Monthly Archives: February 2011

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By Steve Roulstone

Henley Grange Halesowen.

Over the years of running a Letting Agency, several different opportunities come to light and most Agencies do at some stage along the way, get the opportunity to advice or run a Block Management Company. This is exactly what happened to my Company and we now look after a total of 14 sites throughout the Franchise area of Staffordshire.

Block Management explained.

For those in the know, this is well understood, but if you have never had anything to do with what are mainly leasehold properties, or lived in a location where there are shared facilities, it may not be so obvious, so let me explain: In simplistic terms, Block Management Companies are set up to oversee the running of Leasehold properties such as apartment blocks (nowadays nearly always with Freehold properties attached, because of Planning authorities insisting on new sites having a cross section of affordable as well as ‘Executive’ type housing) appointing and therefore paying for such services as Cleaners and Gardeners, organising insurance cover and also giving a platform for all who live within the site to comment or even assist in the day to day running by standing as a site Director. Companies such as ours carry out the collecting and payment of services rendered and stands as Company Secretary to carry out the formal running of the site in line with any and all legal requirements and are appointed by the Directors.

Why Letting Agents?

What normally happens is one of our Landlords will get frustrated at the lack of contact or accountability of the existing Managing agent (Professional appointed body) and ask if we can assist. This is how we started and all of our business has come about through recommendation since that first site in 2003. This is because as Companies, Letting Agents are set up to operate in a very similar way and of course we can soon adjust our services to take Block Management on board.

Training and Professional standing.

Within Castle Estates, we offer training for all of our offices whenever opportunity presents itself, this is to ensure that the training is given when it is needed and therefore better utilised by the offices and the customer of course benefits as well from up to date information. Our professional bodies also recognise the services we give as Block Management Agents but there is a separate body ARMA Association of Residential Managing Agents (as opposed to ARLA) which it is wise to apply to join when numbers of sites increase. In our case, when we developed to the stage of having a separate division within the Company, just for Block Management.

So what advantages to the customer.

The normal reason and this I am sure is countrywide, is lack of approachability and poor communication that results in  a lack of trust, but of course the disillusioned owners and directors nearly always look to their own locality for a solution. And this is exactly why so many Letting Agents come to look after so many local sites. This is exactly what we can offer, accountability and easy simple approachability and communication. OK there are people who do not communicate well no matter where they are located, so I guess that is my hint to anybody taking over a local site because of problems with the existing agents – communicate with your new customers. We do and have shown considerable growth because of it!

By Craig Smith

Since 6th April 2007, any deposit taken for a property that is being let with an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement in England or Wales must be registered with one of the three approved deposit schemes. This can sound like another hoop for Landlords to jump through but the results of not properly registering a deposit can be costly.

Does it make any difference?

In a word… yes! It is not just a case that the money has to be protected but by registering the deposit with an approved scheme, the money can be held in a secure account and is protected for both parties. Each scheme also have their own dispute resolution service which can be used as an alternative to court action if the Landlord and Tenant disagree about any costs at the end of a tenancy. The adjudication service will take into account any evidence from Landlords and Tenants, which is where a good inventory and check out report come in to play!

Tenant Find properties, who deals with the deposit?

Tenancies where an agent only finds a tenant for the property but does not manage it can sometimes be a grey area depending on who registers the deposit. Castle Estates can still register a deposit on the Landlords behalf although would not be able to get involved in any claims at the end of the tenancy. Please feel free to contact us for further information.

So what if it isn’t registered?

If a Landlord fails to properly register a deposit they can be forced to pay back the full deposit, plus 3 times the amount of the deposit to the tenant. And on top of this, a Landlord would not be able to issue a Section 21 notice requiring possession of the property. Not only would it costs 3 times the amount of the deposit, it would also take a lot longer to gain possession of the property.

When should the deposit be registered?

Any monies taken as a deposit should be registered within 14 days of the Landlord receiving it. This is regardless of whether the tenancy has already started or is to start at a later date, although if the monies are paid but the tenant backs out of the deal, don’t forget that the money should be paid back to the tenant!

Where do we go from here?

Always make sure that your deposit is protected, if it falls under the legislation. A good agent will always look after your investment as if it were there own. If in doubt, please do contact us for further advice.

By Steve Roulstone

A report in the press at the weekend, has stated that Tenants should look out for fake ‘agents’ operating through the web, as false sites have been set up to mimic the way in which the sites for genuine registered agents appear, even including the logos and details of the industry approved bodies such as ARLA. As a professional member of ARLAjust as a Letting Agent, I always look at articles like this and compare what would happen to anybody visiting my agency, Castle Estates.

Good practise

I am pleased to confirm that our good practises would ensure that this could never happen with us. Meaning, that by ensuring good practises are always offered to our clients, they should be the wiser as well. Of course the only way good practises can be widely known, is to respond to such articles by advertising them, that way, hopefully, more people will be better informed in the future, ensuring they do not get caught out in this manner. So what we would always ensure is:

Deposit at the start of the Tenancy.

Any deposit is refundable under law, if the subject for the deposit is not purchased, entered in too or commenced. Therefore, there is no way that any Deposit should be taken until the day that the Tenancy commences. This will ensure at a stroke that no monies are lost through paying for a property which does not exist. This is because the contract does not actually exist until it is signed and Tenants under most circumstances, should sign at the property, on the day of the start of the Tenancy, when keys are released and monies become due (Rent)

No viewing – No fees accepted.

It has long been a golden rule within our Company that no Tenant is allowed to pay the initial Referencing and Documentation fee, without first viewing the property in person. This was introduced to ensure that our Landlords were not left with a tenant that we had not seen (Difficult to justify ensuring Tenants sourced through us are acceptable without meeting them first) either pulling out when they do see the property because it was not as expected, or ending up being a poor Tenant and not respecting the agreement. There have been occasions where the reason behind the request has been genuine, but that is where relatives or Company representatives can carry out the role and give us a situation we can work with. Not forgetting that all applications would be referenced as well.

Simple principals, Best outcome.

So our advice to avoid disappointment, as the saying goes, is to follow these simple rules, then Tenants will not fall fowl of criminal activities of this nature. Of course it is once again professionalism and education that will ensure such matters are well known by all. I say once again, because nearly every scenario where our industry is either poorly represented or open to corruption such as these false agents operating on the web, would be answered by professional standards and registration of agents. This will provide the insurance and education that our customers, as either Tenants or Landlords, need as they will know what to ask for and expect when renting property. Of course, traditional methods of visiting the Companies premises and or viewing in person take care of the problem in one fell swoop, which is why I still feel that we are some way from an industry which is solely represented by web presence alone!

By Craig Smith

Welcome to our new blog which will be focusing on the issues of property lettings and management in and around the Stafford area. We aim to update our blog as often as possible to keep all Landlords (and Tenants) informed of the latest news and legislation with regards to the rental market.

Why publish a Lettings blog?

The best way to ensure everyone has the latest news and information is to make it readily available and easy to access. We hope to keep you as informed as possible and updated with any major discussions or changes relating to the property rental market. Although our Franchisor focuses more on the national issues we hope to tackle some of the more local issues.

Who can read this, Landlord or Tenants?

The simple answer is everybody! We hope that the majority of information will apply to our Landlords but also to some of our Tenants as well. Another reason for this blog is to advise our Landlords of current market trends and to make letting a property that little bit easier! Any changes in property law or legislation can have an effect on everybody, so we hope that you will find this useful.

What are the upcoming issues in Rentals?

There are always a number of interesting points to be discussed when letting out and managing a property. Legislation is constantly changing and agent practices have to change to reflect these. The last 5 years have seen a number of big changes including Tenancy Deposit Protection and the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates for rental properties. We also anticipate a number of changes following the budget cuts this year and will be able to publish more information shortly.

 To summarise…

We do hope that you will find our posts both useful and informative. We aim to make the headings for each post clear on each subject, so that you can easily find the posts more relevant to you. Hopefully, you will able to be kept ‘in the loop’ with our page and enjoy reading our latest posts! 

By Steve Roulstone

I have been amazed to see a report lately that very few Letting Agencies and indeed Estate Agencies are registered with the Data Protection Act. As a member of an organisation that has included registration as part of its new Franchisee set up system, I am amazed to find out that this is the case.


So how does that affect you if you are a Landlord in such circumstances? Well hopefully not at all, although situations could arise, such as passing information on when an agent is appointed incorrectly, but this is the business of your agent to ensure that they are registered as a handler of personal information on their clients, both Landlord and Tenant. Of course registration alone does not stop anybody from being prosecuted!

Nobody told me!

It is how Agents could have managed NOT to know that they should be registered that amazes me! There have been scams where claims have been made to be the Data protection agency writing and asking for fees from all manner of organisations (although I now wonder if they only wrote to Companies that were registered!) as well of information direct from the agency and Government bodies that regularly arrives on my desk. How do Companies avoid all of this? Unless of course ignorance has been by design!

No action taken?

Perhaps it is because I am a sceptic and of course have witnessed and seen for myself that it is only the open and honest amongst us that join in by registering in the first place, but is this another case of no action being taken to ascertain who has not registered? Because the Data Protection Act was introduced in 1998 and the sceptic in me has to consider the implications of action only just being taken to pursue those who have failed to register!

Recent legislation promises.

I have recently reported through these pages, in a blog about legislation on the 8th of February, where the Government stated that sufficient legislation existed for the Councils to take action against rogue Landlords. The problem being they are too understaffed to do so, as I have been advised myself by representatives from my own Council, so is this the evidence of how long an act has to be time served before action is finally taken, thirteen years!!


So sceptic that I am, I trust I am incorrect in my assumption, time will tell! But as a Landlord, this is just one more job than I am surprised most be carried out when checking the professionalism of your chosen agent (No apologies for the use of the prof word again!) when surely a simple registration which would have to include such requirements would clarify the issue for all concerned, or is that just me going on again!

By Steve Roulstone

There is no doubt in my mind what so ever, that the Property visit for Landlords in a fully managed scenario, is one of the most important functions carried out by the agent on behalf of the Landlord. It works so well on so many levels that when I cannot understand why any professional agent should not carry them out.

Landlord benifits.

When you receive a report that the property is or even is not, being looked after by the existing Tenant, means that as a Landlord, you know that the agent is on the job and that you are receiving a return for the monthly fees being charged. A report on the current Tenancy, which should in my opinion (and practise and I am not alone!) be carried out every three months especially with a new Tenant can put your mind at rest about the property, or give an early warning about what may need to be done in the future. Whichever way this plays out, this becomes a strategy and the best way to manage any situation is to plan in advance and that is exactly what happens when holding regular property visits.

Tenant benifits.

Now what is not recognised so readily, but is an issue that I have seen firsthand, is that the same visit also gives the Tenant belief that the owner of the property cares about its condition (this to me is why so many Tenants talk about their agent as their Landlord by mistake, because the face of the Landlord IS the Agent and they know somebody cares!) and it is very important for the person paying the rent to know that they are not alone in being responsible, financially or otherwise, for the home they live in and pay to live in!

No losers!

So everybody wins when visits take place, but make sure it is organised well and legally, badly dealt with this could cause more problems than NOT visiting, but I continue to experience first hand that it can be difficult to get Landlords to carry out direct visits themselves especially under self Management, but what they do not realise is the harm it does to the perception of them as Landlords by the Tenants! I have stated before and firmly believe that if Tenant requests continue to be ignored by Landlords those very same Tenants who want action because they care, will stop doing so and that can only be bad news for the property itself.

Difference between Inspection and Visit?

Technically none, but it is worth pointing out that to the true definition of the word, it is Property Visits we carry out and not Inspections. Many years ago an Agent was successfully sued for failing to report on the failing condition of a property as part of the ‘Inspection’ which resulted in heavy cost for a Landlord which could have been avoided should the problem have been spotted at an earlier date. This then opened a can of worms for Agents and a better defined ‘role’ and ‘description’ was utilised, that I feel is better described as a ‘Visit’ to carry out a ‘Check’ on the manner in which the Tenancy is being carried out. This removes the risk on us not noticing that the chimney stack is cracking and the cost of replacement for not reporting at a time that remedial action could have been carried out!

By Felicity Hannah, deputy editor at

If you’re a tenant, do you still need home insurance or will your landlords’ cover protect your belongings? We take a look… Renting can be a trouble-free way of putting a roof over your head. No maintenance costs to meet and no housing market worries. In fact, with many rooms let on a bills-included basis, some tenants don’t even have to worry about paying anything except their rent. This can make it all too easy to forget about Home Insurance cover or to assume that the landlord’s policy will protect your possessions if disaster strikes. But in actual fact, the vast majority of tenants will need to buy their own insurance policies. So what do you need to know?

 Home insurance cover for tenants

 When people refer to ‘home insurance’, they are lumping together two different kinds of protection – contents and buildings cover. Roughly speaking, if you picture your house or flat being turned upside down and shaken, then everything that falls out would be covered by contents insurance and everything that’s attached would be protected by building insurance. Anyone with a mortgage needs to have buildings insurance as part of their agreement, so your landlord’s policy would pay out if a tree toppled into the roof, for example, or if flood waters destroyed the wiring. However, without contents insurance, your personal possessions aren’t protected from fires, floods, thieves, accidents and other disasters. 

Do I need contents insurance?

 Unlike buildings insurance, there’s no requirement for anyone to take out contents cover – but it’s essential for peace of mind. Although some cover exists that is specifically designed for tenants, for most people, a standard contents insurance policy will be perfectly suitable. Make sure you shop around for the best price but remember that different policies vary and the cheapest isn’t always the best. Be confident you can afford the excess and consider paying a bit extra for new-for-old replacement cover. That means the policy would pay to replace items with equivalent new versions at today’s prices. You can add out-of-home cover, meaning your belongings are insured when you carry them out of the house – that’s especially good for technology and jewellery. Don’t skimp on the cover you need, you don’t want to be left out of pocket in the event you have to claim. You’ll have enough on your mind if that happens without worrying about whether your policy will pay out enough.

 How much cover should I have?

 When you apply for a policy, you’ll be asked to estimate the value of your stuff. Be as thorough as you can about this, don’t leave yourself underinsured. Go from room to room and assess the worth of what’s in each. Underinsuring yourself can cause serious issues if you need to claim. If your home’s contents are worth £20,000 collectively but you only insure them for £10,000 then your insurer may only agree to pay for half your claim – even if that’s for less than £10,000.  

Will my contents insurance protect my landlord’s furniture?

 Most contents insurance policies will only protect the possessions of the policyholder and their family. However, you may want your accidental damage cover to protect any furniture that belongs to your landlord, so you can avoid losing your deposit. Check with your home insurance provider if it can provide this additional cover. Some tenant-specific policies may well be able to do so.

 What if I live with my landlord?

 A large number of tenants actually live with their landlord, renting a room in their home rather than a whole property. If you’re in that position then you may find it hard to insure just your own possessions, especially if you don’t have a lock on your door. Ask your landlord to check with their home insurer if the policy can be extended to cover you as well. If not, look at a specialist policy for tenants.

By Steve Roulstone

I was busy doing those Saturday morning chores this weekend, when I report on BBC Breakfast caught my attention. What I then heard was the BBC once again doing what they do best, trying to put a negative slant on a housing matter, this time the report was about the standard of rental property nationwide. Answering the main point that a large proportion of rental property in the private sector in the UK is in poor condition, was the Chairman of the National Landlords Association, Mr David Salusbury. Very calmly and with clear comments he put the presenter straight about the standard of the majority of rental property in the Country, to the extent, I thought of reducing the length of the report as I felt the presenter had very little left to pick at once David had made his point with such authority and presence!

Missed opportunity.

Of course what David could not do in any depth, was to get the conversation round to what should have been the made drive of the report, which the BBC report failed to do, namely that legislation recommended by the Rugg review and rejected by the current Government, is what is needed to address the issues that do exist with rogue Landlords.

Councils to look after us.

The Housing Minister Grant Shapps, has stuck to the line that Local Councils have the powers already, but two things struck me from what was stated that really have an effect on what is actually happening on the ground. Firstly and most importantly, Councils may have the powers, but there is no way they have the man power to carry out this role! I remember being advised when the HMO regulations came in, that it would take our Council several years to inspect the property they already knew was due for inspection, before they even got around to investigating the property they did NOT know about! (Therefore the property where real action was needed) because we all know that the property the Council are aware of is that owned by responsible Landlords (probable members of such organisations as the NLA or managed by professional agents!)

Let’s not forget the work carried out so far!

Secondly, what is not mentioned is how the market has improved greatly over the last ten years. I can remember being asked to look at some property in the past where I have wiped my feet on the way out not that long ago! Now Landlords listen to what we agents say, because they know they need to compete in this market and prepare in a way to ensure prospective Tenants want to live in their home, not the opposite.

Let’s catch the rest.

So what needs to happen is recognition that bad Landlords do not operate through professional Agents, we need as a profession, to keep making this blindingly obvious statement until bodies such as the BBC and more importantly the Government, listen to us. This is why the registration is so important, because it would catch everybody who does not operate in this way and if our industry could be self policing, which could be operated through a qualification needed to operate for both Landlords and Agents, then what problems do exist, would be dealt with very quickly.


 This is why I keep stating the same point again and again! Stop emphasising the bad points, speak about the good, let’s get a balanced opinion of our industry, housing and the need for more and then we just might start to get positive ways forward. And for what it is worth, my way would be a simple qualification that all Landlords and Agents would need to qualify for, run within the industry, by the industry, which, when Landlord or Agent fall foul off, would remove the ability to trade in this way. (on a sliding scale which could include penalties dependent upon the severity of the offence, right up to dismissal from the scheme, removing the ability to Manage property themselves)

This would force bad Landlords to be Managed by professional Agents and would stop any bad Agent from trading at all.

Now, let’s consider what effect this would have on the quality of rental housing stock in the UK?

By Steve Roulstone

I have stated on several occasions, and will continue to do so, that the reporting of issues relating to housing are constantly being reported as negative views rather than in the true light of what is actually happening. Nobody is denying that the property market is difficult at the moment (except of course for Letting agents as we have continued to show growth year on year as owners look to our market as the solution to their inability to find a buyer) but several reports all taken from one issue of a property magazine (who will remain nameless!) all have a different reflection of what I actually see happening ‘on the ground’ at the moment.

Firstly, A lifetime of renting.

The initial report states that young people do not want to rent for life, well surprise surprise! I doubt you will get many of the same people stating in a survey that they do not want to work either for the same employer or in the same industry all of their lives, but many will! I find this a report about nothing, the point of which misses me completely. The facts are that more and more people are renting and I can clearly state from my experience and in my opinion, that more and more of them are young professionals, who are just starting out in their first job. But that is all it is, my opinion and this report is nothing more than somebody else’s opinion derived from a survey, which in my opinion is worthless!

New home sells stalling, honestly?

One of the many roles carried out by our organisation is Block Management, looking after sites which nearly always nowadays, have a Management Company to address communal areas and facilities. One of these sites is in the Midlands, near Halesowen and as a new build development I can report is selling well. I had a meeting yesterday with a colleague from Milton Keynes. Because of a similar connection to local builders, we were discussing how well new build was selling in Milton Keynes. So the report looks as though it should be re-titled ‘New homes stall in London’ because clearly that is the content of the report and the Editor should remember that there is life outside of London! But some of the blame is placed on Mortgage supply

Mortgage approvals still falling.

Two points here, if the report above is blamed on mortgage approvals falling and the subject is worthy of a report in its own right, why is the BBC reporting that Mortgage restrictions are falling and secondly did anybody notice the weather last month? Again, in my opinion, this is reporting a negative because the press think bad news sells. It probably does; apparently, we are more liable to read something that scares us rather than something that will make us smile, so headlines reflect this fact. But it seems to me the report would have been more factual to have concluded that Mortgage requirements are easing because of a fall in approvals and that the future could be easier because of this, rather than just concentrating on negative views, after all, the only true reflection of these figures can be made once we see what has happened in January as the backlog that developed has worked its way through.


For anybody, press or otherwise, to quote definitive statements as news, they should be able to back it up with facts and trends that stand up and only when the news that is reported is factual in this way, will we see a true picture of the subject of the report (for housing is not alone in Having facts taken out of context) and as I state in what I write, this is my opinion (that is what Blog writing is all about) and I do not deny that housing sales are still slow, but it is also my opinion that they will stay that way longer if the only way they are reported about is in a negative fashion.

By Steve Roulstone

If being involved in the rental market for over ten years has taught me anything when it comes to increasing rent for a sitting Tenant, then it is that thoughts turn to the subject in the spring, more than at any other time of the year. So much so that it is the time of the year, that as an agency we review all of our rents on behalf of our Landlords so that we can actually advise our Landlords with knowledge of having done the work before we get asked.

Important procedure.

But it is not just a matter of advising the Tenant and awaiting the increased rent to arrive. Far from it! There are several considerations, not least of which, that rent can only be increased once in any one year and perhaps more importantly, rent should be increased by issuing the correct notice, in line with the requirements of the Housing Act 1988.

Once per year.

This sensible rule ensures that Tenants, who are outside of any fixed period as stated in their Tenancy Agreement, know exactly how long they have between rent increases. An increase raised through agreements or renewals, can be the best way to achieve an increase, as the Tenant knows again that the period is fixed and therefore so is the rent for the same period. This also means that after any fixed period and for example after the traditional initial six month period rent can be increased, but only once per year. Now I have had many conversations with Landlords about the impact of increasing rents within the first year of a Tenancy and any such request has be to handled with care to avoid the Tenant immediately giving notice to leave.  

Correct Section notice

Again, by using the prescribed documentation, you can ensure that the procedure is dealt with in accordance with the Housing Act that introduced the legislation, allowing increases to be served whilst Tenants are outside of any fixed period agreement. (Periodic) This ensures that there can be no argument about the legality of the new rent. Also, I cannot write about rent increases without stating that any increase should consider the Tenant, the property and what it would rent for if empty at that time and the market and current financial situation. Then and only then can the increase be justified if the Tenant does question the increase, and yes, it is right and proper that it can be.

Investment requirement.

It is part of the market in the same way that investments can go up or down, that Rent Increases are part of owning a rental property. There have been occasions, most noticeably when property could not sell, that rents have gone in the opposite direction, as Tenants, realising that there were many properties available at the time, made offers to Landlords who needed a Tenant in their property rather than waiting another month for the full asking price. After all, in the lettings market you cannot recover rent for the period property sits empty, but that is not the case now and it has been well documented that rents will increase this year. For Letting Agencies, now is the traditional time to carry out the preparation and be ready to carry out the role on behalf of our Landlords, most importantly, correctly and professionally!