Author Archives: Craig Smith Marla

By Craig Smith


There has been yet another court case due to confusion around tenancy deposits and this one has sent the lettings industry into a spin about what does or doesn’t need to be done.

The case in question is Superstrike Vs Rodrigues where the Landlord had issued a section 21 notice for the tenants to vacate. The tenancy started before the tenant deposit protection came in on 6th April 2007. The issue with this case is that the tenancy actually started before 6th April 2007 and became periodic after that date. Once the tenancy had become periodic, it was deemed to be a new tenancy in the eyes of the law and therefore the deposit should have been registered. In turn, this meant that the Landlord could not rely on their Section 21 notice for the tenants to vacate.

The tenants challenged the notice that was issued as the deposit had not been protected in line with the Housing Act 2004 legislation. As the wording isn’t all that clear, a lot of Landlords could find themselves in a bad position if they have had long term tenants.

Right now, there will probably be a lot of Landlords checking their files to make sure they are within the law and with good reason! By not registering the deposit as it should have been a Landlord can find themselves not only unable to give notice to the tenant (they could but they would lose if it went to court!) but also having to pay back more than 3 times the deposit amount to the tenant.

Back in November 2012, there was a similar case that caused Landlords to make some important changes to their processes. The deposit may need to be protected, we already know that, but once the tenancy has gone to a periodic status it means that a new set of Prescribed Information needs to be issued to the tenants. This information should already have been provided to the tenant at day one and needs to be given again at the first periodic stage.

This is a process that we, as an agent, have already been doing for our Landlords to ensure that they are protected and not at risk from such cases. It is a very rare instance but one that could have major consequences for any Landlord involved. The deposit protection schemes are yet to release anything further on what they advise Landlords to do.

By Craig Smith

Green Deal

Earlier this year a new initiative was introduced by the Government called the Green Deal which is designed to help households make energy saving improvements to their home and pay the cost in monthly instalments.

In case you haven’t heard much about this before, don’t panic. The basic idea is that a survey is carried out on the property, you can agree to have works done (such as having insulation installed or a new energy saving boiler) and the cost is included in your monthly electricity bills. If someone else should move in before the amount is paid off, the new occupier takes up the repayments. As a letting agent managing more than 300 properties, and around 150 where we act in finding tenants only, we can honestly say that not a single tenant or Landlord has asked us about it!

When the offer of free insulation was still around, there were households queuing up to try and get some, which is understandable. Late last year we were trying to work with a company who could offer free cavity wall & loft insulation on some properties but funding for this has now been ceased. There are only some people who are now eligible for this depending on what type of benefits they may receive and their overall household income.

The Green Deal is the new scheme now but not many people seem to have taken notice. I’m starting to wonder just how many people have actually looked into it nationwide or if it is just something that nobody is interested in. It doesn’t appear to have been advertised very much in the national press, more so around the property professionals who might be affected by it.

From 1st October 2008, most rental properties will require an Energy Performance Certificate before being able to be let by law. (There are certain exemptions such as room shares.) This was really the start of the energy saving regulations coming into the rental sector and, looking to the future, it will certainly have further implications in the industry. For example, it is almost certain that as of 2018 a property with an energy rating of E or lower will not be able to be let at all.

Whether or not you agree with the energy saving measures is another talking point, but the time to start thinking of potential improvements and planning for the future is now, before it is too late!

By Craig Smith

5 Higher Rents 140613

Members of the London Assembly are calling on Boris Johnson to introduce tougher regulations for Landlords in the private rented sector in London.

We’ve already said ourselves that further regulation of Landlords and agents would be a good thing. If every Landlord or agent had to be registered under a specific scheme it would mean that they would have to agree to certain rules. If these were to be breached they could end up out of pocket or struck off from the register, depending on exactly how the scheme would work. This might sound like harsh punishments but it would help to reduce the amount of improperly trained agents making a mess of things!

There is currently no statutory regulation of lettings agents, only voluntary schemes. This means that anyone could set up their own letting agency but might not have the proper training & know-how to run it properly. I believe that the scheme would need to be fair & properly thought through if introduced by the government. We’ve seen so many times the government has back-tracked on certain things but this needs to be fair, clear & concise in order for it to work effectively.

The assembly also calls for tougher rules on rentals to stop rent amounts from reaching unaffordable amounts. Their figures show that the average rent amount in Londonincreased by around 9% last year which is a large amount given the already higher costs in the capital. Of course, London is generally more expensive as it attracts higher earners and is a much busier environment than smaller towns and villages but if the reforms do come in it could have a knock-on effect for the rest of the country.

Schemes such as this are often trialled in certain areas, a bit like the congestion charges, then spread to other areas later on. It would be interesting to see how this would work and the effect it would have on Landlords.

The publication also states that more should be done to help homeless households. Many Landlords offer a 6 or 12 month tenancy to begin with so that if any issues should arise then neither party is tied in for a longer period of time. It suggests that homeless households should be given 24 month tenancies if they are placed in a privately rented home. This might sound like helping the needy but lets not forget that the Landlord could end up suffering here too! There is always a reason for a family being left homeless, it could be due to the loss of their current rental property or having their home repossessed but if they don’t look after their new property in the correct manner, the Landlord could be stuck with a bad tenant for 2 years.

There are still many items up for discussion surrounding all of this but it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds. Could this prove to be just the thing that the industry needs or will it be endless red tape for all involved?

By Craig Smith

Utility Companies

Over the past few years we have seen an increased amount of people who have some form of poor credit. It doesn’t seem unusual these days for someone to have a CCJ or a repayment plan with a debt management company but it sometimes the lesser known about forms of debt management that can have a knock-on effect for other people.

For instance, most gas & electricity suppliers will install pre-payment meters if a customer is constantly late with their payments or doesn’t pay at all. This might seem like a fair form of punishment for non-payment but it is the Landlord and even the next tenant who are left to pick up the pieces.

One property that we manage was fitted with pre-payment meters for that reason and this was only found out when the tenants moved out. (The utility companies have no dealings with the agent or Landlord once the tenant is responsible.) The Landlord ended up having to top up the meter once the tenants had left as it had still been left in debt and to ensure it was kept topped up to keep the heating etc ticking over. Then, when the new tenant moved in, the energy company stated that the new tenant should pay on time for the next 12 months before they would even consider changing the meters back again!

There is one certain company that ask for a deposit of £100 each for gas & electricity supplies otherwise they will take further action. Just a few weeks ago we had a property come empty that was supplied by Utility Warehouse and they requested such a deposit. They informed us that the deposit would only be waived under 3 circumstances. The first was to setup a monthly direct debit for the payments which is unnecessary as the property would only be empty for a few weeks. The second was to have prepayment meters installed which would cause yet more disruption to the Landlord and the property. So, we opted for the third option which was to change to another supplier.

All this is just so much hassle considering only a small amount of energy is used during an empty period, and given the fact that we always take move in & move out meter readings for each tenancy there should be no incorrect billing whatsoever!

Going back to my first point here, how does any of this help somebody who has had financial difficulty to get back on track?! Some of these utility companies seem determined to make life difficult and don’t seem to be able to make a reasonable decision for the right circumstances!

By Craig Smith

3 Agents Fees 290513

The big talking point in the lettings industry at the moment is something I wrote about just a short while ago. Due to the increase in the amount of rental properties at the moment, there seems to be a lot of ‘have a go’ agents popping up. As there is no compulsory regulatory body for letting agents, there are more and more stories of rogue agents leaving their clients out of pocket.

Hidden Extras

There are tales of agents disappearing and their clients having no clue about where their money is. But the other big concern is agents who don’t show a transparent fee structure to their clients which results in a lot of hidden costs.

Naturally, you would expect to pay a higher cost if a higher amount of work is needed. For example, you can buy yourself a pizza but if you want extra toppings you would be charged extra. The same principle applies to lettings, a Landlord taking a tenant find only service would pay extra for additional services such as an inventory. Although charging for additional services is fine some agents will hide the charges from clients in order to try and gain extra business.

I would just like to point out at this stage that Castle Estates have never hidden any fees. Tenants are asked to sign a terms & conditions leaflet before applying for any property which contain a set of possible fees, not just for the application but for almost every eventuality throughout the tenancy. Likewise, our agreements with Landlords contain a list of any fees that may be necessary throughout the tenancy.

Lack of Experience

The problem isn’t just with the rogues of the business out to make an early retirement, it is also down to the amount of agents who aren’t properly trained or have the support they need to know exactly what they need to do. Running an agency isn’t about sitting back and waiting for the money to come in, far from it! There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that not everybody knows about to make sure a tenancy is properly managed & above board.

The BBC have likened the letting industry to the wild west which isn’t entirely true. Yes, there are some bad guys out there but for each one I bet there are 10 times more good agents. But without a compulsory regulatory body, there is often little or no comeback for those who have been affected by the bad guys.

Avoid the Sting

There are ways that Landlords and tenants can avoid being left out of pocket. You should always look for the agents who do belong to a professional body. Although it doesn’t guarantee a perfect service, it does mean there are better routes to go down in the event of a complaint.

By Craig Smith

2 Property Insurance 240513

In our local newspaper this week there was a story of a family who had been awoken in the early morning hours by a fire that had started in their kitchen. Thankfully, everyone escaped unhurt and it was the kitchen that suffered most of the damage. The story itself highlights two important issues not just for homeowners but also to those in rental properties as well.


The first is that the lady in question did not have any insurance to cover the damage caused by the fire. There are a lot of people tightening their purse strings due to the way the economy is at the moment but we cant be sure whether this is the reason in this instance. The costs of food, fuel and energy have all increased no end over the last few years so it is no wonder some people look to cut costs elsewhere.

Insurance is never an area we would recommend scrimping on as, like it has here, it can backfire dramatically. The kitchen will probably need ripping out and a complete new one going in, which is most likely to be a cost of four figures at least! Compare this to the cost of the insurance and it is easy to make a decision as to whether the insurance is worth it.

It is easy to find the right policy you need especially with the help of internet comparison sites and brokers. It is usually the responsibility of the owner or Landlord to ensure the building is covered and the tenant to cover any accidental damage.

Electrical Safety

The fire itself was started by an electric can opener that had been left switched on at the plug. This highlights the second issue of the day.

Although it may be more convenient to leave electrical goods left turned on, the fire brigade and other safety experts recommend turning them off to prevent the likelihood of fires such as this. It is also a reminder that appliances, plugs and leads should be checked for any wear, frayed edges of potential hazards. Again, we don’t know the reason why the can opener had become faulty but couple an unsafe item with lack of insurance and it could spell disaster!

Other Important Safety Factors

Lets not forget that each property should have a working smoke alarm. We still hear of so many people who have the viewpoint that it will never happen to them but it could happen to anyone! Just last year there was a fire in a property that we manage, caused by a faulty kettle of all things! It was only the fact that the smoke alarms were working correctly that the tenant was alerted so quickly, preventing the fire from getting out of hand and keeping the damage to a minimum.

By Craig Smith

BBC Watchdog 150513 CS

Yesterday the BBC aired a program which looked into the ways that some clients can find themselves being ripped off by rogue letting agents. Some of what was said does ring true as, believe it or not, the regulations surround lettings agents are very loose.

The Big Issue

If you didn’t see the program yesterday, there is a clip of it on the BBC WEBSITE HERE. It featured TV favourite Nigel Havers who had a bad experience himself (quite ironic considering some of the characters he has played on the screen!). Sometimes it does need someone like him to add a little weight to an argument, in this case the argument that there should be stricter regulations surrounding letting agents. Nigel, if you are reading this, we agree with you!

The problem at the moment is that anyone can setup a letting agency with no prior training or qualifications. I was speaking with someone yesterday who has heard of one business selling letting starter kits over the internet for a small fee. So quite literally anybody could be setting up in your area! Apparently the renewal rate after the initial purchase is very low but it is the initial sales keep the money coming in and that particular business afloat. I’m yet to see one of these packs myself (perhaps you have one and could let us know if it was useful?) but without any proper training or support, what is the likelihood of that prospective agent surviving & doing the right thing?


I know we have waffled on about this before but Castle Estates are proud to be ARLA members. It isn’t just a fancy logo that can go in our window and it certainly cant be purchased by just anyone! Anyone who wants to become a member needs to pass examinations (been there, done that) to prove they have the knowledge and what it takes. Or let me put this in another way, your property could be worth a lot of £££’s, would you really want to trust someone to manage it who has no idea what they are doing?

There are 5 people in our office who have currently gone through the necessary training and 1 more studying at the moment. Although these aren’t compulsory in the eyes of the law, we prefer to show our clients we are prepared to do this so that they have faith in us as their agent.

Further Complaint

The other issue that the program highlighted was that of utility companies being very difficult to deal with. The main company named was Spark Energy and I’m not going to comment any further on this at the moment. If you are really interested, just read their reviews in Money Supermarket to make up your own mind.

We used to work with such companies after them making so many promises of great customer service and easy to use facilities but they all seem to fall down. We have had so many complaints from tenants that we now no longer use any specific company and let the tenants decide who they should use. We do still encounter problems, usually relating to specific suppliers, but thankfully nothing quite as bad as some of these reviews report!

By Craig Smith

When the law was changed back in 2007 it meant that any deposit taken for an Assured Shorthold Tenancy needed to be protected. There were 3 schemes set up that could offer this service, each working in a slightly different way but all with the same goal in mind. (There are now 4 but more news on that later!)To ensure that tenants’ deposits are properly protected.

Each of the schemes have their own set of rules and terms & conditions but the law governs that the deposit should be protected within 30 days of receiving it. Each Landlord or agent tends to stick to one of the schemes, knowing that all of the deposits that they take are in one place which makes everything that little bit easier to deal with. Although there is no right or wrong answer, which scheme do you think is best?


Unfortunately, Castle Estates have never used My Deposits but there are a few of our tenant find Landlords that do use them. This is a ‘pay as you go’ service where any Landlord or agent has to pay a registration fee per deposit registered. The current prices for individual Landlords start from a £36 joining fee and £18-£24 per deposit, depending on the amount of the deposit.

Depending on the amount of deposits registered, this could turn out to be costly for a Landlord but the money can still be held by the Landlord themselves. My Deposits is what is known as an insured scheme where only the details of the deposit are registered.

Should any deposit deductions go to dispute and the adjudication service is used, they aim to resolve any disputes within 15 days which does seem very speedy.

The Dispute Service (TDS)

TDS is another insured scheme and offers a similar service to My Deposits. Castle Estates did use this scheme when the legislation first came in to place and continued to do so for around 3 years. It was only when the agent registration fees were hiked up, by around 400% in some cases, that the decision was made to switch to another.

Although we haven’t used this for 3 years since, they do now say that there is no joining or administration fees for Landlords. This is another insured scheme so the Landlord can keep hold of the money themselves, although if a dispute is raised the amount in dispute then needs to be paid over to them so they can pay it to the relevant party when a decision is made.

The Deposit Protection Service (DPS)

The DPS now offer an insured scheme, working in much a similar way to those above, running alongside their original custodial scheme. The custodial is basically what it says it is, any deposit monies registered are held physically by the DPS rather than sitting in the Landlords account. Currently, they are the only organisation who offer the custodial service.

This can put a lot of minds at rest, both for Landlords and tenants. There was one agency in our local area a few years ago who ceased trading for one reason or another and we had a number of their Landlords approach us who didn’t know where the deposit was. Some of the deposits were registered in an insured scheme and there is some protection offered but within a certain timescale. Some tenants didn’t realise what had happened until too late and ended up losing out.

As the DPS can hold the money themselves, should a Landlord (or tenant for that matter!) disappear without trace, the money is still held securely.

Your Choice!

So there we have it. There is no right or wrong answer as to which scheme a Landlord should use and everyone will have their own personal choice. The point is, each scheme has the same goal in mind; to protect the deposit that is held in line with the Housing Act 2004 legislation.

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.