By Ceri Adams 05 December 2012

CONDENSATION CONTROL

Condensation and damp are caused by excess moisture in the air settling on cool surfaces.  Air can hold a certain amount of moisture, which varies depending on temperature. The colder the air, the less moisture it can hold.  It is important to bring condensation in a property under control as it can lead to major problems, if left unattended.  Nearly every home suffers from some condensation but by following the recommendations and steps set out below, much can be done to prevent it from building up and becoming a severe problem.

1. Produce Less Moisture

Some normal daily activities produce a lot of moist air very quickly. To minimise the amount of moist air, which leads to the formation of condensation, you need to:

  • Close kitchen and bathroom doors when in use, even when using extractor fans, to stop the warm moist air producing condensation in other cooler rooms.
  • Cover cooking pans and do not leave kettles boiling.
  • Dry your windows & windowsills every morning
  • Dry washing outdoors or in a closed room with a window open or extractor fan running.
  • Do not dry washing directly on room radiators as this produces more water vapour and cools the room at the same time. Ask yourself  “Where will all the water vapour from the drying clothes go?”
  • Avoid using portable flueless bottled gas heaters as they produce moisture
  • Run the cold water first when filling a bath as it prevents steam production.

2. Ventilate to Remove Moisture to the Outside

Your home can be ventilated without creating draughts by:

  • Don’t block ventilators, air bricks and chimneys
  • Improve ventilation – open windows to help take damp air out of the property
  • If trickle vents are fitted make sure you use them.
  • Open windows wider in the mornings if the property is going to be occupied, to help reduce the degree of condensation occurring, but don’t over ventilate the property to the point where the temperature in the rooms drops excessively.
  • Don’t push beds and sofas against outside walls which are always colder and attract condensation. Make sure there is a 9 inch (225cm) gap. Bedding can get damp if air cannot circulate around it
  • Ventilate cupboards and wardrobes and avoid putting too many items in them as this stops the air circulating. If condensation persists, cutting permanent ventilation slots or breather holes in backs and doors will help to improve air circulation.
  • Ventilate kitchens and bathrooms when in use, by opening the windows, or by always using the extractor fan, if fitted, they only use 1/5th the power of a 100watt bulb
  • Ventilate your bedroom by leaving a window slightly open at night
  • Do not draught-proof rooms where there is condensation or mould.
  • Do not draught- proof a room where there is a cooker or a fuel burning heater such as a gas fire.
  • Do not draught-proof windows in bathrooms and kitchens.

3. Heat your Home

  • Keep the heat on low all day in very cold weather, condensation is less likely to form in warm houses
  • Improve background heating levels – set heating sources to give a low-level background heat ensuring there are no rapid temperature changes which can cause condensation, especially in extremely cold weather.

TEN FACTS THAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CONDENSATION

  1. Condensation and damp are caused by excess moisture in the air settling on cool surfaces. Air can hold a certain amount of moisture, which varies depending on temperature. The colder the air, the less moisture it can hold. When air temperature drops, the moisture held in it condenses onto the coldest surfaces available, these are often windows or tiles but it can form on any surface and it may not be noticed until mould growth or rotting of material occurs
  2. Government figures show that one in four homes in the UK, has problems with condensation and damp.
  3. Cooking, washing, drying clothes, having a bath or shower and even breathing can cause produce up to 11 litres of moisture a day within the average home.
  4. Condensation does not always occur in the room where the moisture has been created. Moisture moves around. It can even move through walls, doors and ceilings.
  5. Signs of condensation and damp caused by condensation are most easily spotted by musty smells within the property, water on windows and window cills, peeling wallpaper, mould growths on walls, clothes, shoes and other leatherwear and also on wall and ceiling plaster.
  6. Living in a damp atmosphere due to condensation can cause health problems. This form of dampness causes mould and mildew to grow. The spores from these can aggravate chest illnesses, such as asthma. House mites also thrive in damp atmospheres and research shows they can also cause allergies.
  7. Up to 50% of damp-proofing company call-outs are for condensation related problems. Rising dampness is often confused with condensation, but can usually be recognised by “tide marks” up to about 1.0 m from the floor and also the absence of extensive mould growths.
  8. Double glazing reduces condensation on windows by keeping glass temperatures warmer, but this means that moisture will condense on other cool surfaces elsewhere, particularly adjoining wall surfaces, unless the property has cavity wall insulation.
  9. Condensation can bring a lot of expense. At the least, it can cause damp bed linen and furnishings, mildewed clothes, as well as mould on walls. At worst, the damp can rot timbers and result in rusting metal wall ties.
  10. Condensation and related dampness can be resolved only by controlling the level of moisture in the air. Control moisture levels in the entire house, with adequate ventilation is important.

By Ceri Adams 29 October 2012

New legislation from 01 January 2013 will lead to some properties having their gas supply cut off.   Following a criminal case into a death arising from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, a new test has been added to the Gas safety Certificate for Tenants concerning the inspection of joints in the flu where they pass through voids with no access. Simply put, it a joint cannot be accessed, it will fail. The consequences are a request to cut off the Gas supply and all the problems of a Landlord failing to provide space and water heating until the problem is corrected.

Immediate action.

This is a situation that needs immediate action, to identify properties that  may fail their next gas safety inspection.  We are tackling this in four ways: asking our gas safety engineers to identify any properties that they are aware of are a potential problem; training our staff who visit sites to be aware of this issue; contacting tenants; finally contacting landlords.  Through early identification, we plan to bring the gas flues upto regulations,  prior to the gas safety inspections and avoid any tenants having their gas supply cut off.

Extent of problem.

What needs to be realised here, is not just which boiler flues may cause concern, but also the length of time that will be needed to correct the problem. As Letting Agents, we are well aware of how problems do occur during a Gas Safety Inspection, but 99 times out of 100 the work is completed on the day, or at the very worst the following day. That inspection hatches may need to be fitted points out just how long the work could take, before a system can be given the green light.

Spotted early.

This is why we are looking now and not waiting for the problem to occur.

Best advice.

There will be much more detail in the fall out over the introduction of these important and wide reaching changes. We are aware of one Landlord who owns a block of flats, who has had to fit inspection hatches in the living room of eight properties to comply. But more than anything else is the importance of ensuring a Tenant does not lose supply and heating for any length of time. One thing for sure is that a Tenant’s permission would need to be sought to allow the gas supply to be turned off, and without permission the Landlord is left in no man’s land with a system which cannot be licensed. Nobody would want this scenario to result in anybody’s death, but it is not a scenario I am going to allow to develop and this is why we are addressing it now.

Leasehold.

The Leasehold property owner faces an even worse scenario, as it may be the shared element of their building that hides the flue and then permission will need to be sought before any works can be carried out! This is another scenario that could take several weeks to be resolved and another reason why we are looking for problems now, rather than wait for the problem to occur. We will do everything we can through being pro-active to ensure another tragedy does not occur under our Management.

Conclusion.

As a property owner, I am able to look at the action from both angles and as owners I can only recommend you do the same, or at least ask your property professional what they are doing on your behalf. One thing is sure, if nothing is done and your property comes under those that will fail, a whole new set of problems will occur and at that stage they may not be under your control!

Squatting Law Change

By Ceri Adams 27 September 2012

A new offence of squatting came into effect  on 1st September 2012.  Section 144 of the LASPO bill, makes squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence

The offence will be committed where a person is in a residential building as a trespasser and the person is living in the building or intends to live there for any period.

The maximum penalty for the offence is six months’ imprisonment, a £5,000 fine or both.

The offence will protect owners and lawful occupiers of any type of residential building. This includes homeowners and lawful occupiers who might have been excluded from their homes by trespassers, but it will also protect landlords, second homeowners and local authorities who discover trespassers in any residential property that they own or control even if no one is living there at the time the trespassers occupy the building.

The offence will not apply to tenants who entered a residential building with the permission of the property owner, but later withhold rent or refuse to leave at the end of their tenancy. Such persons are not ‘squatters’ for the purposes of this offence. Landlords should continue to follow established eviction processes to regain possession of their properties in such circumstances.

The offence will not apply retrospectively. People who are known to have squatted in the past will not be liable to prosecution. The offence will only apply to people who are squatting in residential buildings on or after 1stSeptember 2012. This includes trespassers who entered the building prior to commencement if they remain there on or after the 1st September.

Before the  law change

Squatting was treated as a civil matter and homeowners – including councils and housing associations – had to go to a civil court to prove the squatters had trespassed before they could be evicted. This process could be time consuming and costly for property owners.

So squatting was a landlord’s nightmare, with the police powerless to remove squatters without a court order and landlords in trouble themselves if they used force to remove the squatters.

By the time the landlord gained entry the property had often been trashed, leading to expensive refurbishment.

Squatting – what it is

A squatter is someone who enters and lives in a building without permission.

The UK has a long history of squatting but there was an explosion in 1960s and 1970s as young people experimented with alternative lifestyles or took part in political protests.

These so-called “lifestyle squatters” are now thought to be far outnumbered by rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups in housing need.  According to a recent study by homeless charity Crisis 39% of homeless people have squatted at some time.

Squash, Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes, points out that the number of people on local authority housing lists has nearly doubled since 1997 to five million and there are an estimated 650,000 empty properties in the UK.

The government estimates there are 20,000 squatters in the UK but squatting groups say the real total is far higher.  Without this change to the law, the number of squatters would probably have increased due to recent limitations on housing benefit allowances and house builders  failing to keep up with the growing demand for property.

Rights of squatters

Since 1977, it has been illegal to threaten or use violence to enter a property where someone is present and opposes the entry.

The law was introduced to stop landlords from using violence to evict tenants. It is what is commonly meant when people talk about “squatter’s rights”.

Even before this law change the squatters had no right to live in the property, but it was difficult to remove them.

Rights of property owners

People who have been made homeless by squatters can demand the trespassers leave. If they refuse, the offence can be reported to the police, who are now able to take action.

Police can also take action if other offences, such as breaking doors or windows to gain entry or stealing electricity, have taken place.

So what is different under the new law?

The main difference is that it will speed up the removal of squatters from unoccupied residential properties, such as vacant council houses, second homes or properties for sale.

For the first time, police will be able to raid a building on suspicion it is being occupied by squatters and remove them.

Getting squatters out of your home

If you find squatters in your home or any other residential building, you should call the police to report the crime. Squatting carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, a £5,000 fine or both

It doesn’t matter whether the squatter entered the property before 1 September 2012 or after.  If someone is squatting in your residential building on and after 1 September they will be guilty of a criminal offence.

Most squatters are well aware of the law and may leave quickly without waiting for the police, moving onto an empty property where they may go unnoticed for sometime.

What is not covered

The squatting offence does not apply to tenants who fall behind with rent payments or refuse to leave at the end of their tenancy. Tenants who entered the building with the permission of the landlord are not squatters. In these circumstances, landlords should use existing eviction processes to regain possession of their properties.

Squatters occupying non-residential buildings will still be able to claim “squatter’s rights”.

If the property is  very run down and needs work to be carried out before it could be sold or rented out, the squatter may have an argument that they are not depriving someone of a home.  It is possible that a squatter may remove items to make it uninhabitable, such as bathroom suite, or kitchen facilities.  Although in doing so they could be liable for criminal damage and reduce their living standards.

Squatters view

There are a number of squatter support groups and whilst they expect squatting to continue, they recognise it will be more difficult.  They are not giving up without a fight and expect to see a spate of challenges and test cases over the next few months, which will draw lines between what can and what can’t be done.

They are advising the removal of their  legal warnings, as these will be read as an admission of committing a criminal offence.  So  if you see these, take a photo.

They are also advising squatters to target non residential sites:  pubs, offices, shops, warehouses and disused factories.

Further information

The Directgov site

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/WhereYouLive/Derelictbuildingsandsquatters/DG_10022

Legislation website

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/section/144#section-144-enacted-

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/notes/division/5/5/13/3

By Ceri Adams

The media bombards us with confusing messages about the housing market and statistics argue every view point. So what is reality?

SHORT TERM

If you cut through all the media exaggeration, the consensus view points towards price stability in the housing market over the next 12 months, which is a continuation of the previous 12 months.  Alas price stability doesn’t sell newspapers, unless described as stagnation.

There is strong frustrated demand from buyers, who consider the collapse of the housing market unlikely. However the banks have turned off the financial taps, demanding large deposits (typically 25% for buy to let mortgages) and increasing affordability requirements, so pricing many buyers out of the market.

Access to and affordability of credit is likely to have the largest impact on house prices in the short to medium term.  Expect to see house prices subdued if interest rates rise significantly, but strong growth once credit restrictions are eased and widespread access to 85% & 90% mortgages returns.

LONG TERM

Looking to the medium to long term future, increasing demand for housing is unlikely to be matched by supply.  The government’s public sector cuts have reduced their ability to provide new housing and the private sector house builders have taken a beating during the recession. Combined with the projected growth in households of 232,000 per year (CLG figures), it is difficult to see how supply can possibly keep up with demand. We are likely to see strong growth in property prices and potentially another property boom, sometime in the future.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

The housing market is in recession and potential buyers want to drive a bargain, so now is not the time to sell unless you really have to. As property owners, timing your sale correctly could lead to massive capital gain for you, over today’s prices.  Realistically you will need to wait at least 2 years to start seeing significant sustained uplift in the market.  On the flip side if you have the available capital now is a good time to be investing in property, provided you can find properties with strong rental yields.

By Claire Rhoades-Brown

In recent news there have been an increasing number of stories about squatters taking possession of vacant properties and it is a growing concern for landlords and second home owners who worry that their property may be accessible and targeted by squatters.

What is squatting?

Squatting involves an individual or group of individuals who occupy an abandoned or empty property that doesn’t legally belong to them without prior consent of the owner that allows them to occupy the property. The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS), who are a voluntary organisation, claims that there are as many as 22,000 squatters in the UK and up to 15,000 squatters in London alone which has risen by 25% in the past seven years.

What are the consequences of squatting and what does it mean for your property?

In more cases than not, squatters can seriously damage a property and its fixtures as properties are often treated with little and no respect. After squatters leave landlords are left to clear up the rubbish and mess. A recent case highlights the story of a North London lady who was left to clear up the mess after squatters had left her £500,000 house with over £50,000 worth of damage.

How do I prevent squatters in my property?

There are several things that you can do to help prevent squatters and everything you can do yourself:

  • Ensure that there are adequate and heavy duty locks on every entry door.
  • Make sure that the property is visited on a regular basis, if you are overseas and not able to visit then a good managing agent should be more than happy to visit regularly for you.
  • Ensure that all windows are locked and if the windows are sash windows then they are fitted with window bolts to stop them from being opened.
  • Place lights around the property on timers to give the impression of someone residing in the property.

What happens if I have a squatter in my property?

If the unfortunate does happen to you then the most important thing is to act quickly and sensibly. The government have produced a guide on how to deal with squatters in your property. If you are currently living in the property then the process can be a lot quicker as you can report the offence as a crime to the police and squatters can be forced to leave. If you are not residing in the property and the property is part of your portfolio then the case would normally need to go to court which can take several weeks so it is imperative that you act quickly and seek legal advice immediately.

By Claire Rhoades-Brown

How important is your property income to you?

In more cases than not, the income a landlord generates from a second, third or portfolio of properties is often relied on for other means and is not just profit in their pockets. This really means every penny counts and as a landlord it is paramount to you that rent is paid on time and consistently. In the current climate times are hard for tenants and landlords alike, and with inflation rising, incomes are being stretched more than they have been before.  The BBC have stated that nearly 12% of all December 2010 payments to private landlords were either late or completely unpaid.  Although it rarely happens, in extreme cases this can lead to tenants missing multiple rental payments and arrears starting to accumulate. The Guardian has also reported that rent arrears have doubled within the last two years for private landlords.

What happens if your tenant stops paying rent?

In the rare case that things do go wrong and a tenant stops paying their rent this can be extremely worrying for you and become a massive stress both emotionally and financially. The most important thing for a landlord when they are faced with non paying tenants is to find the quickest way to re let your property to generate an income again. If dealt with through court action, this can be a slow and difficult process as often court appointments can be months away. If a tenant is not particularly worried about their credit rating or the adverse effect it will have on them then the process can be even slower.

What can I do to stop this happening?

There is little you can do to stop a tenant paying rent however there are things you can do to help prevent it. It is important to reference new tenants thoroughly and ensure that satisfactory references are received. Castle Estates reference all tenants through a professional referencing company to judge affordability and income amongst other things before a tenancy is started, this can help judge a tenant’s situation before they move into a property.  More is being done to tackle arrears as more support and advice is available to tenants to sort out their finances, the government have now produced a guide to support private tenants who are behind with rental payments. Good communication and management of the tenancy are key to overcoming any problems with rent arrears.

Protect yourself with insurance and a good agent

You can protect your rental income by taking out rental insurance. Most insurance companies offer rent protection and legal cover which means that if your tenant stops paying rent, your income is protected. These policies are often inexpensive to set up and pay for themselves over and over again if you are unlucky and your tenant does stop paying rent. Castle Estates can arrange a policy for you that covers rentals of up to £2500 per month from as little as £53.00 for six months cover. You can call Castle Estates at any time to ask for advice on any of these policies as we would happy to help and advise you.