Category Archives: Lettings

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

As our office is based in the Midlands (England) it isn’t very often that we have the need to report on a change in Scottish legislation. The 2 countries may be very similar but they don’t share all of the same laws and regulations when it comes to lettings.

New TIP Packs

Under the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011 any Landlord inScotlandwill soon have to provide each new tenant with a Tenant Information Pack (TIP). This may be new toScotlandbut may I just point out that Castle Estates have been producing these packs for almost 10 years! It has changed over the years to cover the ever changing legislation and changed layout once or twice but has remained generally the same.

Why So Long?

The Scottish equivalent could be up to 30 pages long with various information about the property and its necessary legal requirements but our fits neatly enough into 5 pages and covers, we feel, all of the general information a tenant might need. It is our general practice to go through this with every tenant at the check in to ensure that they understand their rights & responsibilities before they sign any tenancy agreement.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them but being perfectly honest, I don’t know how many people actually take the time to read it during their tenancy or remember most of what it means. Which only begs the question, what is the point in having a compulsory version that is 6 times as long?!

Waste of Effort?

If the government stopped and thought realistically for a moment, they might share the same viewpoint. Maybe this will just be yet another stack of paper wasted and extra money down the drain for no reason?

The same has happened in relation to deposit protection (uh oh, here we go again with deposits!). We now need to ensure that the terms & conditions for the relevant deposit scheme are provided to each tenant at the start of their tenancy. This is just over 10 pages of information which seems to end up in the bottom of a drawer or at the back of a cabinet.

Good Idea or Bad?

In general, I do think it is a good idea to have certain information for tenants although some of it may just be overkill and could be found with 2 minutes searching on the internet. I guess we’ll have to see if this becomes law in England and Wales too and how well it goes in Scotland!

By Craig Smith

We always find it interesting to hear a Landlords feedback, whether it relates solely to their own property or about lettings in general. This week, The Dispute Service have released the results of a survey asking Landlords how they feel about their tenancies.

Worried by Tenants

One of the questions asked in the survey was what concerned Landlords the most when it came to letting, giving a choice of answers. The most commonly chosen answer was the quality of the tenants who were on the agreement which isn’t too surprising given some of the scare stories going round. Certainly having the tenants referenced prior to them moving in can help to determine their credibility but won’t guarantee whether they will continue to be as good as their references suggest.

One instance we have had in the past is the guarantor of a prospective tenant giving a glowing reference, only to come back and tell the horrible truth when the tenants stopped paying the rent!

Rent Arrears

Following on quite nicely from the above, the second biggest concern in this question was rent arrears. The majority of Landlords have mortgages to cover and if not still have to insure the building and have to provide for the upkeep of their properties. Arrears can be distressing even for the biggest of Landlords as it can be a lengthy process to get any non-payers to leave, not to mention the additional costs!

New Regulations

The third most commonly chosen answer to what concerns Landlords the most was complying with regulations. Over the last 5 or 6 years or so the industry has seen a lot of changes in legislation including the registration of certain deposits (there I go talking about deposits again!) and new energy regulations.

There are certain things that a lot of Landlords forget or don’t know about such as ensuring there is a handrail on the stairs or ensuring that a chimney is swept & safe to use. This can highlight the importance of speaking with a local agent who can advise a Landlord of the necessary rules & regulations in order to prevent any damages or injury to tenants and their belongings.

Happy Landlords

The survey included just over 200 Landlords and just over 80% confirmed they were satisfied with the quality of their tenants. Surely this can only be good news?! There are always going to be some bad experiences with the sheer number of lettings properties out there at the moment but this shows that the majority of experiences are good.

This is again good news for those who are referred to as reluctant Landlords i.e. an inherited property. Hopefully this should keep a little confidence in the industry and keep people renting for the future years!

By Craig Smith

One common issue reported by a lot of tenants is that of damp appearing in a property. But it isn’t necessarily damp that is the issue as a lot of ‘damp’ turn out to be nothing more than condensation which can be cured with a few simple pieces of advice.

Condensation Problems

The majority of these issues are, of course, condensation. This can come about if there is a lack of ventilation in a particular part of a property where the moist air can’t escape. Although we are approaching the winter months and the temperature is gradually getting colder (although hopefully not too cold this year!) it is still important to ensure rooms are kept well ventilated, mainly when showering or cooking.

Both of the above generate warm, moist air which can mostly be seen on window panes. What can’t always be seen is the amount of warmer air that cant escape and will eventually appear as black marks or peeling paint on walls or ceilings. We tend to find that most of these reported problems occur in bathroom or upstairs bedrooms, bathrooms due to the obvious showering & warm water and bedrooms as a lot of people prefer a nice warm bed to go home to and leave windows etc closed.

Putting a Dampener on Things

The symptoms for damp and condensation can be very similar; typically a black or mouldy mark and a musty smell where it has occurred. When someone notices a mouldy or wet patch on a wall or ceiling it is easy to mistake this for damp, particularly in older properties such as Victorian terraces. Damp is usually caused when there is a leak of water into the property such as a leaking roof or gutter or water coming up from the ground through the walls.

The repair job might not be as big as it sounds and can sometimes be fixed with a couple of hours work from a local trusted builder. From experience in our office, items such as a slipped roof tile, blocked/broken guttering or a crack in the outside wall are the most common causes of this.

Putting the Damage Right

For condensation the best cure is to keep the affected areas well ventilated (for example, using extractor fans where there is one and opening windows to keep air flowing through) and to wipe down any areas where the mould appears to help prevent it spreading. It will take time for it to eventually die down but with some good ventilation and some old fashioned elbow grease you should soon notice the difference.

As above, damp may need a little more than just cleaning but a good builder can recognise exactly what needs to be done to cure the problem. Once the job has been finished you will probably need a few coats of good paint or stain block once the moisture has dried up to stop the marks from appearing again.

Big Difference

Condensation usually occurs higher up in rooms whereas damp can lurk around outside walls where moisture can come in rather than it trying to get out. Sometimes it is better to do some investigative work yourself before involving any costly call out charges.

By Mike Edwards

In July 2011 the Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Suurpere v Nice and Nice that inadequate Prescribed Information as required under the Tenancy Deposit Regulations as set out in the Housing Act 2004 and above all in the Housing (Tenancy Deposits)(Prescribed Information) Order 2007 had been issued to the tenant.

In this latest case the Court of Appeal on 6th November 2012 has reached a similar decision and overturned an earlier and incorrect lower court decision. The full details of this decision are awaited but the simple facts are that the tenant had paid a deposit and the Landlord had protected it in one of the approved schemes but he had not given the prescribed information (PI) as required by the Prescribed Information Order 2007. In the Suurpere case there was an agent involved who paid the fine but in this case there was no agent.

The tenant had significant arrears so the Landlord issued proceedings and as is so often the case and where the big danger lies for landlords the tenant counter-claimed that the requirements of the Prescribed Information Order had not been complied with. At the initial hearing the Landlord admitted this ‘offence’ but in defence claimed it didn’t matter as the tenant could easily find the information for themselves. This was exactly the decision in Suurpere – that the tenant should be given the information not have to go searching for it as and when they needed it.

This opinion was strongly emphasised in Suurpere which makes it all the more astonishing that the lower court Judge was persuaded by this argument. That in effect it is the protection of the deposit that matters in TDP cases and that the issuing of the PI is no more than an administrative procedural necessity. So the Landlord claimed the deposit had been protected (which it had) and that the tenant could have gone to the scheme administrator for anything else he wanted to know. The lower Court dismissed the tenant’s claim stating information in the tenancy agreement (scheme details) plus other information the Landlord provided during the Court hearing was enough to comply with the requirements of the Order.

Not surprisingly given such an obvious error at law the tenant appealed and equally unsurprisingly the more learned Court of Appeal disagreed completely with the Landlord and original Judge. It held quite clearly that the giving of the PI amounts to more than just a minor procedural obligation and that the information has  real importance in advising tenants how to get their deposit back and also how they could go to a dispute at no cost to themselves and without the need for litigation on their part.

In effect the Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of the High Court in Suurpere v Nice (see Nearly Legal report here). The lower Court had not reached a proper judicial evaluation. The Landlord clearly was in breach of the Prescribed Information Order and so the penalties in section 214 The Housing Act 2004 applied. Therefore the Landlord was ordered to return the deposit plus, because the original offence had occurred before The Localism Act 2011 provisions came into effect in April 2012 the mandatory penalty of three times the deposit applied

So the tenant won and his appeal was allowed. Significantly the Court of Appeal has now agreed with the High Court decision in Suurpere that the Prescribed Information a Landlord must serve on the tenant is not some administrative afterthought which simply acts as an accompaniment to deposit protection. It is instead a vital component and one of two parts in the deposit protection process both of which must be fully and correctly completed by the Landlord to discharge his obligations in respect of deposit protection.

Simply to protect the deposit, laudable though that is compared to not protecting it, is insufficient to discharge the obligations. But more importantly this latest binding decision from a Court of Record confirms as was held in Suurpere that Landlords must supply that information themselves and not leave tenants to go searching for it themselves. As in Suurpere simply providing the DPS website address is not enough – the Scheme Terms and Conditions must be printed and attached to the Prescribed Information notice being served.

For the other two schemes there is a leaflet which under their rules it is obligatory to issue. Post Localism Act 2011 if not doing so before landlords and agents should definitely obtain a signed copy of a suitably endorsed PI form as proof that the tenant has indeed received all the information.

All this means that if there was any shred of doubt post Suurpere there is now none whatsoever that the need to comply with the Prescribed Information Order is just as important as the need to place the deposit in the DPS Custodial scheme or insure it through The Dispute Service or my|deposits schemes. The two decisions mean tenants can easily defend a landlord’s section 21 action if they can show the deposit has not been protected OR that the Prescribed Information now have clear means of defending possession actions based on s21 Housing Act 1988 actions or in rent arrears cases. If either has not been completely and correctly completed by the Landlord and if he is unable to prove that if challenged then any s21 notice he has served will fail and in any section 8 action the tenant can counterclaim.

Informed opinion was that this appeal would always fail and that the Lower Court was clearly in error by in effect saying the PI didn’t really matter and if the tenant wanted more information he knew where to find it. But the Landlord was foolish to appeal as the July 2011 Appeal Court decision in Suurpere virtually guaranteed this appeal by the tenant would succeed. So now the Landlord hands over the deposit, plus a x3 penalty and presumably has significant costs.

While agents and Landlords may be irritated by this decision it is the only correct one that could be arrived at, as in Suurpere. Given the detail in the Statute and above all the Prescribed Information Order (2007) it is clear that no matter what Landlords may believe the Prescribed Information always had great significance given the detailed way the information that must be served on the tenant is laid out in the PI Order.

By Steve Roulstone

A Court of Appeal decision has confirmed that Landlords not only need to register Tenants deposit under the Tenants Deposit Protection legislation, but that they must provide Tenants with the Prescribed Information in connection with the scheme the money is protected with, or the courts now have a clear case confirming exactly what will happen should they fail.

Old News

Back in February this year, I confirmed the changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 which was introduced in April this year. The changes surround not only when protection needed to be registered by, but also what was delivered to the Tenant in how we register deposits.


The Prescribed Information is what was under review in this case, after a Landlord had failed to supply the data to the Tenant even though the deposit was protected. In fact in the original court decision, he thought the courts agreed with his stance, that the purpose of the legislation was to protect the money and that had been achieved. The Tenant on appeal, has won on the basis that protection MUST be accompanied by the information surrounding the Tenants rights and how to act to protect his money.


The penalty is both full refund of the initial deposit and a fine to the value of three times this same amount. This is of course significant and places before anybody who felt otherwise, that the need to protect deposits is only half of the intended actions required under the act. But it is not just when the deposit is initially received that action needs to be taken.

End of fixed term.

Under the Localism Act, it also became clear that in clarifying how the legislation should work, new documents need to be given with every new Tenancy. This means, when a Tenancy ends its initial fixed term, new information needs to be given. The fine for failing to do so, is as was awarded in this case, three times the deposit.


There is only one! Do things the right way to start with, understand the requirements and put in place a system that ensures all Tenants receive the data at the start of the Tenancy, as well as with any new agreement signed. This alone should be easy, if a Tenant is signing an agreement, hand out the scheme rules surrounding the deposit. If you then add a system that does the same when an agreement becomes periodic (Treated as a new agreement in the Localism Act) and ensures Tenants get the updated information at this time, you will be covered. But always, if in doubt? Ask!

By Steve Roulstone

Two items of news from the last week have caught our attention at Castle Estates in Stafford and that is news surrounding Carbon Monoxide Detectors. The first was the change is the Landlords Gas Safety Certificate to include inspection of flues running through voids and now it has been made compulsory in Northern Ireland for all new homes.

Swift progress.

Both of these moves are positive forces in the battle against this silent killer and whilst the change to include hidden flues within the Gas Safety Inspection is going to cause many problems before the end of the first year whilst the changes take effect (Many, in blocks of flats, will require access through areas which do not belong to the premises in question) the change in Northern Ireland is a move to have them as standard practise in all properties whether rented or owner occupied.

Balance in favour of rented property.

For many years as a Letting Agent I have known just how Tenants are better protected than owner occupiers, who would normally never dream of having a Gas Safety Inspection. Because I did think it a good idea, I found a Gas fire in a house I purchased was not vented at all when fitted, indeed the chimney breast was open and allowed fumes to pass directly in to the main bedroom through fitted drawers. I could have gone to bed and never woken up if we had not found the problem.

Good progress.

But the other point about Carbon Monoxide Detectors is that they are such a good idea! Because of this, as an Agent who likes to ensure we do things the right way, we are going to issue a free Carbon Monoxide detector for every new Landlord and change of Tenant.

Correct usage.

Of course one important matter is to ensure they are fitted and used. We have decided to provide one that is portable and allows the Tenant to have it in the lounge when the fire is on and then taken to the bedroom when they turn in for the night. This way we will be able to ensure that they are working from day one. The only maintenance being the replacement of the battery!

Law of the Land.

What must be remembered is the change in law came about because of a death and any move to reduce the risk has to be a good one. This is why we and our Plumbers believe it will not be long before it becomes Law for all properties. By providing them free of charge, we will remain ahead of the game and ensure this is one more area where are doing the best possible for our Landlords.

By Steve Roulstone

“The problem is they just do not realise that there are decent honest Landlords and Agents out there!” So said a fellow Letting Agent who just happened to be in my office this morning, when speaking about the Citizens Advice Bureau and the problems she had found in dealing with them. So it seems a regular problem is happening for other Agents, which does nothing to resolve the issue, but does make you realise that CAB are not perhaps the all knowing all seeing force that they convey, when demanding changes in the way we run our Industry.

Regular item.

In fact, it was only last week that I referred to their campaign to remove all Tenants fees, and support for a new five year agreement, but how can they be taken seriously as a champion of the Tenant when (taking our evidence from two conversations with them this morning) it is clear they do not even understand how, for example, the Tenants Deposit Scheme works!

Phone calls.

What happened this morning was an initial call from a Lady at the CAB asking why we were not returning a Tenants deposit (The Tenant having been at the house for many years) What she was not aware of was that the Deposit was not being refunded because of cigarette burns, yellowing paintwork caused by smoking, general untidiness and cleaning requirements. This in a house where the Tenant had been warned about the consequences when we carried out our Property visits of smoking inside.

Not aware.

The problem lay with the Lady not being aware of how the DPS (Our preferred Deposit organisation) works. So we had to advise them of what would happen and how the claim would go to adjudication as both parties could not agree. The Tenant stance was one of ‘but I have always paid my rent’ which of course was not acceptable.

Problem compounded!

Lo and behold, not an hour later, a second person from the CAB phoned and asked for the Tenants DPS reference number. Now for those who do not know, DPS will only give the Tenants reference number to the Tenant, but we would expect CAB to be aware of this at least, as it is such a basic rule of the system. Instead, we had to explain again how the system worked and be spoken to as if we were being obstructive in how we were dealing with the matter. This is unacceptable and speaks volumes about the manner in which CAB view Landlords and Agents.

Who knew!

The fact is, as a professional Agency, we pride ourselves on carrying out our affairs to the letter of the Law. The fact seems to be that our Tenant, who we had of course already the procedure explained to him, could not find anybody with the knowledge at the CAB to advice him well at all. The phone calls of course ended up, providing they were relayed correctly, with the same advice we had already passed on, but while I am of course aware that the CAB do a very good job in advising the public, it seems they need some training on what is now a basic staple of Tenant law, because what should have happened when the Tenant reported his situation in the first place to the CAB was an answer of, ‘Yes, that’s right!’


As a matter of course, we review every situation where we are in communication with organisations who act for others, whether it is another Agent, Solicitor or organisations such as the CAB. In doing so in this case we were satisfied we did our job correctly. The only question was one of language and translation, but as I have stated, the Tenant was long standing and we had held many conversation with him over the years and we are left in do doubt that the problem was not one of miscomprehension, rather a Tenant who did not get what he wanted, feeling he could get help from others. It is a pity we were spoken to by the CAB in such a poor way when what we did was correct and I just hope that in relaying the conversation our Tenant was advised that we are correct in our dealings on his behalf!