was certainly kind to the property market

Unsurprisingly, this will not be available on BTL mortgages, but it’s likely to impact landlords by driving even greater demand for property and underpinning prices. In fact, property website Rightmove recorded its busiest-ever day on Budget day, with visits surpassing nine million for the first time. So, the Budget was relatively kind to BTL investors. It was certainly kind to the property market and measures like the extension of the SDLT holiday, and the 95 per cent LTV guarantee will help to drive demand in both the short and the medium term. The extension of furlough and other Government support schemes beyond the planned end date for Covid-19 restrictions will also provide the economy with some much-needed

confidence and could prevent some tenants from falling into arrears. Set against this backdrop, now is a good time for landlords to take stock of their investment and plan for the future. Whether this means growing a portfolio, changing the ownership structure or refinancing, the right choice of mortgage remains one of the most essential elements to a successful investment strategy, and there continues to be a good range of mortgage options for landlords with a diverse set of circumstances.

MORE INFORMATION If you would like to discuss your mortgage requirements, please give NRLA Mortgages a call on 0161 341 0581.

This is an advertisement only and in no way should be viewed as a personal recommendation or advice. Before a recommendation of the suitability of the product can be given, we will direct you to 3mc (UK) Limited who can provide independent mortgage advice. As part of this, they will ask questions so that they can fully understand your circumstances before giving advice. NRLA Mortgages is a trading name of LPTE Limited, which is an Introducer Appointed Representative of 3mc (UK) Limited who is Authorised and Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the FS Register under reference 302992. Please note: 3mc can advise/arrange Business Buy to Lets (BBTL) and Consumer Buy to Lets (CBTL). Of the two, only Consumer Buy to Lets are regulated by the FCA. THINK CAREFULLY BEFORE SECURING OTHER DEBTS AGAINST YOUR HOME. YOUR HOME MAY BE REPOSSESSED IF YOU DO NOT KEEP UP REPAYMENTS ON YOUR MORTGAGE. ANY PROPERTY USED AS SECURITY MAY BE REPOSSESSED IF YOU DO NOT KEEP UP REPAYMENTS ON YOUR MORTGAGE. All calls are recorded for training and monitoring purposes.

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So, will this increase in corporation tax limit the appeal of limited company BTL? Probably not, as only those companies with profits exceeding £50,000 will see any increase to their liability and, as restrictions on mortgage interest relief and capital allowances don’t apply to a limited company in the same way they do for individuals, most landlords are unlikely to exceed this £50,000 threshold. For those that do, the rate will increase on a sliding scale, with only companies earning more than £250,000 in profit subject to the highest rate. It’s also worth remembering that corporation tax has actually been decreasing for the past decade – it was a flat rate of 28 per cent in 2010 – so it is still historically low and remains the lowest rate of all countries in the G7. However you own your BTL properties, whether it’s in your own name or as a limited company, it is always worth speaking to a specialist property tax adviser to identify the most

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Hitting the ground running

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Leaving her desk job after 27 years, Sussex-based landlord Sue Hull now balances managing her property portfolio with volunteering for a range of community projects. Victoria Barker spoke to her to find out more

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wo days a week, Sue Hull volunteers landlord Sue Hull at her local Parkrun can be found in Hastings rummaging through hundreds of cardboard boxes crammed full of second-hand clothes, jewellery and handbags. Each box contains donated items, delivered on the back of a van to a donation warehouse in the heart of Hastings. As a volunteer at St Michael’s Hospice Donation Centre, it’s Sue’s job to inspect each item and decide which pre-loved pieces are in a good enough condition to be resold. “I’ve always loved accessories like IN THE jewellery and COMMUNITY handbags, so I tend to focus on sorting these donations,” says Sue. on weekends. That’s because “I sometimes find real gems when Saturday rolls around, she – designer bags that just need is busy clocking up the miles a bit of a dust down or bracelets running around the beautiful that could do with a bit of a Hastings coast, pursuing her polish, so I take care of that. other voluntary project. It’s exciting when a new truck Sue has been a volunteer at arrives, ready to be unloaded.” popular community running Sue is one of several regular event Parkrun for the past volunteers at the donation three years. Just before the centre. The pandemic has pandemic hit our shores, meant the centre is shut for she enrolled on a training the time being, though it does programme to become a guide operate an online shop. runner to help those who have It’s thanks to the hard work a visual impairment. of the volunteers that only “Before the pandemic, 10 per cent of the donations I’d join in the at the centre end up in landfill. Parkrun every “Clothes that can’t be sold on week. If I don’t are shredded and sold as filler take part as a for things like mattresses,” participant, I’ll Sue explains. volunteer instead. PARKRUN VOLUNTEER “As a volunteer As much as Sue loves at the event, I pick volunteering at the centre, a spot on the you wouldn’t find her there course to stand

“I really want to help those with sight loss to take part in Parkrun” at in my high-vis, and I’ll clap and cheer as people jog past. “I love it; it is especially rewarding when you see brand-new faces and see them fall in love with Parkrun as much as I have. We even had an 80-year-old who completed her first Parkrun earlier this year.” RUNNING GUIDE It was a family member who inspired Sue to sign up to a course to become a guide runner, to help those who have visual impairments to take part in the Parkruns. “My brother’s wife is partially

sighted, and I’d read about guides who assist those with visual impairments to run the Parkruns, in the paper. I really want to help those with sight loss to take part in Parkrun and can’t wait to get cracking when the lockdown restrictions ease.” Sue, who rents out a portfolio of large family homes, believes it is important for everyone – not just landlords – to volunteer in their community if they are able to. “I absolutely love the volunteering I do; you are giving to someone else, but are benefitting mentally and physically as well. I believe if everyone who is able to did something to volunteer, the world would be a better place.” Summer 2021 / 63

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Toolbox: Community, 1

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Denbigh, in Wales

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Enforcement can be a postcode lottery

New research using Freedom of Information requests shows who’s hot and who’s not when it comes to the enforcement of local licensing rules across Wales

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alls for greater regulation of landlords are never far from the headlines, yet many landlords in Wales are already covered by multiple licensing regimes. All landlords with homes in Wales need to comply with the national registration and licensing scheme Rent Smart Wales (RSW), with additional schemes springing up in around half local authority areas and mandatory licensing for large houses in multiple occupation. Now, through the use of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has carried out research into the performance of local authorities and whether they are properly using the resources they have to tackle any issues within the private rented sector (PRS).

Initial findings, assessing the baseline information, show a clear split between the top and bottom performers. The research team scored each of the 22 councils on five areas: ●● mandatory licensing costs ●● time frame for processing and issuing licences ●● number of enforcement staff (proportionate to the size of the PRS) ●● rate of inspection ●● number of complaints investigated. Councils were assigned a score for their performance in each of these categories, which were then totalled to give a mark out of 100. Denbighshire and Gwynedd came out top of the pile, both recording scores of 75, with Powys and Monmouthshire bringing up the rear with 30 and 23 respectively. Five local authorities failed to respond to the calls for

information, so were given a score of zero. EXAMINING ENFORCEMENT John Stewart, deputy director of policy and research at the NRLA, said: “It is the first time we have carried out such a project, so it is, to an extent, an experimental index. “However, looking at the initial findings gives us a good

indication of how well local authorities in Wales are performing. Time and again we hear calls for increased regulation of PRS landlords, yet all too often local authorities are not properly enforcing their existing powers when it comes to policing the sector. “This project was set up to see how good their data is and how they are prepared when it comes to enforcing legal obligations in the PRS. As the results show, this is something of a postcode lottery. We will now extend the project to look at the enforcement action being taken.” In its manifesto ahead of the Senedd elections earlier this month, the NRLA issued six calls to improve the PRS, the first of which was the streamlining of licensing, without compromising standards. It argued that the RSW scheme bolstered by the Renting Homes Act (due in spring 2022) and Fitness for Human Habitation standards will be sufficient to tackle the so-called ‘rogues’ rendering additional – and expensive – licensing schemes obsolete. The NRLA hopes to extend the investigation, examining enforcement across England. For more on the PRS in Wales, visit nrla.org.uk/wales

Enforcement league table for Wales 1. Denbighshire 2. Gwynedd 3. Flintshire 4. Pembrokeshire 5. Conwy 6. Wrexham 7. Anglesey 8. Bridgend 9. Newport

75 75 73 61 60 52 51 49 48

10. Blaenau Gwent 11. Vale of Glamorgan 12. Cardiff 13. Ceredigion 14. Torfaen 15. Rhondda Cynon Taf 16. Powys 17. Monmouthshire

47 45 42 37 35 32 30 23

The five local authorities that didn’t respond to the FOI request were: Caerphilly, Carmarthen, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea.

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Meet the landlord, 1

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SARAH WATT Are you a portfolio landlord? Yes. The portfolio now spans across Sydney, Australia, and Milton Keynes and Northampton in the UK.

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What do you enjoy about being a landlord? Seeing your tenant move on because they have managed to buy their own place. It sounds bizarre being happy about losing good tenants, but knowing you helped them save for a deposit for their first home is a really nice feeling. How has being a landlord changed for you over the years? There has been a lot more regulation introduced to our UK portfolio, but this can only be seen as a good thing to protect tenants as well as maintain better-quality properties in the long term. It can, however, be very difficult if you end up with troublesome tenants; thorough pre-screening and referencing is key. Are your properties fully managed? Our Australian portfolio is fully managed and always has been from day one. For now, our UK portfolio is currently run

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by an online agent, but I would say semi-self-managed, as we do get involved in some areas like maintenance to have better cost and quality controls over repairs. How is your relationship with your letting agent? MEET THE We have a brilliant from other people LANDLORD relationship with I knew when I was the fully managed first starting out, letting agent who I probably wouldn’t we’ve used since day one, be a landlord. 10 years ago, even from What is your go-to the other side of the world. homeware brand? She has completed two full I don’t have a particular refurbishments for us using homeware brand. Covid-19 a detailed specification sheet has taught us you need a variety over email. of alternatives when sourcing Have you ever been tempted interiors due to availability. to sell up? Every project has seen me No. Property is a long game. at Ikea, Screwfix, Argos, We have only ever sold when AO Business and Dunelm the intention was to do a flip at some point. (in Melbourne). Otherwise, it’s always long-term buy and hold to benefit from income and capital growth. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received? Seek advice from people who are doing what you want to achieve. Sounds simple, but if I had listened to the advice

What colour and brand of paint do you use? We use a variety of colours across the portfolio, but you can’t beat a dark grey like Down Pipe as a feature wall alongside Pure Brilliant White for a clean, easy-to-maintain finish. We now use Johnstone’s Trade paint and feature colours are matched to a Farrow & Ball palette. Have you ever had a favourite tenant? I like all our tenants – they have all been great and we have never had major trouble over the past decade. I do, however, like the ones who offer me a cup of tea if I’m around for an odd maintenance visit.

What advice would you pass on to a would-be landlord? Property is about people – always aim to deliver a win-win solution for everyone involved for a better long-term solution. RE WA SEVERAL HOME

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Property is about people – always aim to deliver a win-win solution for everyone involved for a better long-term solution”

IKEA IS ONE OF USES BRANDS THAT SARAH

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