Category Archives: Rental Advice

By Steve Roulstone

Perfect Tenant

I have just finished reading an article in a magazine called the Negotiator, designed for the industry, most articles are centred on some professional within the trade, being given the opportunity to sell their wares. In this article the case was being made for referencing potential Tenants and how this particular referencing agency boss was convinced that the better the level of referencing carried out, the better the Tenant that would be produced.

There is of course an easy case to be put forward to support this argument, but in reality I do not feel this is even half the case that needs to be considered. To me, referencing is an absolute must, but in the interest of the Landlord, this is so that the Tenant concerned can be insured through a rent and legal expenses insurance. It really is that simple. By referencing, past performance is assessed, affordability is confirmed and future actions can be insured. Not a difficult decision.

But is this enough to find the perfect Tenant? That was the gist of the article and where I would have to disagree.

We have a very simple policy with Tenants. Look after them well and they will look after our Landlords property. I speak from the position of being a Landlord and at present a Tenant as well, so it is with personal experience that I know our policy stands up to the actual reality of living in rented property.

That reality is that although as industry professionals we know that what the Tenant is paying for is the right to live at the property concerned, all Tenants need to feel that they are also paying for a level of service which, whether through an agency or renting direct from a Landlord, if they are left feeling that this relationship is one sided, they will be left feeling it has not been delivered and that nobody cares.

I cannot recall how many Landlords have informed me about how disappointed they were at the state of a property when a Tenant left, but too many times when I ask if they have visited that same property during the Tenancy, or been in touch with the Tenant, the answer has been no. If the Tenant does not have an outlet for their findings when living at a property, the feeling of being abandoned slowly turns to a feeling of anger. The rest is human nature. If nobody else cares, in their opinion, why should they? 

That is why we ensure Tenants have a voice. This principal does not mean that we should comply with all Tenant wishes, not at all, but that those wishes should be given time and a platform. By working with your Tenants, they will respect your role and in my experience the property as well. The objective of this principal for us is simple; happy tenants look after the property and pay the rent. That, we know, is exactly what our Landlords require. That, I believe, is much closer to a perfect Tenant.

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

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.

By Craig Smith

In another recent case a Landlord has been found to have not complied with legislation when protecting their tenant’s deposit. It can be a bit of a minefield if you are new to the industry but the rules are becoming clearer and clearer.

Not Just Deposit Protection

Where a deposit is covered by the legislation it isn’t enough to just protect the deposit. The Prescribed Information (PI) must be provided to the tenant at the start of the tenancy, usually within 30 days of the deposit being paid. The PI contains the information the tenant needs to know about where the deposit is going to be held and who has access to it. This recent case also proves that the tenants must be provided with the terms and conditions of the relevant deposit scheme.

What Information to Give?

You may have read my post about the DPS before so you’ll know that it is that scheme that our office uses. We must always give our tenants a set of the DPS terms & conditions which is a lengthy document but is worth its weight in gold should a case arise. The legislation states that it is the responsibility of the Landlord to ensure the information is given to the tenant and it is not up to the tenant to go looking for it. The terms and conditions are an important part of the PI as the case has proven. In this instance, the Landlord had registered the deposit in line with the legislation but hadn’t given the correct PI to the tenants.

There are also a lot more handy documents available through the DPS giving both tenants and Landlords advice on how to use the scheme. Don’t forget that each scheme differs slightly in the way their information is presented and they may not have an official set of terms and conditions, so to speak. 5 minutes checking you have the right stuff is better than 5 years recouping unnecessary costs!

Final Advice

Some of the information that needs to be provided may seem trivial but it is very easy to get hold of. Certainly with the DPS, the documents are free to download and can be found with a few clicks on their website.

The majority of tenants seem to ask what they need to do at the end of the tenancy anyway as the documents seem to get overlooked. You only need to read the details of the case mentioned here to see how really important they are!

By Craig Smith

From 28th January 2013 the Green Deal will be coming into force as part of the Energy Act 2011. The idea is that households can have a grant from the Government to install more energy efficient improvements which will then be paid back as part of their utility bills.


The basic way that the deal will work is for a homeowner to have their property surveyed to see if they could benefit from the grant. The grant would only be given if the savings that could be made would outweigh the installation costs as there would be no point otherwise! Some of the more well known improvements include loft insulation or installing a more energy efficient boiler.

Once the improvements have been carried out, the homeowner would pay back the grant over a set period of time as part of their energy bills but this would not come to any more than their regular bill payments. This way, in theory, they start to enjoy the savings almost straight away.

Clearly, the longer you live at the house the more savings you should make. Even if you did need to sell up or move quicker than expected, the grant repayments would stay with the property itself rather than the owner so the new occupier would pick up the bill but also enjoy the savings!

Landlords and Tenants

Having this done in your own home looks like a great way to save money, particularly if you don’t plan on moving any time soon. But when it comes to rental properties, it gets a little more complicated.

A tenant could still save money and help the environment which can only be a good thing. However, tenants may not be so keen to take part in the scheme if they aren’t planning on staying put for very long. A lot of tenants, for example, only rent because they need to move around for work and may need to move on again in a few months time. Don’t forget that in the majority of lets it is the tenant who pays for the utilities, thus covering the extra bill and saving very little in the short term.

Good or Bad News for Letting?

Some tenants may see this as them paying for improvements to someone else’s property. And whilst they may enjoy some savings when they are living there, they wont gain anything when they vacate.

However, what sounds like a disadvantage for some Landlords could be beneficial to others, depending on the tenants in the property. Longer term tenants may want to benefit from the savings and could also improve the Landlords property at the same time. Perhaps a longer term tenancy agreement could be agreed for some tenants who would be willing to take up the grant? This would ensure that the tenant benefits from the potential savings and also gives both the Landlord and the tenant security of having the home let for a longer period.

Stricter Rules in the Coming Years

This deal comes in at just the right time as from April 2018, it looks set that no property with an EPC rating of a band E or lower could be legally let. (The aim is to not just save money but to reduce the impact on the environment from energy usage.) This could be bad news for Landlords of the more rural or older properties. We don’t yet know if the sales of such properties will be affected but with energy usage becoming bigger and bigger news, it does look as though it will have some impact. Would you want to buy a property knowing it would cost a fortune to run or not be able to let it out?

By Craig Smith

At the end of every tenancy comes the day that a lot of Landlords and tenants both dread… the day the tenant hands the property back to the Landlord. The actual arrangements can be simple enough but sometimes the property can be returned in a less that satisfactory condition.

Landlords Not Happy

A recent survey of 300 Landlords by Meet My Agent suggests that 73% were not happy with the condition in which their rental property was returned to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the properties needed a complete refurb but can mean items such as cleaning or repairs were not up to scratch. That said, the survey also suggests that 41% of Landlords’ properties have needed a complete refurbishment following a tenant vacating which is staggering!

Our Recent Statistics

I’ve looked back through our most recent 20 check outs and can conclude that, in general, more properties have issues upon the tenants vacating than those that don’t. The split is 60% that have issues, whether it is something small such as a couple of hours cleaning or more in depth works, to 40% that were left with no issues whatsoever and are ready to be occupied again.

Facts Instead of Presumptions

To get a better picture I think it is more important to look at the actual level of works required rather than just looking at the number of issues. Looking back again at the 60% which needed works, I cant find a single one which didn’t need some form of cleaning following the tenant vacating. Again, this doesn’t mean that these tenants have lived in squalor, (far from it!) but does mean that the property wasn’t left in such a clean condition as when the tenancy first began.

3 out of those 12 needed items other than cleaning such as replacement items but none of these were anything too major.

Preventing Extra Works

One way to better the chances of a property being returned in good condition is to not only take an inventory at the start of the tenancy but also to tell the tenants what you would expect. Part of our usual process is to send a short set of guidelines to the tenant which lists some of the most commonly forgotten items. Some of the main concerns mentioned above include dusting down skirting boards or making sure a kitchen extractor hood is left clean.

Best Practice

Through the experiences this office has gained we find that advising tenants before they vacate can help to ensure a property is returned in a good condition. Of course this isn’t always the case but it does all add up to ensure a smoother handover!

By Craig Smith

A little while ago, Steve from our office blogged about some of the issues he was having with a certain utility company, namelyUtility Warehouse. Well it seems they are still trying to overcharge for energy used in rental properties!

Incorrect MeterReadings

The usual process for our office when a tenant moves in or out of a home is to inform the relevant companies, in writing, of the correct readings and forwarding address. The property in question was no different where after a brief empty period, new tenants moved in and the emails sent off to the utility companies. We would normally expect to get any final bills within a few weeks, arrange for the payment to be made and everything can be forgotten about until next time.

Well, the bill came through with estimated readings! This basically means that the energy supplier hasn’t taken any notice whatsoever of the readings we have taken and made up their own readings. Surprise, surprise! They are usually always over-estimated and this case was no different, which meant that we need to send the correct readings over… again!

Lack of Contact

This all happened in August (2 months ago) and since then we have had no contact fromUtility Warehouseregarding this account. Until today. A letter arrives through our door from a debt collection agency chasing the outstanding amount of just over £20! (Now, you might think that arguing over such a small amount is silly but you should only pay for the energy you have used!)

Needless to say that due to the lack of contact and the usually less than helpful nature of some of the debt chasing staff, we have made contact & told them what we think of the service!

Not the Only One!

It may sound like I am singling out a single supplier here but the truth is that this seems to arise with numerous companies and some are worse than others. Which begs the question, how many people (not people, not just Landlords!) are out there that have been scared by these tactics and ended up paying more than they should have done?

Deemed Rates

Another big money-earner is the type of tariff the account is put onto. When you are living in a property it is easier to research cheaper rates for your energy bills but something that a lot of Landlords forget when a property is empty. This is particularly important if a property is left unoccupied for a longer period of time. We have had instances in the past where no energy has been used at all but standing charges still apply.

The Solution

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way of making dealing with some of these companies any easier and sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it. By always informing any changes in writing, it gives a good backup should accounts not be updated as they should be. For now, we shall carry on…

By Craig Smith

With some of us here at Castle Estates being Landlords ourselves, we understand how important it can be to keep any downtime of a rental property to a minimum. When a property becomes untenanted, the mortgage still needs to be paid along with insurance and, more so during the winter months, heating bills increase.

Breaks Between Tenancies

When marketing a property that is still occupied one of the biggest hurdles can be that the incoming tenant wants to move very quickly. We have instances such as this on a regular basis but sometimes have to be firm about the move in dates.

It is not as simple as one person moving out and another moving in the next day as there may be cleaning or decorating work that needs to be completed in between. By booking someone to move in the very next day or even within a few days later can cause the new tenancy to start on the wrong foot which then has a knock-on effect for the rest of the tenancy.

Best Presentation Always Important!

Some tenants are happy for works to be completed after they have moved in, usually small things such as a repair to a leaky tap. The biggest issues can be checking somebody in to a property that is unclean or needs the gardening tidying up as this can be used ‘as ammunition’ when something goes wrong further down the line.

We always recommend to our Landlords that their property is presented cleanly and, if applicable, gardens left tidy. This helps to stop any arguments at the end of the tenancy which can get very messy (no pun intended!) when trying to agree any deposit costs.

Extra Time to Ensure Safety

We had a tenant moving forward with a property a few weeks ago who needed to move quickly. This was fine but the property wasn’t quite ready and the move in ended up being delayed in order for the outstanding issues to be resolved. Luckily it wasn’t anything too major and the delay was only a few days but any more than this and the tenancy may have fallen through before it even began!

There are some examples where tenants don’t understand the reasoning behind delays, particularly when it could be a matter or breaking the law. If a property hasn’t had its annual gas safety check, for example, there is no way we could sign the tenancy agreements as without the pass on the certificate, we would be unable to do so. The reason is that the law states the gas safety certificate must be in place and to ensure the safety of any occupants. Not only would this be against the law, I also think it is morally wrong to place a tenant in potential danger.

Stuck in a Chain

The other common example that crops up regularly is when an outgoing tenant is purchasing a house and they are stuck in a chain. If a new tenant is already lined up to move in there is still nothing we can do to ask the current occupiers to leave as, even if they have given their correct notice, it can still be extended!

Best Advice

Going back to the start of this post, we understand how Landlords need to have the minimum amount of empty periods possible. Sometimes, a little extra time between moving out & in can prevent a lot of hassle later on!