Monthly Archives: June 2011

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By Steve Roulstone

I have written before about why so many Block Management sites, when the existing site Managers are failing through the eyes of the site Directors, end up in the hands of local Letting Agents, who can quickly make the adjustments to carry out the role of Managers for a site rather than for a Landlord, especially where maintenance is concerned. This is one of the major advantages for local Agencies, because in the nature of their day to day business, they will have developed working relationships with the whole gambit of building craftsmen who can help cement the Agencies new Property Management work.

 Local services for Local people!

 It is also not just that by being a local Company it is highly probable that there will be some relationship either privately with the Leaseholders or just by the very fact that the people concerned live in the same location. In Stafford for example, one of my main ‘fix all’ contractors, lives looking over a site that we manage. The relationship that this has developed between the Directors, some of whom already knew the chap concerned and the Contractor is so strong that they now insist he carries out the annual balcony maintenance programme we organise for them. The trust in his work and the way in which he deals with both the problems that occur and the people living on site is the reason the relationship has developed in this way. I believe what helps make this kind of situation possible when dealing with local trades, is the fact that they are Neighbours. Everybody feels more comfortable than the unknown quantity of a visitor from out of town!

 Time is not a factor.

And then of course, there is the ability to react quickly to any emergency situation, and I have known many schemes that operate Nationally for Letting Agents to deal with those Emergency call outs (and I know at first hand, that the level of performance from Contractors attending through such schemes leaves a lot to be desired) All of whom do not react in the same manner as a Contractor who is not only going to start the job to hand, but probably visit again to complete it. Not to mention being the Contractor who will have visited before and will no doubt be needed to visit again! All of these things make the local chap the choice for me.

 Not just Contractors.

 Of course other services are needed through the offices of Block Management and white collar trades also benefit from knowing the area. I have witnessed myself how the local Solicitors have been able to give more appropriate advice when legal issues have arisen, even benefiting from staff living on the site, in this case being able to clear a very difficult recognition problem for us, simply because when typing correspondence, they were able to answer the issue through personal knowledge of the person we were trying to trace. A situation which ended up benefiting all of those concerned and avoided higher costs to boot!

 No comparison.

 So being looked after by a Local Company has many advantages and I cannot see how the largest of the many major City based specialist Block Managing Companies can compare, and even though they may not advertise such services initially, if I were looking in relation to any property owned on a Leasehold site, I would not hesitate to check the local options first. Of course, they must also have a clear understanding of how to run a site in the proper manner, both legally and financially, on behalf of the owners, but I still believe that most organisations in our trade, if they knew they could not do a good job, would say no from day one. But then we all have to start somewhere as did I when I took my first site on back in 2003. But then I had the advantage of being part of a National Company who could offer me both training and other Franchisees who were already undertaking the role themselves, as they say, you cannot beat knowledge!

By Mike Edwards.

A further significant issue in relation to excluded areas arises in relation to Council Tax (CT) and the definition of a House in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) for CT purposes as opposed to the other two HMO definitions in relation to Planning and then in The Housing Act 2004. Yes there really are three HMO definitions in existence and more importantly and as evidenced by this example below, in use.


In simple terms the CT definition of an HMO is that if a tenant renting with others does not rent the whole of a dwelling with those other tenants then it is an HMO for CT purposes. This is extremely significant and important as it means that if you let a two bed house to two different people each with a tenancy of their own bedroom and with a licence to occupy the common parts (hall, stairs, landing, bathroom and kitchen), you would create a ‘Council Tax HMO’

Many agents and Landlords use what is called a hybrid sharer’s AST in multiple occupier tenancies, granting a separate agreement to each occupier. The alternative is of course to have all the sharers on a single agreement, and there are pros and cons in both approaches.

The point is if the sharers are not sharers in the true sense of the word – friends needing to find accommodation (typically second year onwards students, for example) – and prepared to rely on each other in a joint tenancy scenario, then the landlord may have little choice if the sharing tenant or their Guarantors are not prepared to sign a single agreement.

This is usually not a problem in such situations because there can be only one CT bill and so the Landlord retains that in their name and reflects the costs in the rent. But what if the tenants are all on one single agreement – true sharers – but are excluded for some reason from some part of the property. They would not have access to the whole of the dwelling and thus the Council Tax office would deem it an HMO and turn to the Landlord for the Council Tax – including back payments if the tenants have not paid it.

And as the CT liability had not been reflected in increased rent the Landlord could not recover the costs against the tenants.

Case History.

This was the case in Goremsandu v Harrow LBC where three individuals were named on one furnished tenancy agreement but didn’t want some of the furniture so asked if it could be stored in the conservatory, the loss of use of which the tenants were not worried about.  But when Harrow LBC learned of this arrangement they claimed as the tenants did not have use of the conservatory and in effect were excluded from using it because the Landlord was using it to store his furniture they decided the Landlord was liable for the Council Tax.  

A silly proposition by Harrow but at the first hearing the Landlord lost and had to appeal and eventually won.

So please beware!

But as evidenced in the last article on this subject it is not uncommon for a Landlord to retain part of a property for their own use – garage, basement, attic – and clearly this creates the same danger and as in this case the landlord could be held liable for the Council Tax. Not a problem if the potential liability is recognised and reflected in the tenancy agreement from the outset.

However if as in this case the liability occurs after commencement of the agreement it could result in a significant bill and no opportunity to recover the costs from the tenant.

By Craig Smith

In recent years, the country has been through a recession (some people would argue that we a still in the recession) and the cost of living seems to be ever increasing. Not only the cost of food and necessities but the cost of fuel has risen dramatically in just the last few months. This has had a knock on effect in the way that some properties are presented at the end of some tenancies.

Increasing Disagreements Between Landlords & Tenants

We have seen an increasing number of disagreements between Landlords and Tenants over some items which may be considered insignificant in the scheme of things. For example, a shower curtain may be left in a well used condition at the end of a tenancy by a Tenant who doesn’t think they should spend £10-20 replacing it. However, the Landlord may also be less willing to replace it as they may see this as an unnecessary expense. This then leads to a dispute between them and can sometimes turn what was a perfect tenancy into a feud.

Deposit Disputes

Thankfully, we don’t have a great deal of deposits that go through the DPS adjudication process (please refer back to our blog relating to best practice for deposits) although it is increasingly difficult to reach an agreement between both parties. We act as agents on behalf of our Landlords which means that some Tenants see us as ‘taking sides’ This isn’t the case and whilst we do work for Landlords primarily, we always try to reach a fair decision. For example, a Landlord who may be trying to charge £100 for that shower curtain probably wont get his money if the case went to dispute.

Issues at the Start of a Tenancy

Not all disagreements occur at the end of a tenancy. Some Landlords may not see the need to clean a property before tenants move in or have those little jobs finished. This then comes back round in a circle at the end of a tenancy when the Tenant may feel that they should leave it in the same condition.

What to Do?

Best practice dictates that a property should always be presented clean and in good condition at the start of a tenancy. By doing this, there is a benchmark for how the property should be returned when a Tenant vacates. Although wear and tear can only be expected, properties should always be presented as you would like to find it!

By Steve Roulstone

It is now a year ago that we started the Castle Estates Blog and I am pleased to say that we continue to attract comment and contributions from the Industry with two new contributors due in the next month. We have provided blogs under several headings during this time, covering Current Property News – Property Landlord advice – Rental Issues and of course as a Franchising organisation – Franchising News.

Current Property News   

We have used this heading to concentrate on breaking news items which over the last year has mainly involved Industry Legislation (and my ongoing belief that we need the Government to introduce both a registration scheme for both Landlords and Letting agents) The Housing Market and Mortgages, legal cases surrounding our Industry (not forgetting announcments such as this!) as well as those times when high profile people within the Lettings Industry have reported, mainly on the BBC, who, because of their apparent dislike of the Housing market cannot wait to deliver any news item in a negative way – as they say, bad news pays!

Property Landlord advice.

In this section, mainly based upon advice and information for Landlords, we have reported on bad and good trends, given advice on HMO’s as well as Resident Landlords, as well as advice on differing scenarios that present themselves as Landlord choices, such as furnished property, Excluded rooms and Garages. Property presentation issues such as gardens and decoration, not forgetting the two most important rooms in any house, the bathroom and kitchen!

Rental Issues.

This heading has been used to give information and hopefully clarity over perceived problems within the Industry through the eyes of the Tenants. I believe the area that needs clarifying above all others is the role (legal) of the Agent and how we stand in law in delivering a duty of responsibility to our Landlords, but a duty of care to our Tenants and how this difference manifests itself in our day to day role and through the contracts we employ. In doing so we have reported on notice periods and the reasons why, holding rented property for Tenants and explaining the effect of void periods to Landlords.

Franchise news

This has been our vehicle to get news out there about how the market is changing, the advantages of Franchising and how we see them, as well as were individuals can benefit from networks such as ours. It has also been the heading that we have shared with others in our Industry where our opinion has relevance to the message that they have been passing on to their readers.

Visitors and the year to come.

There have been many, many, more subjects covered in the well over 100 blogs we have posted on this site, too many topics to list sensibly, but we will continue to write about our industry, the housing market and legislation that effects the industry in the same vein over the coming year, with as already promised more contributors from all sections of our industry, joining the writers we already have from the Insurance markets, Training and Legal advice circles as well as Professions from within the Franchising Market. Thank-you for looking in, please continue to tell your friends!

By Mike Edwards


Tenant excluded!

Landlords sometimes wish for whatever reason to exclude the tenant from having access to a specific part of the property. Typically this is usually the garage because the Landlord needs to leave a vehicle in it himself, or for other storage. Or it can be an attic or loft space which the Landlord wants for storage. Or it can be a cellar, perhaps because his collection of vintage wine is stored there, or possibly on safety grounds if it has narrow, steep stairs and poor lighting – the sort of thing an EHO assessor would love to find on an HHSRS inspection!!

But Landlords really need to consider how their personal preferences might impact on the tenant as normally they will be expecting to rent the whole of a property including any garage, loft or cellar. After all you wouldn’t expect the Landlord to reserve the rear garden to himself or the fourth bedroom for use as a mini gym – so why reserve these other areas and exclude the tenant from them.

Technically speaking unless it is a Resident Landlord situation where the Landlord has a legal right to access for some necessary purpose – such as access to his own PERMANENT accommodation within the building – it will almost always lead to difficulties if the Landlord reserves any of the accommodation to himself.

Possible problems.

First if he is constantly (or even infrequently) coming and going to the property to access his reserved area – and presumably he will be or otherwise why reserve it in the first place – the Landlord will eventually fall foul of the tenant’s peaceful occupancy rights as stated in the tenancy agreement and enshrined in and enforced through the 1977 Protection From Eviction Act.

Secondly there must be no meters or stop cocks or utility equipment of any kind which might need to be accessed especially in the case of an emergency, like a flood.

If the Landlord insists on excluding any part of the property that the tenant might normally expect to be ‘theirs’ then this must be discussed with and clearly explained to the tenant whose agreement must be clearly obtained. The Landlord must also realise any such exclusions may also have an impact on the rental value, especially if it is a garage.

Practical implications.

Any such areas must be securely locked so there can be no question of arguments and accusations if items thought to be in the excluded area disappear and the area should be excluded completely from the inventory other than to flag it up as not forming part of the tenancy and the tenant not being responsible for it in any way and at any time.

Basically exclusion of the tenant from any areas in a rented property and its grounds is best avoided if possible.

By Steve Roulstone

This is one of those subjects that always causes problems when Tenants wish to end a Tenancy but do not understand the manner in which the agreements have to be handled once an agreement has become periodic, so I would like to clarify, without giving to many ifs and buts, which is what you find whenever you research this issue, in simple terms.

Periodic agreement.

Firstly, let’s confirm what a periodic agreement is. This is when an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement has gone past its original fixed period and whilst the agreement still applies to both parties, it has not been superseded by another agreement and nobody has given Notice. This is a very common form of allowing Tenants to stay in the property, but without having to tie them down to another fixed period. As I have stated before, flexibility is usually the choice of the Tenant in reality and Landlords who wish to have fixed terms only, can cause Tenants to move on anyway, because they feel they no longer have the freedom to move when they wish.

Notice when they choose.

And this is why it is popular with so many Tenants, because the opportunity to move when they wish ensures they can make that move when it suits the Tenant. In reality, it is my experience, that just to have the flexibility does not mean that they will then leave. Rather being given a choice to make about committing to another period of time actually forces a decision as against moving when a Tenants agreements become periodic after the initial term, but it is when that notice is given, that problems can occur if the manner of notice is not followed correctly.

Correct Notice.

The correct way to give notice on a periodic agreement is firstly to do so in writing (some agents will accept e-mail, but always check rather than assume) and then if a problem occurs it is because of the timing of this notice. Any notice on a periodic agreement must be in line with the payment dates of the agreement. Therefore, if rent is paid from the first to the last day of the month, as the easiest example, whatever day notice is given, the Tenant will be responsible for the rent and property until the last day of the following month the notice was produced and handed over. To clarify further, no matter what date the notice is handed in, from the 1st to the last day, when the payment period is the 1st of the month to the last, the Tenant,’s notice will end on the last day of the following month, ensuring that the notice served covers a complete payment period from the 1st to the last day.


The situation can alter if rent due date continues to be from the date the Tenancy started. In my case we always make the payment date the first, ensuring Tenants always leave on the last day of any calendar month. But if you moved in on the 10th, then your payment period is from that day until the 9th and your Tenancy will end on the 9th, and your notice will therefore always cover a full monthly payment period between the 10th and the 9th.


Of course, knowledge is everything and hopefully your Agent/Landlord would have explained this at the start of the Tenancy, but because it is complicated and so many people believe that notice is just a four week period starting from the day notice is given, this so often becomes a confusing situation at the end of what has hopefully been an enjoyable stay. Again from personal experience, even when this is explained at the beginning of a Tenancy, if the Tenant has lived at the property for two to three years, then of course remembering becomes very difficult. So please bear with your Agent or Landlord when they explain this situation, they are after all, only explaining how the law works!

By Steve Roulstone

Two items of news were reported late last week, which are both of note but for differing reasons. One for the right reasons and one for the wrong reasons, but together they speak volumes about what the Industry is trying to do and what the Industry needs by way of regulation, which would in my opinion seriously reduce the number of times such events both occur and are therefore reported.

Launch of SAFE Agent scheme.

Better than expected numbers are turning to the SAFE Agent scheme which is really good news and reinforces my opinion that this type of scheme is exactly what the Industry needs and wants to be a part of. The very fact that so many Agents are looking for recognition in a way that they can announce to their customers, be them Tenants or Landlords that they operate in a way that all client’s monies are protected speaks volumes about the Agents who want to be seen as professional Companies and give re-assurance to their client base.

Government backing.

This scheme has been introduced simply because the Industry has felt that some recognition of professionalism was required by people within the Industry, who, by virtue of the organisations they belong to or who are able to represent, have been able to get both the message across quickly to what I believe to be a willing Industry (Certainly within Castle Estates) who seem to be embracing the message with open arms. What we need now is official recognition from the Government that they both support the scheme and will look to review registration of Agents sooner rather than later. Hopefully they will see by the numbers of Agents joining that the Industry will also embrace and because of the second item of news, see the need for Government legislation to support professionalism in the Lettings Industry.

‘Agent’ jailed for two years.

It is because we continue to see Agents stealing from their clients,  that Government legislation is still required, because even though we hope and will work towards SAFE Agent being a standard for all professional Letting Agent offices, it is only when the Government back us with registration that such occurrences can be really reduced. Allow me to repeat, for I have stated this many times, but registration of Agents who use sound proper methods of looking after client’s money and in running the business in general is the only way the Industry will become truly professional. We are now looking at an Industry, when Private Landlords are included, which is fast becoming responsible for 20% of UK Housing stock. How much longer can the Government ignore the shout for legislation?


Estate Agents.

It should also be recognised, that it is not just the Client’s money aspect of Management that needs to be legislated. In the last three years the Estate Agency market has jumped in their thousands in too Lettings and I know only too well, that many do not understand the legislation that any qualified Letting Agent would need to understand and learn before they could become achieve qualification. Now I could just imagine the clamour of noise if the situation had been reversed? Estate Agencies operate at best using RICS standards which have been adopted by the courts as a formal code of practise. Indeed there are far more statutory requirements upon professional Estate Agents than Letting Agents and I am sure the Estate Agents would be the first to shout loud and proud about standards should the reverse of the current market changes come about!

Good for everybody.

At the end of the day, all Industries benefit from raising standards and ours is no different. The problem in any sphere of operation is the people in it, and legislation always seeks to control people. So the sooner we are properly legislated, the sooner people such as Mr Stagg, will not be allowed to trade in the first place, for as the article points out – at present there is nothing stopping him from starting another agency the moment he leaves prison!

By Steve Roulstone

This time of year, as agents visit the properties under their charge, the most common phone call to the Tenant, if they were not present during the property visit, becomes the request to tidy the Garden. So often the Garden, especially when the house concerned is a family home is so well tended and designed that when the property is let expectations about the manner in which it is kept can be misinterpreted resulting in disappointment at the very least and in some cases frustration and anger.

The problem.

We all know a tidy garden helps us rent the property, but Landlords need to understand that when they rent their property, whilst it is the Tenants responsibility to look after the house and garden in a proper manner, this does not necessarily mean it will be kept in the style you would wish. It is the translation of the term ‘proper manner’ which can cause the problem. If such a matter should reach court, as periodically they do, then the Judge is in all probability going to ignore any claim made against the Tenant because all a Tenant is charged to do is keep the Garden in reasonable order and not to the same standard or manner kept by the previous owners, as time would normally be given by the courts for the Tenant to address the issue.

Reasonable Standard.

This is what would be expected of all Tenants the problem being that reasonable can just be mowing the lawn and stopping the borders from being full of weeds. This does not include tending for plants, over wintering in a greenhouse or cutting back at the appropriate time of the year. The point that needs to be appreciated is that by renting the property you are accepting that the Tenants will be allowed to live in a manner which suits themselves and not how you may wish them too. The point being, that tending the garden to the standards you wish for is not required, just the ability to keep the appearance neat and tidy is all that should be expected by the Landlord.

Covering all bases.

This means that provision needs to be made prior to the property being rented to ensure the Landlord achieves what they want for the Garden. I myself, with a wife who just falls short of sleeping in the Garden, having just moved, made arrangements for a Gardener of our choice to visit the house every week. The resulting bill we pay, but were able to rent the property with Gardens tended at a better price. I believe this made the choice easier for our Tenants as they continue to enjoy a mature garden with plants flowering throughout the year. But even with this provision, we both know the Garden will slowly suffer, as nobody cares for a garden better than the Gardener!

Rent to a Gardener.

I have of course on many an occasion, been told by the prospective Tenant, ‘oh how lovely a garden I can look after’! Only to be disappointed by the lack of efforts they then put in. So my advice and I believe the only advice that can ensure the best results, is to ensure if it matters that much to you, the Gardens are looked after by the person you appoint – which means your own Gardener. I certainly would not suggest you do them yourself, as this would not be acceptable to the incoming Tenant.

Family home or Buy to Let?

Of course it matters so much as to why the house came to be rented in the first place and as so many houses that were lived in by Parents are now entering the Rental market, it is quite often that the Garden so lovingly nurtured by your parents is so important to you in how it is looked after by others. My advice in the past has also been to carry out a major re-fit if seeing the vegetable patch turn to weeds and slugs is going to be so upsetting. By having the Garden stripped and relayed to lawn for example, you remove the problem in one go. After all, nobody will ever look after the Garden in the manner your parents did and this can be a very good way of removing the garden as an issue, in the same way as ensuring the Bathroom and Kitchen (the two most important rooms in any house) are in a rentable condition, but that is another story!

By Steve Roulstone

On Saturday morning I sat eating my Toast and Marmalade and was told during a report on the BBC 24 Hour News channel, that agreements for Tenants are six months long and that any Tenant who was in a property for longer than two years effectively became a squatter and could not be moved out! Well after I recovered from what I thought had been a tremendous shift in the legislation being introduced by the forthcoming Localism Bill I realised once again that here was my Industry being discussed on a National prime time News programme and once again the information being presented was at the very least misinformed if not just plain wrong!

Please check your facts.

It is a long term complaint of mine, that by allowing people to phone or e-mail or text in to News programmes, that the comments and therefore air time that is given to some outlandish views is so miss-representative of what the majority think and believe that it is treating the majority views with disrespect and paints such a false picture of whatever topic is being discussed as to be totally miss-leading of the nations views. But here we have a topic that I know about being given the same treatment by the chosen speakers who were given plenty of time to get the facts totally wrong.

Let’s put the record straight.

Firstly, that a Tenant who has been in a property for two years is as good as a squatter! Unbelievable! All I can say is if that was the Gentleman’s experience, then he needs to get better advice, because as long as the correct agreement is used to best suit the situation, then no matter if a Tenant has been in residence for ten years, both Landlord and Tenant rights remain the same. In fact, if the Landlord lived in the house as their main residence then with the correct agreement, when it is time for the Landlord to give notice, again providing that the notice is issued correctly should for some reason the Tenants not move out, which they would 999 times out of 1000 then the courts have no say in the matter and must award the property back to the Landlord.

Tenants can only stay six months?

Well forgive me but here is a situation which best serves both parties, because in order to ensure the Tenant is responsible in their actions and that the Tenant enjoys living at the property, an initial six months is just what is required, but that is not the end of it! I myself have just moved in to a property on a five year deal, which, with the correct clauses for bad health etc, is exactly what my wife and I wish for. It also suits the Tenant and with reason, for it should always be the case that length of Tenancy is for negotiation between the Tenant and the Landlord. But more interestingly, as a Letting Agent in my twelfth year of running an Agency, it is the Tenant who will always want the lesser time, indeed most stay in property under a periodic agreement after the initial period, which gives them the right to leave at short notice, because it suits their needs better!

Professional judgement!

Once again I see a situation that would have been presented in such a better manner if Professional Agents had been introduced to the situation (and it is a pity that once again I do not see our Industry professional bodies flying the flag for Letting Agents) at least the facts would have been correct, but perhaps it is because the powers that be at the BBC already know that the story would have much shorter legs, if a voice of common sense and reason was introduced to these sound bite discussions, which continue to pour confusion and fear on the housing market. What a pity that those who listened will probably consider the Lettings market something to be avoided. Instead of probably frightening house owners who cannot sell at present, they could have been re-assured that the rental market is a viable proposition and a possible answer to the lack of activity at a time when three times the normal number of properties than normally enter our market year on year are currently being rented throughout the UK!

By Steve Roulstone

I have recently come across a situation that I would both welcome comment on and happily post as a warning to all Student Landlords that possession of a Student card does not always mean that as far as the local Council are concerned, the person you are dealing with is not necessarily considered to be a Student. This has specific impact on the Council Tax status of your property.

Large Student accomnodation.

The situation we have just found ourselves in is somewhat complicated by the building in which the students reside. We manage a converted ex County Council building in the middle of Stafford, which comprises of two sets of accommodation, split by a central corridor. To maximise the Landlords return, one half is for Students and one half used for normal Council Tax paying workers. The Student half, comprises of 12 flats, with anywhere between four and ten rooms per flat. They have centralised kitchens, en-suite facilities and they all share one large common room on the ground floor. So not the usual Student accommodation, more purpose built.

Not enough hours.

The problem we encountered with the Student concerned was that they were only a part time Student, on a course which was for 16 hours per week. The problem arose when the Student concerned approached the Council for financial assistance, even though we had advised they would not be eligible. They were not, but the Council then questioned the Student status and quoted from their own web site that: ‘To qualify as a student, the course must be over 21 hours per week and last for at least one year’

Caught out.

I am sure we are not the first to have fallen foul of this ruling and because it is on the Council web site we cannot complain too loudly. But this does show one very alarming hole in what we normally accept as proof of status. This is that the Student card issued by the College is not sufficient proof for the Council to agree. In future we will be insisting on seeing the appointment letter as well as the Student card, because as usual in these situations the consequences are financial!


In the Councils eyes, any property which has been used as their main residence by a person who is not a registered Student (to their own translation) no longer applies for full Student discount. The end result is that the Council have asked for Council Tax for the whole flat for the period that the person lived in this accommodation. This totalled a period of six months. Now many people would already be aware of this rule, but obviously we were not and this is why I have chosen to post this information in this manner. It just proves the old adage; you are never too old to learn!