Monthly Archives: April 2013

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By Craig Smith

Some Landlords think that an inventory is a waste of time particularly when a property is unfurnished. But an inventory can be just as important as a tenancy agreement when it comes to disputes between tenants and Landlords.

Not Just the What & Where…

As an agent, inventories are something that we complete as standard on our fully managed properties and offer as an extra service to those that we don’t. Of course, we would still be more than happy to provide an inventory as a ‘one-off service’ on a property where we haven’t found the tenant and would ask any Landlord to contact us about this.

When some Landlords produce their own inventories (which is fine, by the way!) they don’t always get it quite right. Some that we have seen come into our office will simply list the contents and the colours of the paintwork which is OK should something disappear during the tenancy. Some pieces of furniture might have been swapped from room to room which does cause some headaches when checking it over but at least it is all there. One of the most important parts of an inventory is the condition of all the items listed as without it, how can it be proved that something has/has not been damaged during the tenancy?

Paying for the Service

One example we have seen recently is where a Landlord has purchased an inventory from an independent company. There are many inventory clerks that will do a good job and all in a slightly different style. Although, this wasn’t exactly the best example we had ever seen either! The condition of each item was either very sketchy or non-existent which doesn’t help matters come the end of the tenancy. This particular tenant had left the property in good condition although the carpets did need additional cleaning.

Without trying to blow our own trumpet here, we are very thorough at our move-in and move-out appointments as this helps to keep any disputes to a minimum. It also keeps both tenants and Landlords on side knowing that as much information is documented as possible. Whether it is a pristine, newly refurbished property or somewhere that looks a little more tired, it is important to keep a log at the start and end of a tenancy.

Going back to this case, if the tenant had disputed the costs then there wouldn’t have been much evidence to prove otherwise. Yes, the dispute services offered by the deposit schemes (or the courts if that is the route taken) can be very fair but it doesn’t take away the fact that the Landlord has paid for something that simply isn’t good enough.

Protection for all Parties

Reading this might sound like Landlords are trying to make sure they get money from tenants’ deposits but the inventory should be there to protect both parties. As mentioned above, the condition can protect the tenant from unnecessary charges such as damaged paintwork or broken items. It is important that any items are listed along with their condition, good or bad, at the start so that it can be compared when the tenancy comes to an end.

Part of our inventory service is ensuring that we keep up to date with the latest information. There are a number of training courses that we have attended in the past and coupled with past experiences enables us to produce the best inventory we possibly can.

We would be happy to hear from any Landlords or tenants that have had experiences of tenancies where no inventory has been provided. Maybe you have ended up out of pocket due to poor documentation?

By Craig Smith

It is that time of year again when we find out whether or not our council tax has gone up and what we need to pay in the coming financial tax year. You may remember back in August we found out that the majority of local councils voted in favour of charging extra on empty properties and now we know more!

Local Councils

Based in Staffordshire we deal with a number of different councils, the main one beingStaffordwhich is our main area but also various other councils within the region. It seems that each council is doing something different now that they can charge extra for empty properties.

Stafford Council have informed us that they will still be giving a 6 month exemption for properties that are classed as unoccupied and unfurnished.  This is no different to the exemption that was given before which gives rental property Landlords time to carry out any repair work etc and find a new tenant. It appears that the only change is that there is no longer a 50% reduction after the 6 month period and the full amount will then need to be paid.

On the other hand, Tamworth Borough Council have reduced the complete exemption to a period no longer than 2 months, with the full amount then being payable after that period. Both of these councils will now charge 150% of the tax on any property that has been empty for more than 2 years. (Yes, one hundred and fifty per cent!)

Hearing from other offices around the country, it appears that most councils are going along this route of only offering a shorter exemption period or in some cases, none at all!

How Will it Affect Rental Figures?

The demand for housing is very high and the government is keen to develop more land to supply the extra stock. So it isn’t surprising that councils want to penalise those who leave properties empty when they could be used to accommodate more tenants.

Some people have suggested that Landlords will increase the rent on their properties to compensate for the extra council tax charges but put yourself in the position of a Landlord for a moment. If your property is empty, would you risk charging a higher rent to cover the charges, or would you prefer to accept a slightly lower rent for someone to move in more quickly? Suddenly, things don’t sound so rosy for Landlords.

What to do Next?

It is always best to check with your local council exactly when the charges are due before a property comes empty to avoid any nasty surprises. Also, it is advisable to ensure that the local council knows as soon as possible whenever a set of circumstances has changed, regardless of whether it is a rental property or not. As an agent, this is something that we always do which not only helps the smooth running of the files as they pass through but also ensures that our Landlords don’t end up with unnecessary charges.

By Craig Smith

There are so many scare stories around about Landlords who have lost out due to tenants not fulfilling their obligations. Some of the biggest problems can be rent arrears or not looking after the property as they should do. Trying to evict a problem tenant can be a long and expensive process for a Landlord and even though a notice might have been issued to a tenant it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will leave when they are supposed to!

First Step

The first part of telling a tenant to leave is to issue the correct notice to them. The type of tenancy agreement that is in place dictates the specific type of notice that needs to be given. If the wrong notice is used and the matter goes to court, it will be thrown out and the whole process needs to start again.

The type of notice can also vary depending on why the Landlord wants possession back. Some are known as mandatory possession notices where the Landlord doesn’t need to give any particular reason why they need to take back their property and probably make up the majority of notices issued. Others can be non-mandatory and, if taken to court, a judge will make the final decision as to whether or not possession will be granted to the Landlord. (The judge will also decide on when and not just if!)

Just as importantly, the notice needs to give the right length of time for the tenant to vacate. For example, one of the most commonly used notices is a Section 21 which needs to give no less than 2 months. It can be given for a longer period but any shorter and the notice wouldn’t be valid. In the past, some Landlords have been upset about the length of notice that has to be issued as they might need their home back quickly. It is our job to advise them what has to be done and the consequences of not doing it right!

Council Advice

In most instances a tenant will understand that they need to leave and will do so within the set timescale. Arrangements will be made with the Landlord or agent to hand the keys back and the Landlord gets their property back as they are supposed to.  It is when other parties get involved that the situation can become very complicated and more drawn out.

From experience, if a tenant is moving into a council property then the council will tell the tenant to stay in the property until the very last possible minute. This basically means that it could go through court and organising a date for bailiffs to visit before the council will move a tenant into another home. This is good for the council as it means they don’t have to shell out as much money putting someone into a new home but it can end up costing the Landlord more time & money.

Landlord Selling

We have had a few instances in the past where a Landlord has advertised their rental property for sale once the tenant has been given notice. This, in itself, isn’t a big issue but things can go wrong if a Landlord lets a tenant stay on until the property is sold. Continuing the tenancy on an ad hoc basis may give the tenant longer to find somewhere to live and the Landlord continues to receive the rent whilst the tenant is still there. The issue here is if a buyer is found, the sale completes quickly and the tenant still hasn’t found anywhere to move to. The Landlord could lose out on their sale and have to re-advertise and start the whole process again!

Luckily, we’ve never had such a scenario go wrong but it is always our job to advise our Landlords when such situations arise, even if it isn’t what the Landlord wants to hear. It may seem silly to recommend having the property empty for a short while but it is the most sensible option.

Best Options

All of this might seem quite scary if you’ve never done anything like this before but it really isn’t that bad. Part of letting a property is knowing what to do or if your not sure, always get the best advice from someone who does!

By Craig Smith

The Chancellor of the Exchequer made his budget announcement a fortnight ago and the general consensus is that it has affected the poor for the worse. Perhaps the biggest news at the moment is how the reduction in certain benefits is affecting households around the country with many losing out and finding it even harder to make ends meet.

It isn’t just being able to afford the mortgage or rent that is an issue, the cuts can have had a knock on effect on general living costs and with ever increasing fuel & heating bills, some households can feel their finances running out of control.

Everyday Living

Managing more than 300 properties can have its ups and downs but it does give us a broad spectrum of scenarios to deal with. The properties that we deal with can vary greatly in size and condition, although none that are too bad we hope! There have been instances where even the tenants who seem almost perfect can fall foul to the ‘credit crunch’ and end up in a very quick downward spiral. All it takes is for one person to lose their job, for example, and have no money coming in to provide for their family.

We don’t just see this from tenants, we have had situations where Landlords have had to sell or even had their rental property repossessed as they hadn’t kept up with mortgage repayments.

Tenancy Disputes

The most common example of a dispute arising is when a tenant has left a property which is judged to be in need of works. We have written posts previously on how best to avoid disputes with tenants’ deposits and also the poor condition that some properties have been left in. We seem to live in a blame game culture at the moment where the slightest little niggle or problem results in compensation of some sort to an injured party. This has also found its way into the lettings world where issues that often arise are disputed as being someone else’s fault.

Quite commonly when a tenant leaves a property, and more so now when a problem comes up during a tenancy, it can turn into a game of tennis with neither the Landlord or tenant wanting to take responsibility. Something as simple as a broken door handle can be made into a big issue. The Landlord might think that the tenant has leant on it too hard and needs to pay for the repair themselves, whereas the tenant might think it is a cheap fitting and not made to last!

Of course, there are genuine reasons for wanting to hold back some of a tenants deposit. Maybe the property hasn’t been left as clean as when it was at the start of the tenancy or the garden hasn’t been looked after. (The time of year is a common argument with gardens which should always be taken into account but it is no excuse for extra weeds or damaged items!)

Rise in Deposit Disputes

If no agreement can be reached at the end of a tenancy then the costs can be taken through dispute. They can also be taken through the courts but this is less common as it costs a lot more this way!

Over the past year or so in particular, we have seen a steady rise in the number of people looking to dispute their deposit costs. For larger expenses this is understandable but some can be for smaller amounts, which does sometimes feel a bit like penny pinching!

The Future

It looks as though there is more financial uncertainty to come and we cant see a light at the end of the tunnel just yet. The points mentioned above are becoming common practice so the lettings road ahead could be bumpy!