Hello and a Warm Welcome to the February 2010 edition of the Leading letter.
Following a ‘weather disrupted’ January we are all looking forward to a more normal February (hopefully picking up any lost business due to the snow!). Certainly February will be a busy and exciting month for Lenwell!
As we mentioned last month, this year is our 20th Anniversary year. When we set up Lenwell in 1990, we worked from a dining room table on the New Bedford Road, Luton! Cheques were walked round to Landlords banks and there was no email or a website (though we did register Lenwell.com and Lenwell.co.uk so we must have known something was on its way!).
How times have changed. With 4 state of the art offices in Luton, Dunstable, Bedford and Northampton, we now press one button on the computer to pay our landlords. Everything goes via email (including our monthly newsletter) and our website is where people know us best.
But, back to the present, in this month’s edition of the Leading Letter we are looking at Fire Safety and the swing from an oversupply of property to a surplus of tenants! Lucinda has(possibly gone mad!) and tells an amusing story on strained relations between a tenant and an inventory clerk (there is a lesson in there somewhere on overzealousness and also on acting in a ‘tenant-like’ manner!) and finally the Editor gives us a recap on the mess and damage caused by burst pipes.
Unless the rented accommodation is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) there are no specific fire regulations for residential tenanted properties in England and Wales. However, regulations do now apply to furniture and furnishings and fire alarms.
Landlords are under a common law duty to ensure that the property they provide is safe. All residential properties in England and Wales should comply with building regulations on aspects such as:
- Means of emergency escape, particularly where sleeping accommodation is provided on 2nd and 3rd floors
- Fire doors and emergency exits, passages and escape routes
- Fire alarms and fire extinguishers
Local Building Inspectors and Fire Prevention Officers will advise landlords on these aspects.
As a minimum, landlords should remove potentially dangerous appliances and heaters and fit smoke alarms. A fire extinguisher and kitchen fire blanket might also be a wise precaution.
Again, there is no requirement for this, but an annual safety check (risk assessment) is a wise precaution for any landlord or agent. Documenting this on an annual basis will provide adequate evidence of due diligence on the landlord's or agent's part in the event of an incident.
The building regulations require that all properties built after June 1992 must have a mains operated inter-connected smoke alarm fitted on every level of the property.
Older properties do not have to comply but landlords would be well advised to provide at least battery operated smoke alarms in the property.
It is important to determine who is responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms - the landlord, agent or tenant. If the agent is to be responsible, this should be noted in the management contract. If the tenant is to be made responsible for this then adequate warnings must be given in writing.
Documents such as the tenancy agreement, the inventory and the appliance operating instruction and emergency procedures information pack given to tenants, should mention the responsibility of the tenant to test and replace batteries in smoke alarms when fitted.
There is no compulsory requirement to provide fire extinguishers or fire blankets in normal tenanted properties, but again, this may be a wise precaution, at least in the kitchen area.
Having made the decision to provide fire extinguishers though, the landlord or agent should then arrange for a 12 monthly service.
In the event of a tenant complaint or an incident the defence of "due diligence" may be accepted where it can be shown that the landlord or agent took all reasonable steps to avoid committing an offence - you will need documentary evidence of this.
The Lucinda Newell Column
To be seen pottering along the highways and byways of Luton in her Mini Clubman, her trusted Scottie Malcolm at her side, our super sleuthing property rental expert Ms Lucinda Newell is on the case on your behalf!
Taking the Plunge!
At the end of last months’ newsletter I mentioned that, with help, it is possible to change the Agent managing your property mid way through a tenancy. Well, if that didn’t open the floodgates! I have been positively inundated with emails and letters (it appears that you my dear readership still love ‘snail-mail’!) concerning the problems you have encountered trying to do exactly this! So, here is your step by step guide to switching your agent to one who will actually be working for you not just for themselves!
The first thing to remember is to check what agreement (if any) you have with your current Agent. This is the agreement between you and the agent, and is not the tenancy agreement. When I spoke to Rob Wellstead of Lenwell Property Services, he confirmed that well over half the Landlords who had switched to Lenwell had a tenancy agreement in place but absolutely no agreement between the agent and the landlord. If there is an agreement in place, you need to ensure your new agent takes over the management at the end of the notice period as the last thing you want to incur is two sets of fees! (though a good agent would probably refund any double payment).
Once you have established that you are able to move the management of your property you new Agent should obtain the following:
- A copy of the current Tenancy Agreement
- The Deposit (if held by the Agent)
- The current Gas Safety Check Certificate
- The Keys to the property
- The current Inventory in force
- A copy of all the references held
If you abide by the terms of your agreement, or if no agreement is in place, there is no reason why the management of your property cannot be transferred to a new Agent. Many will put obstacles in your way, but do not be deterred, it is unfair on you and your tenant to remain with and Agent that does little or nothing for the money paid. Rob Wellstead of Lenwell, speaking on this subject, explained “...it is a constant source of amazement to me how many Landlords put up with frankly dreadful service. We hear stories of rogue agents who will not transfer the management of a property as they don’t have a current Gas Safety Check, they don’t have the deposit money to pay across or simply refuse to hand the keys to the new Agent. Surely these are exactly the reasons why a Landlord should transfer the management of their property!”
These are wise words indeed. Obviously, no Agent wants to lose property to another Agent, but remember the most effective way to raise the standards offered by many Agents is to vote with your feet. Get yourself a new Agent – Go on take the plunge!
Come on Malcolm - Walkies!
I love to hear from my readers so let me know your thoughts - email me at email@example.com
Relunctant Tenants on the Rise as Demands Outstrips Supply
The UK housing market is experiencing a trend of ‘reluctant tenants’, following a shift in supply and demand for properties, according to the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA).
ARLA’s research, conducted across UK letting agents and landlords, reveals that the surplus of rental property is reducing, while demand for properties rises.
According to ARLA, this shift has generated a wave of reluctant tenants. During Q4 2009 an average 41% of members surveyed reported more tenants than properties – compared with just 24% last quarter. In addition, ARLA research among landlords revealed that 54% of those asked felt that consumers were being forced to rent rather than buy.
“New tenants include those homeowners who were forced to sell their home during the last year either due to financial instability or a job-move. And many people now in a position to buy are struggling to find the right property, as there is also a shortage of both properties for sale and realistic mortgages,” explained Ian Potter, operations manager at ARLA.
“This rise in tenants is a positive sign for the industry, as it indicates increased market movement,” continued Mr Potter. “It also shows that many more people will learn the benefits of living in rental accommodation.
“However, as demand exceeds supply we are faced with a new challenge – how to provide enough good-quality rental properties to meet this demand. These figures confirm our long-held view that a strong Private Rented Sector (PRS) will be fundamental in meeting the accommodation needs of future generations. But without significant government support, the sector will likely struggle.”
In August 2007 53% of ARLA members surveyed felt that there were more tenants than properties – but this figure then dropped, reaching a low of 10 per cent in February 2009. The number of available properties began increasing again last quarter.
ARLA research for the fourth quarter also shows that the period for which properties are unoccupied has fallen once again, with the average void period for the UK down from four weeks to 3.9 weeks, as tenants snap up available properties quickly.
Rob Wellstead , Managing Director and Founder of Lenwell Property Services commented, “2010 will be an interesting year for the Property Rental Sector. We have started with an almost complete reversal of what we saw this time last year. In January 2009, we ran our January sale offering discounts on the first month’s rent to attract tenants. We are very excited about 2010 and will continue to offer excellent service and to our Landlords and Tenants, ensuring that we remain at the very top of our game!”
Source: Association at Residential Letting Agents at www.arla.co.uk
..... and finally
Tenants are the first line of defence against problems in the properties they rent and need to be fully equipped to deal with all kinds of winter emergency situations.
Pipes at risk of freezing should be lagged, and making sure tenants know where to turn off the water supply will allow them to act quickly if a pipe bursts & potentially saving thousands of pounds in repairs and an insurance claim for water damage.
As we are sure you are aware a burst pipe can cause considerable damage to your property. Many insurance companies do not provide cover for such an emergency should a property be left vacant.
Over the winter months we recommend that all water systems in vacant properties are 'drained down'. Should you require a 'drain down' at your property by a registered plumber or any further advice or assistance on Winter problems please contact your Lenwell Property Manager on 01582 658 000